All About Reading

My new novel, Perfect Responses, has a controversial character in it, in the the shape of Corrinne Walker, a self-help author. Corrinne's theories in her book Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life, form the backbone of the book as three different women are encouraged to deal with significant life challenges by using her advice.

Corrinne believes in straight-talking, and isn't bothered if she offends people along the way to get her message across. I expect you've come across people like this in your life. They might have rubbed you up the wrong way, or perhaps you grudgingly admire them. Either way, they aren't people who often get ignored.

Here's an extract from Corrinne's (fictional) self-help book.

Extract from: Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life by Corrinne Walker.

You’re late for work because someone has thrown themselves onto the railway line. You feel sympathetic, glad it wasn’t you up there, finding the courage to leap.

But then it happens again, the next day. And the next. They’re like lemmings up there, with their shitty lives, waiting to jump. And always in the rush hour. Never at 10 a.m., or 11 a.m., when it’s just the tourists en route for the London Dungeon, or their free trip up the Cheese Grater to see the view of the Tower of London like a model far below them.

No, they’ve got to make the most possible impact with their final gesture, and they couldn’t care less about your blood pressure, sat there helpless on that train, somewhere between Colchester and bloody Kelvedon.

They couldn’t give a monkey’s that you could lose your job because you’re consistently late. That you’ll no longer be able to afford the au pair, and you’ll have to bake cakes and do voluntary work and pretend to the world you’re happy being an earth-mother-stay-at-home-mum. And all while your husband’s at large in the world with his immaculate suit and Creed aftershave, and never so much as a whiff of baby sick or mustard-bum poo.

He’ll return home after a day of exciting deals and flirtatious banter, expecting a tasty, well-presented meal and willing sex, and it will be as much as you can do to growl something primeval at him before you head for the bath tub in a vain attempt to scrub away your frustration and resentment. You’re so suffused with them both, the bath water fairly fizzes, and much of the steam on the expensive floor to ceiling mirror has come out of your own ears.

And all because of a string of suicides by some selfish, down-on-their-luck losers. The injustice of it all makes you want to scream. Either that, or grab your coat, put it on over your bath-wet body and clomp down to that sodding railway bridge yourself.

Sisters, stop.

We’ve all been there, with that spiral of self-destructiveness. We’ve all blamed others for our misfortunes, and slumped with despair and self-pity. But unless you want to be a martini-quaffing martyr or a hatred-haggled harridan, flailing at the injustice of the world and watching your former friends cross the road to avoid you and your negativity, you need to take action. You need to do something about your reactions to the bad, the irritating, the stressful and the downright disappointing happenings of life. To understand that, if you’re alive, shit happens.

Because this is life we’re living, not some happy-ever-after movie. Your car will break down on your way to the airport for your dream holiday. You’ll be the only one at your Weight Watchers group to put on weight. Your boyfriend will always be busy when you call him. You’ll get gout. You’ll be first in the queue for the Liberty’s sale and a security alert will force you to vacate the area.

Shit. Happens.

Let me tell you, the day I realised that – truly embraced the fact and decided I would no longer let it affect me – was the day I really started living.

When shit happens, we have two choices. We can let shit have power over us and our emotions and responses. But who wants shit to have power over them? Not me. Alternatively, we can keep hold of our power and choose our own reactions. Because all those shitty things that happen to us are events, just as all the good things that happen to us are events.

You find your daughter’s lost hamster alive and well under the fridge. That’s an event. You give an amazing presentation and win your company a lucrative contract. An event. You get the flu and miss a music concert you bought the tickets for a year ago. An event. Your mother dies. An event.

Yes, I know what you’re saying. That missing a pop concert and your mother dying are hardly in the same league. Well, I guess that depends to some extent on the quality of your relationship with your mother.

Only kidding! Of course one outweighs the other. But they are both still events, and I put it to you that we can – and should – choose how we wish to react to events.

Events – and this is very important – are neutral things. Like a closet full of beige clothes. The trouble is, many of us have such chaotic closets – colours all jumbled up, red next to lime green, summer dresses next to winter coats, jeans we’ll never fit into again next to shorts that make us look like geriatric ramblers. And when shit comes calling, we reach into the mess of a closet to snatch up something red or purple or angry orange, and we wrap it closely around us until it feels like a part of our skin. When actually, what we need to do is to stand back, and give ourselves a little space. Keep hold of our dignity and our emotional control. Recognise that shit for what it is. A stinky, unwanted interruption in our lives.

Note from Margaret K Johnson:

I hope you enjoyed the above extract from Corrinne's book! Corrinne has more advice in my upcoming novel Perfect Responses. Here's the blurb:

Three women are about to face the biggest challenges of their lives. Janet has been mistaken for a sex tourist after being abandoned by her fiancé in Africa. Debbie is hell-bent on a hopeless affair with Adam, her married boss. Pregnant Kate has just married the love of her life only for him to turn into a distant stranger overnight.

The three don’t know it, but self-help author Corrinne Walker is depending on them to use her advice to sort themselves out. In fact, her whole future depends on them making perfect responses. But will they be able to do it?

Perfect Responses is coming very soon!

Cheers!

Margaret

6 Comments

Personally, I'm quite happy to describe my novels as women's fiction. To me, women's fiction can be defined as below (with thanks to the author Becca Vnuk), and I'm happy with this. These are the books I enjoy reading as well as writing. And it's not that I think men won't be interested in them, rather that it's less likely:

"The common thread is that the central character is female, and the main thrust of the story is something happening in the life of that woman (as opposed to the overall theme being a romance or a mystery of some sort). Emotions and relationships are the common thread between books that belong in this category. A woman is the star of the story, and her emotional development drives the plot."

And I suppose for me, it distinguishes my fiction from chicklit, which Wikipedia defines as:

Heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

But some writers feel very strongly about their novels being described as women's fiction.

Take best-selling author Jodi Picoult, for example.

In an interview for the Orlando Sentinel, Picoult said: “I don’t write women’s fiction. What that means is I have lady parts. There is absolutely nothing gendered in my writing. Some books I think of as more male-centric than female-centric. Honestly, when most people talk about women’s fiction, they’re usually talking about a light-and-fluffy beach read. If anyone is describing my books as light and fluffy, you have serious issues.”

Interviewed on Popsugar.com, Taylor Jenkins Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) also expresses her dislike of the women's fiction category.

She said, "Anytime I meet someone and they ask me what I do and I say, "I'm an author," and they say, "Oh, what kind of books do you write?" I say, "I write fiction." And they say, "Well, what does that mean?" What I choose to answer is, "I write book club books. I write books that you would read in a book club." What I mean by that is I write commercial fiction that is hopefully accessible to anybody that wants to read it, but they can be thought-provoking and give you something to talk about. But that's a very long answer to a small question, and the short answer is I write women's fiction, and the reason why it's called women's fiction is because we want to make sure, in no uncertain terms, men know "don't read this," which is just absurd.

"We have a society in which woman have learned to read about men and to find interesting things about the inner lives of men, and we have not done that same service for men. We have told men that women in their lives are not interesting to them, that the stakes of domestic fiction is not relevant to them — all of these things are completely untrue. Books about love and family are just as important and can be just as skillfully and beautifully written as books about war. I don't know why, so often, we put such a larger value on the story areas that men are interested in than what women are interested in. I also just don't buy the conceit. I think we just haven't allowed for men to admit when they're interested in these things, to open themselves up to be interested in these things. We've said, time and time again, to men, "What goes on in a woman's mind is not relevant to you." And that's just crazy. What goes on in every man's mind is relevant to me. We exist in the world together. I'm married to a man. The world is full of men. We should be doing that same thing for men. I think we're fixing it slowly. Big Little Lies was such a great example of a story, exclusively about women and about issues that directly affect women, that men watched. They cared. We're at the beginning of it."

(You can read the full interview here).

What do you think of the Women's Fiction book category? Are you happy with it the way I am, or do you agree that we're excluding men by using it? And if we are, is that right? Do, in fact, women's fiction books have something to offer men too?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

All for now.

Margaret 

10 Comments

I recently carried out a survey about women's fiction and the 132 responses made for fascinating reading.

There were the ordinary, useful questions about reading habits and demographic etc, but as a writer, what interested me most were the responses to questions I posed about the nitty-gritty of the writing, because this gave me a real flavour of what makes people read a book compulsively.

One of the questions asked respondents to choose statements about women's fiction they agreed with, and to add some of their own. Many people went on to make some very interesting and insightful suggestions, and I really wanted to share these results with you.

So, to start off with, here are the responses to the statements I provided myself:

It's important that I care what happens to the main character in a book and almost feel as if the events of the story are happening to me. 75.76%

I like to feel extremes of emotion when I'm reading - both happy and sad. 55.3%

When I'm reading, I enjoy being taken to places and experiencing situations I've never experience before. 76.52%

I'm happy for a novel to include an element of magic, or events that might never happen in real life, as long as the author makes me believe in it. 57.58%

A romance of some kind is essential in a book in order for me to enjoy it. 17.42%

I like a book's main character to grow and to learn something during the story. 63.64%

A book must have a happy ending, otherwise I feel cheated. 10.61%

It's not a problem to me if the main character is someone I don't particularly like. 39.39%

I like to feel I have something in common with the main protagonist. 25%

And here are the statements that respondents added themselves - the ingredients and factors that are important to them in a satisfying women's fiction novel.

  • I don't like loose ends, need to know what happened to all characters
  • Furthering women's causes
  • It has to feel realistic and not too cliched.
  • Not too far fetched...
  • Needs to grab you in the first chapter, dialogue is important
  • Well written prose.
  • It doesn't always have to have sex. Geez already.
  • Anything to keep me interested and page turning. A good storyline.
  • Helps me learn or appreciate something new
  • I like some humour
  • If I'm not supposed to like a main character, I need something bad to happen to them.
  • The main character should have some kind of intelligence, I get bored by ditzy girls, they have to be smart or witty or work things out
  • A good beginning that draws me in!
  • A sense of suspending disbelief or of an idealised reality being portrayed- country cottage, independent woman, seaside etc
  • Location. Books,based in a city with a bit of a story about the city interest me.
  • That the supporting characters are also fleshed out and have a story
  • The characters and their responses to situations must be believable.
  • Inner conflict
  • Good quality prose
  • Intelligence. Please expect that I am intelligent and need brain stimulation.
  • I prefer heroines who aren't weak, who can save themselves or others
  • Humor is so essential for me to thoroughly enjoy an MC or supporting characters. A book needs to take me away from the BS of everyday stress, the new and political mumbo jumbo. It needs to be a true, enjoyable or fascinatingly interesting escape!
  • Great characterization and good writing is a key
  • I am discouraged with novels crammed with over detailed descriptions of superficial things
  • Well written with relatable 3-dimensional characters
  • Good writing with realistic dialogue. An element of truth in the theme that I can relate to.
  • Right or wrong, that she be strong 🙂 (#StrongWomenWrite hashtag on Twitter)
  • Needs to be believable, must like the hero or heroine and care about them.
  • The author doesn't insult my intelligence by telling me everything.
  • Expect the unexpected
  • I love to get into the mind of the character - and I like novels with suspense, ie. Gone Girl.  I am more interested in the writing and how the writer creates rich and complicated characters.
  • Words chosen in writing should be easily understood by most people. Grammar is very important.
  • No misogynistic cliches please. I'm so fed up with Women as victims. Women don't need men to rescue them. They don't have to be superhuman - just real!

To sum up, (and this is my interpretation of the results) most people want a strong character who draws us in because we're intrigued, and prepared to invest in finding out what happens to them. We might be prepared to suspend our disbelief in the process, but we want to have our intelligence respected. We also want to have work to do - to have things to work out, and that actively engage our imaginations and our thoughts. We don't want to be handed everything on a plate like a bland meal, but we're happy to be entertained. We want good-quality ingredients, but a novel doesn't need to be so good for us it feels like a meal we eat when we're on our best behaviour.

I'm so grateful to everyone who took my survey. Their answers have really given me an insight into what people want from a great women's fiction novel. I'm off to apply all the advice!

Bye for now.

Margaret

 

Hello, everyone

I don't know about you, but I'm a huge Cecelia Ahern fan. I always get the feeling she's writing exactly what she wants to write, following whatever path her inspiration and her imagination take her on. From love stories like PS I Love You, to stories including elements of magic like The Time of My Life, to the more gritty The Year I Met You, I've read and enjoyed them all.

Some writers consistently produce a novel a year, and their readers look forward to a new release, confident that it will include the same key elements - for example, a story from the past with old secrets to be tracked down; secrets that will help someone to find happiness in the present day.

With these types of authors, I often imagine the expression of dismay on their editor's face if, after a year or more of waiting, they were to discover that their author has broken from habit to write something entirely new. There is a lot of pressure out there for writers to give readers what they want, and readers often more of the same.

Cecelia Ahern, however, seems to trust her readers to follow her as her books evolve and change. But that's very much harder to do when a writer not only changes the type of book she writes, but who she's writing for. Cecelia has done just that with her novels Flawed and Perfect, which are written for a new, younger audience, hungry for dystopian novels about a bleak, future way of life. An audience that is most definitely not me.

I'm sad, I have to say. Cecelia is doing what she's always done - following her inspiration and her imagination, but it does feel a little as if a door's been slammed in my face. Of course, who knows what she might write in the future? Hopefully our paths will cross again, and in the meantime, I'll do my best to feel happy for the lucky young readers who are discovering the worlds she creates for the first time.

How about you? Have you ever felt bereft when your favourite author has changed direction? Let me know on my Facebook page or in the comments below. I'd love to hear about it. And stay tuned for the results of my Women's Fiction Survey and prize draw, coming soon!

Have a great weekend!

All the best.

Margaret

2 Comments

This week, I’ve been really enjoying reading all the suggestions for fantasy places to read made by those who have completed my survey about women's fiction. (If you haven't completed the survey yet, there's still time - until the 31st May - and you could win a £20/$20 Amazon gift card. Here's the link: TAKE THE WOMEN'S FICTION SURVEY.

There have been so many great suggestions for fantasy reading places. Gardens of various sorts were a popular choice. I’ve recently been watching a re-run of a TV series called Around the World in Eighty Gardens, and your fantasy reading places made me want to go on a world trip called Around the World in Eighty Fantasy Reading Places. Wouldn’t that be great? Not only to experience all those wonderful places to sit and read a book, but to have the time and tranquillity to really get absorbed in reading.

Of course, for it to work properly, you’d need to have somebody on hand to carry your book pile and to supply you with refreshments. And they’d have to be somebody willing to melt into the background so they didn’t distract you.

drinks brought to fantasy reading place

One respondent was very specific about her choice of garden, naming the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Not being familiar with it, I took a look. Wow! Isn’t it an amazing place? So amazing, I might not be able to concentrate on my book if I were there, which would mean I would need to go there often to get used to it, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

courtyard of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Another garden choice that caught my eye was: in the garden of my childhood home. How evocative that was! In a flash, I was back in the garden of my own childhood, remembering every detail of it, or at least, every detail that counted to me as a child – I daresay my mother would have an entirely different memory of it. (After all, she was the one who did all the gardening.) For me, it conjured up memories of the sumac tree I loved so much with its rust-coloured furry trumpet fruits, and leaves that turned a vibrant red-gold every autumn. The pink roses I once looked at in the sunshine, causing pink splodges to appear before my eyes for ages afterwards. The bush I mindlessly plunged my hand into only to have it stung by a bee. The time when I was forbidden to go to the end of the garden because my dad was secretly making me a doll’s house for Christmas in his workshop.

 

If I could go back there now to read, it would have to be beneath that sumac tree in the autumn. If you could return to the garden of your childhood, I wonder whereabouts you’d read your favourite books?

Of course, not everyone has a garden when they're growing up. If that’s you, I wonder what your fantasy garden would be like? Or perhaps you’d be happy to stay indoors.

I'd love to know your thoughts on reading in gardens, childhood or otherwise.  Comment below, or you can tweet to me at @margaretkaj.

I'll bring you more from the fascinating survey results soon. In the meantime, happy reading, whether you're in your fantasy reading place or not! Have a good week.

Margaret 

4 Comments

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

My guest this week for the Write Despite feature is author Emma Rose Millar, a single parent whose inspiring commitment to her work has had her give up watching TV and write through the darkest of times. But I'll let Emma tell you more about it.

me
What challenges have you had to overcome in order to write?

Hi Margaret, thanks for inviting me. Like many writers, I’d say the main challenge for me is lack of time. I’m a single mum and my six year old is on the autism spectrum. Raising a child with autism is a rollercoaster ride: exhilarating, lonely, joyous and exhausting, but never, ever dull. I’ve also got a day job; I’m a sign language interpreter in further education. At the moment I’m rehearsing with special needs students to interpret their latest drama production into BSL.  Again, it’s a hugely rewarding job, but takes up a lot of emotional and physical energy. So I find there’s very little time to write. I only open up my laptop once my son’s gone to bed―any earlier and I start getting that parent-guilt―I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough as a mum. At one time I’d be up writing until two in the morning but that really wasn’t good for me and in the end I started to feel ill. I’ve had to be strict with myself and set a sensible time limit on my writing. These days, before bed I put on some music and do thirty minutes of yoga to try and unwind before I go to sleep. Otherwise my head’s full of ideas and I can’t switch off.

How do you this challenge has impacted on your writing?

Because I’ve reduced the amount I write, it now takes much longer to finish a manuscript, but I’ve come to realise that some things are more important. I’ve taken to writing novellas and children’s stories; they require much less commitment than a full length novel. I do also love my co-writing projects. My last novel Five Guns Blazing was an intricate tale of piracy, slavery and treason, which needed a huge amount of research. Having Kevin Allen as a co-writer meant I could share the workload.

kevin allen

Through our different backgrounds and experiences I think we managed to create a story it would have been very difficult for a single author to write. For my latest project, The Women Friends, I’ve also joined forces with another author. It’s a series of two novellas based on a painting by Gustav Klimt of the same name. Writing can be a lonely business, but writing in partnership with somebody else means you can bounce ideas off each other, share the high points and the low, give constructive feedback and pull each other through at those  times mid-story when it’s easy to feel like there’s no end in sight. Marketing’s also so time-consuming that two heads are always better than one.

 

freundinen

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

When I first started writing I was caught up in a bad relationship. I used to write in secret because I was terrified of my partner finding out. It was an extremely dark time in my life and that came across in my first novel. Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a story of domestic violence and opium addiction in 1920’s Britain where women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty alone. I’ve started re-writing it now with a new title, Jezebels! and am hoping to make it more marketable. Of all the stories I’ve written, it’s always been the most important to me because it was so personal. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and /or challenges.

I truly believe that if you want to do something enough, there is no obstacle too big. The single best thing I did though was turning off my TV; I haven’t watched it for over four years now and looking back, I can’t believe how much of my life it used to swallow up, or what a negative impact it had on me. Did I need all those soap operas? No. I find writing a much more constructive way to spend my evenings and I love the feeling I get when I finish a novel or short story.

Tell us a bit about something you’ve written that you’re really proud of, or something you’re writing now.

Probably my proudest moment as a writer was winning the Chaucer Award, (Legend category) for Five Guns Blazing last year. The novel tells the story of convict’s daughter Laetitia Beedham who in 1710 is set on an epic journey from London’s filthy back streets, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.

fgb

Here’s a short excerpt:

“You have been brought before me again, Mrs Beedham!” The magistrate looked at my mother over his spectacles. She must have considered him an idiot if she thought that a flash of her ample cleavage and of her fine eyes would win her any favour. He took the monocle from his breast pocket.

“Theft of a handkerchief, soliciting, affray, the attempted theft of a lady’s purse.”

Her lips twisted at the corner into a little smile, which she quickly straightened, but she looked almost pleased with herself as the charges were read out. I could picture her clear as day, proudly emptying her stolen trinkets out onto our mattress, all shiny and gleaming in the dipping glow of the rush-lights, as a child might present a parent with a painting or piece of needlework. My mother’s eye was as keen as a magpie’s for anything sparkly; she could pick out at ease the glint of a cufflink or a hairpin in the dullest of crowds and would glide her way after it, completely unseen. Later, she would stand back to admire the baubles and bits of finery with her hands on her hips and a look of satisfaction in her eyes, then quickly her face would fall as if she had suddenly noticed they were tarnished or broken and she would snatch them back and wrap them away in her cloth.

Hers was the first case of the day; the beak had seen her at least three times before. Needless to say, my mother was well acquainted with the good magistrates of Holborn; such was her fondness for relieving wealthy ladies and gentlemen of their belongings; handkerchiefs, pocket watches and so on. The magistrate thumbed through a pile of papers on his desk, a history of her sordid misdemeanours, seemingly oblivious to the swelling underclass packing his courtroom, with their poor diction and their sticky fingers. The public gallery was full of them: undesirables and reprobates, sweating, scratching. There were women employed at their needlework, old men dozing, and a girl with some younger children who spread a muslin cloth upon her lap, then proceeded to break up a meat pie and divide it between them. And of course there was me, Laetitia Beedham, the accused’s daughter who had weaved my way through the tangle of legs and crouched behind a man who I imagined might have been a farmer, or gamekeeper. He stood solidly in front of me, cleaning the dirt from underneath his fingernails with a blade.

“Oh, don’t hang me, sir, I beg of you!”

The court seemed suddenly excited by her outburst. It was all entertainment to them; the law after all is only theatre; it did not matter much if one was hanged or not, it was all part of the drama.

“I only did it for my daughter, who was sick and in need of medicine. My husband’s dead, sir, what is a woman to do?”

I felt a blush burning from my collarbone to my temples, and someone laughed and shouted, “She is a liar, sir! The girl is the bastard child of two thieves!”

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon

Many thanks for hosting me, Margaret J

Thanks for being such a great guest, Emma!

See you next time.

Margaret

We promise not to share your details with anyone.
We promise not to share your details with anyone.

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week's guest on Write Despite is author Claire Stibbe who's so passionate about writing, she advises us to write until we "croak." But what challenges does she have to overcome in order to get her words down on paper? Let's find out. Welcome, Claire.

Claire B&W
What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Working full time has always been a challenge since there are so few hours left in the day to sit down in a dedicated space and write. Now my main challenge is social media, updating webpages, editing, blogs, proofreading, reviews, formatting and Facebook. Each tiny distraction takes away precious minutes and hours from getting back into my writing zone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself not to be sidetracked by the onslaught of bestselling workshops that promise essential writing tips, marketing and promotion. There’s only so many you can take.

How do you think this challenge has impact on your writing?

I love doing it all. That’s the problem. But these commitments need to be managed. Having succumbed to an egg-timer and doing only one hour a day for twitter and Facebook, I have found a large chunk of time to write. My contemporary crime books don’t really fit the blueprint of thriller & suspense. They tend to fall somewhere between literary and mystery rather than being branded to one or the other. So I call them Myst-Lit (or MisFit).  I love doing pottery and gardening, and during these times a tape recorder is handy to record inspired chapters and plots.

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What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

Criticism. There are so many writers out there who have folded under that big giant, lost all their drive, passion and nerve. It’s awful to watch. I fell victim to the thought that making a book public would attract a queue of literary critics and I’d be buried under a morass of one star reviews. I remember going to a dinner party in London several years ago and sitting next to a man who kept referring to my writing as ‘a little project’ and ‘did I understand that writers must have a PhD to be considered for publication.’  I decided to load my sling and be a David to that Goliath. Reviews can be harsh, but we need them all the same.

Here’s my review puppy. I trot him out when reviews are scarce. Who can resist those little boot-button eyes…

Doggone 9th

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write but is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

All books are subjective and reviewers are only doing what comes naturally― evaluating the story. Take constructive criticism on the chin and learn from it and take no notice of the one star bandits. All the best authors have them so why shouldn’t we? Trust your gut, change what you feel you need to change and leave the rest. Write until you croak.

Tell us about something you've written that you're really proud of, and something you're writing now.

The 9th Hour, is a contemporary mystery/thriller set in New Mexico. The first book in a seven-part series introduces Temeke as the MC, an English detective who couldn’t be further from his native stamping ground. He is not much liked by his peers and due to a barrage of poorly chosen words finds himself ousted from Homicide and sent to Northwest Area Command.

billboard subway

When the ninth young girl falls into the clutches of a serial killer, maverick detective, David Temeke, faces a race against time to save her life.

The Duke City Police Department in Albuquerque, New Mexico is no stranger to gruesome murders, but this new serial killer on their block keeps the body parts of his eight young victims as trophies and has a worrying obsession with the number 9. The suspect is incarcerated in the state's high security penitentiary but Unit Commander Hackett is faced with a dilemma when another teenage girl goes missing.

Detective Temeke and his new partner, Malin Santiago, are sent to solve a baffling crime in the dense forests of New Mexico's Cimarron State Park. But time is running out. Can they unravel the mysteries of Norse legends and thwart the 9th Hour killer before he dismembers his next victim?

This is the first in the Detective Temeke Crime series.
Night Eyes is the second in the series and was released last week. I think this is my favorite book so far.

4 Book Banner Blog

When the young son of Albuquerque's Mayor is kidnapped, Detective David Temeke and his partner Malin Santiago are called to investigate.
Meanwhile, a ten year enquiry into the murders of several young boys has gone cold. No witnesses, no suspect. Or so the police believe. But a mysterious phone call leads Temeke and Santiago to the remains of a young boy found near the ancient ruins of an Anasazi settlement. Is this a random act or the work of the serial killer?

Drawn deeper into the wilderness by a man waging a war with his past, twelve year old boy-scout, Adam, must use everything he has learned to stay alive.

Temeke and Santiago are pushed to the limit in the second book of this thrilling, fast-paced series set in New Mexico.

An electrifying new edition to the Stibbe arsenal, Night Eyes confronts the relationship between husband and wife, father and son, detective and villain. Temeke comes to understand that he is dealing with a perpetrator who will put him to the test, both professionally and personally and, at the same time, battle the darkest demons in himself. Not since Marklund's Annika Bengtzon series, has there been a novel with as much insight into spiritual warfare. Fast-moving, riveting reading which ranks with the best thrillers out there. ~ Noble Lizard Publishing.

To find out more about Claire’s books, visit her website here 

Also by Claire Stibbe

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 Claire is also a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, New Mexico Book Co-op and the Southwest Writers Association.

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Author Rumer Haven is on my Write Despite feature this week, talking about the special blend of genres that make up her novels, and her fears when she was starting out that her ideas wouldn't stretch to a whole book. Welcome, Rumer!

 

Rumer Haven
Rumer Haven

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Probably finding my voice and genre. I’ve always loved creative writing, but for a while there, my writing was primarily of the academic and business variety. I tend toward long, intricate sentences, and I had a graduate school professor once tell me that my writing was good but could be great if I would only relax it a little.

I have also felt caught between the literary and commercial realms. I don’t consider my writing highbrow, but it’s not exactly a beach read either. And while my stories usually have romance, they don’t fit the formula of that genre.

WTCK_teaser5

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

I think by now I’ve learned to embrace the hybrid genre. The stories just are what they are; it’s how they come to me, and I’d be hard-pressed to hack limbs off them just so I can squeeze them into one category or another. So while it can make it difficult to position myself to find the right audience, the more I write, the more I see the commonalities between stories, which makes the cross-genre easier to define (even if takes a few words to do so). As has become clearer to me from my first two novels, I trend toward contemporary women’s fiction with historical, paranormal and romantic elements. Gives me a lot to work with, and I’d prefer to continue mixing and matching versus pigeon-holing myself into any one.

Streamlining my style is an ongoing challenge, yet I’ve found that it helps to pick up my pace when drafting. If I don’t let myself dawdle and dwell too long on the wordsmithing, and instead just push the story forward by writing faster, my language does seem to simplify and relax.

WTCK_teaser3
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

Not having an idea that I could sustain across an entire novel. Since then, it’s fearing what others think of my stories—but in the beginning, I wrote for myself. I simply wanted to write a novel whether it would be published or not. And it took years to find that first idea, so I doubted it would ever happen. But once I did grab onto that first idea, subsequent ones flowed, which has been such a happy relief.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Write. Just write. Don’t wait for the right time, don’t even wait for the right idea (like I did). Just write, and the words and ideas will flow from there. Staring down a blank page (or blank screen, in this day and age) is daunting, so write something on it, and it won’t be scary and blank any more! Ideas beget ideas, so even if your first draft is crap, trust me, there are diamonds in that rough. Pluck them, polish them, and set them in something stronger. But you can’t do that unless you have something to work with in the first place; you have to create the clay before you can mould it. And in my case, writing actually helped me work through difficult circumstances that threatened to squash my dreams. Instead, I achieved them…by just…writing.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

I’m presently writing a 1920s murder mystery. My first time dappling in that genre, so we’ll see how it goes! But it’s fun writing Roaring Twenties historical fiction again after my debut novel, Seven for a Secret.

FB cover (1)

 

Meanwhile, I’d be remiss not to share my latest release, published just last week! Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity:

Twenty-six-year-old Margot sets out on a journey of self-discovery – she dumps her New York boyfriend, quits her Chicago job, and crashes at her friend’s flat in London. Rather than find herself, though, she only feels more lost. An unsettling energy affects her from the moment she enters the old Victorian residence, and she spirals into depression. Frightened and questioning her perceptions, she gradually suspects her dark emotions belong to Charlotte instead. Who is Charlotte? The name on a local gravestone could relate to Margot’s dreams and the grey woman weeping at the window.

Finding a ghost isn't what she had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow Margot's future may depend on Charlotte's past.

Amazon UK - http://amzn.to/1QsiFfr
Amazon US - http://amzn.to/21DZoCw

Thanks so much for joining us, Rumer, and for your fascinating answers to my questions! Good luck with all things hybrid.

Until next time,

Margaret

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week, I'm delighted to have author Sue Barnard on the Write Despite Feature. As well as working on her fourth novel, Sue is also an editor and finds it difficult to find the time to write. And when she does find the time, she can feel selfish about it. But I'll let Sue explain. Welcome, Sue.

Sue Barnard author pic
Sue Barnard

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

The biggest one has been finding the time to actually do any writing.  Real life has an annoying tendency to get in the way of creativity.  And for some reason I always feel selfish about sitting down to write – as though I should be doing something less self-centred.  Oddly enough, I don’t have this problem when I’m editing or critiquing work for other writers – which is, of course, another claim on my time.  My own writing always has to take a back seat when I’m doing that.   That might go some way towards explaining why my current Work In Progress has remained In Progress for so long.  Could this be because women might be conditioned (consciously or subconsciously) to always put their own needs last?  It would be interesting to know if male writers have the same problem.

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

I sometimes have to force myself to ignore other commitments and just sit down and write.  Having said that, I find that I do a lot of thinking when I’m busy with other (non-writing) tasks.  Sometimes inspiration strikes at the most unexpected moments.  On one occasion a complete stanza of a poem arrived, fully-formed, when I was sitting in a traffic jam.  Gardening can be particularly profitable. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn.  Perhaps the most significant of these was how to resolve a particularly thorny issue in The Ghostly Father.

Sue's lawn
Sue's lawn - mowing it can inspire lots of ideas for writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a couple of times, and I’ve found that to be a great help, as having an externally-imposed deadline gave me an excuse to concentrate on my own writing for a while. Last year, although I didn’t meet the target, I did manage to write several key scenes of my current WIP.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I think the biggest one was self-doubt.  When I first started writing, I never thought I’d ever manage to produce anything that anyone else would want to read.  Even now, as a published author, I’m still afraid of producing something sub-standard. I’m lucky enough to have some very loyal readers, and I’d feel as though I was letting them down.  I’m also nervous about getting bad reviews, but I’m now starting to develop a thicker skin.  As one writer friend pointed out recently, it’s impossible to please everybody.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Don’t waste any opportunity to think or observe.  As I mentioned earlier, inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. Keep a notebook (or a smartphone) handy, and jot down ideas as they occur to you.

Try to set aside a time each day, or week, for writing and/or research.  This doesn’t have to be at home – sometimes it helps to get away from the house and any home-related distractions.  Try your local library.  Or your local park, if the weather is fine.  Or maybe a coffee-shop.  That certainly worked for JK Rowling.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice from other writers, either face to face or online.

Don’t feel disillusioned or frustrated if you find things aren’t going smoothly.  It took me quite a while to realise that writing a book takes a lot longer than reading one!

Try to write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph or two. A novel of 100,000 words begins with a single sentence.  Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect at the start.  You can always go back and edit it later, but you can’t edit a blank page.

If you are short of ideas, find some writing prompts.  You can buy books of these, but it isn’t essential.  You can find prompts anywhere; it’s just a question of knowing where to look.  As an example, turn on the radio then write something which fictionalises the first thing you hear.

TGF front

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

I was particularly proud of my debut novel, The Ghostly Father, even though it was never originally intended for publication.  It’s a re-telling of the story of Romeo & Juliet, but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.

 

I wrote it for myself, simply because I’ve always loved the story but hated the way it ended, and I wanted to give Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers a version which didn’t end in tragedy.  But judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed it, it seems as though I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.

Shakespeare

I’m currently working on my fourth novel, which is a time-slip story based on an old French legend.  Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that at this stage, as it would give too much away!

The Ghostly Father: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

Nice Girls Don’t: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

The Unkindest Cut of All: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

Thanks so much, Sue for your interesting and informative answers to my questions! Now do go away and be as selfish as possible for as long as you want (ie, get writing!).

Until next time,

Margaret

5 Comments

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week I'm delighted to welcome Crooked Cat author Vanessa Couchman to my Write Despite Feature. Like many of us, Vanessa struggles with procrastination. I'll let her tell us how she deals with it. Welcome, Vanessa!

Vanessa with The House at Zaronza
Vanessa Couchman

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I’m an odd mixture of contradictions. A perfectionist by nature, I am also a serial procrastinator. Add in a lack of self-confidence and you have a recipe for complete stasis. I call it the rabbit in the headlights syndrome. It’s amazing that I get anything done at all – but, paradoxically, I have a tendency to take on too many commitments. I’m just a gal who can’t say no.

So my main challenge is carving out time to write and forcing myself to use that time effectively, rather than just frittering it away. We live in the wilds of Southwest France and so I don’t know what I would do without the internet. But sometimes I really wish it had never been invented. It’s the procrastinator’s paradise. I don’t have the willpower to turn it off. Also, there’s a lot of pressure on authors to have an extensive social media presence, which takes up plenty of time.

Najac in SW France, in the mist
Najac in SW France, in the mist

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

As a freelance writer by profession, I can’t afford to miss deadlines, but when it comes to writing fiction I just assume that I have infinite time to get it done. Then I reach the end of the day and realise I haven’t achieved what I set out to do. Despite this, I do actually love writing and it gives me a buzz to see my characters take on a life of their own.

For me, National Novel Writing Month has been a boon. (Nanowrimo.org) I wrote my first novel, The House at Zaronza, during November 2012 and most of a second novel in November last year. Having to achieve 50,000 words in a month is just the goal I need. The problems are, first, that you end up with something that isn’t quite novel-length and have to finish it and, second, that the focus is on quantity rather than quality, so a lot of editing is needed.

Front cover final 2

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I first started to write when I was very young. Then I had no fear at all. I just wrote to tell stories. At that age, you don’t have dreams of publication or the hang-ups that accumulate as an adult.

I started writing fiction again about six years ago after a very long gap that was filled with a career and then running my own business. My fear then was that my writing wouldn’t be good enough. I began with short stories and I cringe when I look at some of the early ones. With the help of colleagues from a small online writing community, Writers Abroad, I improved and got some successes in competitions under my belt. But I have always felt that novels, rather than short stories, are where my heart lies, even if their length makes them more daunting!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

It obviously depends on the circumstances. And, given what I’ve said above, I’m probably not the best person to offer advice! However, if you also have the procrastination gene, I suggest trying to set goals for what you want to achieve each day or week: not huge, overarching goals, but broken down into bite-sized pieces, so that you can achieve them, tick them off and feel a sense of satisfaction.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be a published author, I would have fallen over. I’m sorry my mother didn’t live long enough to know it: she loved books and reading and would have been so proud.

The House at Zaronza, published by Crooked Cat, was inspired by a true story we came across when holidaying on Corsica – an island we love and keep revisiting.

Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza
Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza

The B&B where we stayed had framed love letters on the walls, which the owners discovered walled up in the attic when they restored the house. They were written in the 1890s by the local schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, but they were destined never to marry. I just had to write the story, which stretches into World War I and beyond.

Corsican sunset on Cap Corse
Corsican sunset on Cap Corse

If I’m allowed two things, I’m also rather proud of my French life blog, Life on La Lune. We’ve lived in France since 1997 and I started a blog six years ago about French life, history and culture. People often take the trouble to write to tell me they enjoy it, which means a lot to me. Here's the link: France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Thanks so much for appearing on Write Despite, Vanessa! I'm sure many readers will related to your procrastination, and thanks for such beautiful, inspiring pictures. They really make us want to read your book! Vanessa's links and the blurb to A House in Zaronza are below.

Until next time!

Margaret

Blurb from The House at Zaronza

The past uncovered. Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She comes across a series of passionate love letters and delves into their history. The story unfolds of a secret romance at the start of the 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future, though, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the ‘island of beauty’, and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes.

The House at Zaronza universal Amazon book link: http://getbook.at/Zaronza

France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Writing site: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanessa-Couchman/e/B00LQM4T9O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/houseatzaronza.vanessacouchman

Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

About Vanessa

Vanessa Couchman has lived in France since 1997 and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and placed in competitions. She is working on a sequel to The House at Zaronza, set in World War II and another novel set in 18th-century Corsica. Vanessa works as a freelance writer and is a member of the Historical Novel Society.