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book review: The Good Liar ~ by Catherine McKenzie, 5* review plus bonus author article


Hello everyone!

Another day, another week, and, while we’re all waiting for winter to retreat and spring finally to hit us with its waves of pleasantness, here I am again with a brand new review, this time of Catherine McKenzie’s latest book, The Good Liar, which is being marketed as a GoodReads “Hottest Thriller of 2018” selection for fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (Booklist), and one you’re likely to devour in one sitting (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Before I start, however, I have a couple of things I have to confess. Truth is, I had never read anything by Catherine McKenzie before. Unforgivable omission, I know. And I only became fully aware of her new book as something other than a vaguely potential read when I was contacted about my missing review by lovely Denelle Catlett, PR Manager for Lake Union Publishing. Then I remembered where I’d seen the book, and why I had requested it in the first place. It was definitely something I had very much wanted to read, for a host of reasons I will get into in a little while.

In her email, Denelle urged me to download my copy before the title archived on April 17th, which I did, with the promise that I’d read and review the title by that date. And all just because Denelle was so absolutely lovely on our exchange of emails that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, well, I am absolutely overworked and falling asleep on the job. Literally, miserably falling asleep on the job. I kid you not. And then again, when am I ever not behind on my reviews?

Erm… Hmm. Rods and backs. Not a comfortable conversation right now. Quick change of subject, then. So.

That The Good Liar caught my attention when I first came across it on the Goodreads 40 of the Hottest Mysteries & Thrillers of 2018, is all down to my lingering habit of going through hot lists, comparing the titles that “made it” there to those that made it into my own pile of to-be-read titles, and then going through the synopses for those I do not have bookmarked. The Good Liar was one such later addition to my list, on the strength of its synopsis alone, and the questions I instantly had about it.

To begin with, the book deals with a terrible explosion that rips apart a whole residential building, killing most of its inhabitants. It echoed of 9/11, somehow, and I was curious to see how the author treated this thorny issue. Then, the story of that explosion, the moments leading to it, and its aftermath, was being told from the perspectives of three women survivors, a year on from the terrible event that tore their lives apart. I am an addict for stories told from multiple perspectives, so this was a cert for me.

And finally, the book’s themes revolve around issues of perspective, and of truth and lies — which I’ve also got a very soft spot for — and who is telling which, hiding what. Because, erm, have I mentioned the synopsis also quotes secrets being kept by all three female narrators…? Well. There you go. All in all, this seemed a book written for me, and I had hurried to request it. Now that it was here, I couldn’t wait to devour it. I decided to put aside that difficult galley I was having trouble gelling with, and indulge myself in something I knew I would very likely love to read. Not a difficult choice, wouldn’t you agree?

However, just before I move on to the business of introducing you to Catherine McKenzie and her work, and to my review of her title, I’d like to rather publicly thank Denelle Catlett; we further exchanged emails, as I requested a press pack, and Denelle was swift in sending it to me. It’s been a real pleasure dealing with her, and I hope to have plenty more opportunities in the future to do so.

Also, my thanks to Lake Union Publishing for the opportunity to read this title, and for their ready assistance to help me make my blog post as good as I can possibly make it.

And now, courtesy of Lake Union Publishing, here’s Catherine McKenzie telling us all about writing The Good Liar, and the issues she had to confront all the way from germ-of-an-idea to finished draft. It is one of the best pieces about the writing process I have read lately, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Catherine McKenzie: Theft by Finding

I’m not the first to say it, but being a writer can sometimes be a peculiar profession. The things one Googles, for instance (it’s research, NSA!), and the thoughts that can creep into your head at the worst moments while you’re in the middle of living. Or worse, when others are in the middle of dying.

Years and years ago an idea popped into my head. It was an interesting idea—to me at least—and we writers guard our interesting ideas. They don’t happen every day, you know, so when they do, it can be an exciting moment. Only this idea — what if someone used a national tragedy to disappear — came to me on day two or three of the 9/11 coverage, when family members began pinning pictures of the missing to that chain link fence. You know the one. You were probably watching that same coverage and thinking how sad it was, because it was sad. I was thinking it that too, but there was also that nagging thought, prompted by one of those weird little life coincidences that happens sometimes, because someone close to me stood on the top of the World Trade Center two weeks before the bombing. Or, at least, that’s where he told me he was going to be. How did I know? How did anyone know? And then there were all the people being interviewed who were supposed to be on this plane or that… Ack, what the hell was wrong with me?

The moment passed, but the thought lingered. I mean, it must’ve happened sometime in the course of history, right? I couldn’t be the only one who thought this way? And if I was, what did it say about me?

No writer should ask themselves that question, let me tell you.

Years later, I heard a story on the news about a man who’d abandoned his family and then returned twenty years later. I don’t remember all the details, now, but that sparked something, too. It reminded me of my earlier thought and added others. It was sticky, that story, it stuck with me. Because: who would do such a thing? But also: how did they get away with it? Could I write about that? Where did that story go?

I like to tell myself that these types of questions are one of the things that make writers writers. You take something from life—maybe yours, maybe someone else’s—and you make it into art. It’s what painters do—freezing a face on a frame forever (who is Mona Lisa, anyway?). Do they think they’re nuts? Well, Van Gogh for sure, he was crazy, but in general, no. Still, though…

Then I was watching a documentary about a high school football team. They had an historic season, went right to the State finals and won. But the filmmaker couldn’t have known that when he started production or pitched the idea or raised the money. Nor could he have know about the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who would turn his life around. Or the kid from the right side of the tracks who’d descend into drugs. But he was there to tell a story, so he was hoping these sorts of things would happen—he must’ve been. And I thought that this was maybe worse: following someone’s life hoping something bad would happen was definitely worse than simply taking a leap from a real event into my imagination.

Right?

It’s so hard to know. I have a book coming out (The Good Liar, April 3). And every major thread in that book is somehow connected to 9/11 because the genesis of the idea for each of its threads is something connected to that event and its aftermath. When I first pitched the idea to my agent, she was worried it was exploitative of 9/11. I protested. What about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? What about The Goldfinch? Not that I was in the same league as those writers, but surely, it had been enough time for someone to write about something similar?

We bandied back and forth about it. I didn’t want to exploit the survivors and families of the victims. But I also didn’t want to abandon this idea. Is that the definition of exploitation? Probably somewhere. Probably yes.

So I made changes. I set the book in Chicago. I made the tragedy an accident, and I tried not to steal imagery from that fateful day. And then I made it, in part about a film. One of the main characters is shooting a documentary set a year after a large gas explosion tears down a building. He’s following several families who lost people in the tragedy. That’s right; I put the exploiter right there in my story to distract from what I was doing. It’s something I often do. If I name a flaw, you might not notice the flaw.

That’s the theory, anyway.

I can see all the flaws in my work. And though writing is an act of faith—an act of hubris, even—there’s also a vampiric quality to it. When my husband was reading a late draft, I heard him laugh. When I asked him why he was laughing, he mentioned a characteristic of a character that shared something with him. I hadn’t even remembered that I put that in there, and that’s part of the trouble with writing. When you think of that perfect line, or that perfect description, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s memory or talent that’s showing up on the page. (Like that line right there. I think I made it up, but just in case, I’m pointing it out.)

Publishing a book is an odd experience. I wrote The Good Liar in 2016, and then edited it in the first half of 2017. It was “done” six months ago. And so now it sits in the hands of a few readers who get early copies, their reviews coming in a couple at a time on blogs and Goodreads. Every time someone mentions a “9/11-like event” I hold my breath. Is this the review that’s going to call me out? Tell me I didn’t do my research? That I’m profiting off of someone else’s pain?

Life is pain. I do know I stole that—from The Princess Bride to be exact. And writing is pain too, the cataloguing of it, the transposing. Does it make a difference if it’s mine or someone else’s? Of course I get that it does, but in the selfish way of writers. By this I mean: the characters in the book are mine, “people” I invented. If you think they could be real—if you “like” them or don’t, for example—I win. I did my job. Once the book is done, I release them and then they are free to do what they want out in the world. They can make you feel good or bad or angry or sad or nothing at all.

And me? I’m pointing out my flaws.

About Catherine McKenzie:

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine is a partner in a litigation boutique in Montreal, where she was born and raised. Catherine’s novels, SPIN, ARRANGED, FORGOTTEN, HIDDEN, SMOKE and FRACTURED, are bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Slovakian and Czech. SMOKE was named one of the Top 100 Books in 2015 by Amazon and one of the Best Books of October 2015 by Goodreads. FRACTURED was named one of the Best Books of October 2016 by Goodreads.

Catherine’s first book writing as Julie Apple (the protagonist in FRACTURED), THE MURDER GAME, was released in November, 2016. SPIN has been optioned for a television series. A short film of ARRANGED was made in 2014 and won a Canadian National Screen Institute Award. Catherine was on set while they filmed it. It was one of the highlights of her writing life.

Catherine’s next novel, THE GOOD LIAR, will be published on April 3, 2018.

An avid skier and runner, Catherine climbed the Grand Teton in 2014.

And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.

Visit her online at www.catherinemckenzie.com, on her author page on Facebook , and on Twitter and Instagram at @CEMckenzie1

about The Good Liar:

 

The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie has published on April 3rd on the US (Hardcover US$ 14.95 Paperback US$ 10.99 Kindle US$ 4.29 ), Canada (Hardcover CND$ 28.75 Paperback CND$ 21.87), and the UK (Hardcover £16.43 Paperback £4.99 Kindle £4.99).

……..

and now, for my humble part on this blog post…

copy for all editions, all countries

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Lake Union Publishing, for review consideration. My review is also being published to NetGalley, GoodReads,  Amazon, LinkedIn, and my other social media accounts.

the synopsis:

Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching? 

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered. 

A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

advance praise:

“With twists and turns, the lives of three women intersect in the most unexpected ways during the aftermath of a tragedy. Thought-provoking, suspenseful, and mysterious, The Good Liar is a true page-turner that explores the ways stories are connected and created, and what can be hidden underneath. This is a book you won’t be able to put down!” ~ Megan Miranda (All the Missing GirlsThe Perfect Stranger)

“A riveting story that revolves around the aftermath of a national tragedy: three women, three separate yet deftly intertwined lives. I adored the look at the story behind the story, the background lives of the women we so often see in the news. The twists are shocking, the characters are well drawn but unpredictable, and the conclusion is as poignant as it is surprising. The Good Liar is thrilling, captivating, and not to be missed!” ~ Kate Moretti (The Vanishing YearThe Blackbird Season)

“Lines will be crossed and secrets revealed when tragedy intersects three women in The Good Liar, a guilty pleasure you won’t be able to put down until the very last page. A must read!” ~ Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke (The Good Widow)

“For many years, Catherine McKenzie has been writing some of the best thrillers around. She’s outdone herself with The Good Liar, the powerful and heartbreaking story of the painful aftermath of a national tragedy. It’s sharply written with engaging characters and twists and surprises up until the very last page. A smart, fast-paced, and riveting thriller!” —David Bell (Bring Her Home)

“In her latest, Catherine McKenzie continues to prove she’s a master at crafting psychological thrillers. In The Good Liar, we follow three women—Cecily, Kate, and Franny—in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy through their web of lies, secrets, and deceit. The story is layered with superb twists and expert pacing, deftly building in suspense until its stunner of an ending. A compulsive read that kept me guessing!” ~ Kerry Lonsdale (Everything We Left Behind and Everything We Keep)

“In The Good Liar, the lives of three women become entangled in a single tragedy. With her compelling characters, whip-smart dialogue and edge-of-your-seat pacing, McKenzie asks how well we know those around us—even the people we love the most.” ~ Paula Treick DeBoard (Here We Lie, The Drowning Girls)

“Put The Good Liar at the top of your summer must-read list. Catherine McKenzie isn’t just a talented storyteller; she has a knack for asking the questions every woman secretly asks, and answering with a story that expresses our collective dreams and fears. The Good Liar brilliantly weaves three stories about regular women coping with the aftermath of a tragedy. But this book is far more than a first-rate page turner; it’s an exploration of the cost of keeping secrets, how the bonds between women both chafe and comfort, and how in the midst of the terror and beauty that is life, we find grace.” ~ Allison Leotta (The Last Good Girl)

“Catherine McKenzie has done it again with her latest novel, The Good Liar. In yet another page-turner, three women, linked by trauma, transform from images seen through the camera’s lens into human and relatable characters as their layered lives come into focus. As you settle in for this tense and compelling ride, you’ll start to question who ‘the good liar’ really is—Cecily, Kate, witnesses, the media, friends, family, or maybe even Catherine McKenzie herself.” ~ Emily Bleeker (Wreckage, When I’m Gone)

the review:

I was curious to find out how Catherine McKenzie had addressed that massive white elephant in the room: the maybe-a-bit-too-close-for-comfort similarity to a real life, truly catastrophic event such as 9/11 was not so long ago.

There were of course issues of good taste and decorum, but also the question of how moral it is for a writer to make use of (= exploit?) such historical events, and real life details, as their inspiration, when they are still so recent and alive in people’s memories, and especially when faced with the reality of survivors and the family members of victims from the disaster, and their still raw grief. It would take a special sensibility to pull it off, I told myself, so let’s see what Ms McKenzie did of it.

And then I received the press pack from the publishers, and read the above author’s article. Being a writer myself, I recognised Catherine McKenzie’s words and fully identified with them. Writers have to make choices which often may no be very popular, or ideas that might prove most difficult, or even impossible, to pull off successfully. We question our judgement permanently.

I loved Catherine McKenzie’s choice of departing premise for this book; to put it simply:

“The idea for this novel has been percolating in McKenzie’s mind for years and began with this thought: What if someone used a national tragedy to run away from their life? Later, she discovered stories about people faking their way into tragedies. And finally, she learned of a 9/11 widow whose divorce was about to be finalized right before the towers fell. From there, she thought what-if, and began writing THE GOOD LIAR. An irresistible look at ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Half way through it, I already knew I loved how Catherine McKenzie went about telling her story. It begins by being a story of possibilities — yes, catastrophic events happen. People are caught in them, and their aftermath. Suffering of some degree is inevitable. When these things happen, the frontier between the private and the public becomes, seemingly also inevitably in our day and age, blurred. The media and the public at large suddenly feel an entitlement to to your grief, an ownership of you and your story. And in the middle of all the horror, there will always be someone ready to take advantage, in any way they can, from some aspect of it. And this is the story Catherine McKenzie tells, very skilfully and with sensitivity, without once blurring the lines between a 9/11-type reality and her fictional universe.

The main characters, the three women around which the action centres, are all well drawn and fleshed out, very believable — very real and alive. They are three women caught out by the events and by their own lives, and the lies they are all living in, and who try to resolve the conflicts they’re caught in in the only way they can or know best.

Cecily, the main character, chooses to come clean, and thereby wiping her own slate clean. She’s a very likeable character, and we understand why she did what she did. We get to see inside her head and her heart, and decide from very early on that, whatever she’s trying to keep away from the public eye, it is not criminal or strenuously morally reprehensible. We forgive her lie of omission, because we understand it. We love her.

Kaytlin is a damaged woman, unable to deal with her past, with her damage, or with her present. She is a profoundly troubled and unhappy person, as a woman, as  a wife, as a mother. She once again succumbs to her unresolved mental health problem and, having miraculous escaped with her life, in an act of folly she decides to disappear in the aftermath of the building explosion.  Thus she places herself in a situation from which there is no come back, but which she tells herself is for the better and an act of real love. We understand her, but deplore her choice of action.

And Franny… well, while one feels slightly sorry for Franny for having been so blatantly rejected, we cannot possible like her, not even before we learn the full extent of her actions. She’s the little sociopath in the basket, ruining everybody else’s apples. And she’s so well designed as a character that we absolutely hate her, and take everything she says with a tonne of pinches of salt. And then we understand that it all goes far deeper, and she is a full blown psychopath. We can’t spare a single thought for her.

But I do urge you to seriously think about this book as your next read. It’s psychological and suspenseful, and pulls you in from the beginning. You’re left hanging there, knowing there is something below the surface, and you try to figure those undercurrents out, but there’s so much to consider. And you have to keep reading, just so you finally see your suspicions confirmed… or be completely bowled over by the last twist in the narrative.

the verdict:

Great commuting literature, but watch out for you stop. Moreover, it leaves you wanting to get to know everything about Catherine McKenzie’s writing. The question now is, which of her titles do I pick up next…?

Genre pegging: General Fiction / Women’s Fiction 
Verdict: a perfectly riveting, thought-provoking read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
general fiction; thrillers;  

 

book review: All The Beautiful Girls ~ by Elizabeth J. Church

Cover for all UK editions & US paperback edition

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, HarperCollins / 4th Estate Books. This review is also being published to NetGalley, GoodReads, Amazon, LinkedIn, and all my social media accounts.

the synopsis:

The dazzling, powerful story of a gutsy showgirl who tries to conquer her past amongst the glamour of 1960s Las Vegas – finding unexpected fortune, friendship and love.

Cover for US hardcover edition

In the summer of 1968, Ruby Wilde is the toast of Las Vegas. Showgirl of the Year, in her feathers and rhinestones, five-inch heels and sky-high headdresses, she mesmerises audiences from the Tropicana to the Stardust. Ratpackers and movie stars, gamblers and astronauts vie for her attention and shower her with gifts.

But not so long ago Ruby Wilde was Lily Decker from Kansas: an orphaned girl determined to dance her way out of her troubled past. When she was eight years old, Lily survived the car crash that killed her parents and sister. Raised by an aunt who took too little interest in her and an uncle who took too much, dancing was her solace, and her escape. When a mysterious benefactor pays for her to attend a local dance academy, Lily’s talent becomes her ticket to a new life.

Now, as Ruby Wilde, the ultimate Sin City success story, she discovers that the glare of the spotlight cannot banish the shadows that haunt her. As the years pass and Ruby continues to search for freedom, for love and, most importantly, herself, she must learn the difference between what glitters and what is truly gold.

advance praise:

‘A gorgeously written novel with the bite of a gin martini, All the Beautiful Girls goes beyond the splashy, gaudy dazzle of Las Vegas in the sixties to reveal the beating heart beneath the glamorous façade of a showgirl with big ambitions.’ ~ Sara Gruen

‘A heartbreaking story, passionately told’ ~ Ellen Feldman

‘A brave and powerful novel … With heart-wrenching immediacy and gorgeous prose, author Elizabeth Church examines the often desperate choices women must confront, and the secrets they must protect’ ~ Lauren Belfer

”A beautifully rendered tale of personal redemption filled with friendship, loss, extravagant furs, and feathery headdresses’ ~ Kirkus

‘A beautifully written and thoughtful novel with strong themes of love, trust, guilt, family and friendship’ ~ Historical Novel Review

‘An exquisitely crafted novel of love discovered and friendship found. No one captures the exuberant passions and inner struggles of women like Elizabeth Church’ ~ Martha Hall Kelly

‘The show girl’s life is fascinating but so, too, is the interior struggle of a young woman battling demons that dog her every step. Church has given us a true heroine, both flawed and beautiful, who rises even as she falls’ ~ Juliette Fay

‘Elizabeth J Church has brought that era to life with this book. It’s full of high kicking glamour, there’s love and there’s loss. It’s a book that celebrates friendship and the strength that we find from it’ ~ Emma, Bedford Waterstones

“Delightful . . . Church’s appreciation of language is apparent as she masterfully creates pictures with words.” ~ Associated Press

a bonus feature:

Listen to excerpts of the novel read by Katherine Fenton, courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers:

the review:

Lily Decker loses her parents and big sister to a traffic accident when she is just eight years old, and is sent to live with her mother’s sister, an embittered and stern woman who, unlike Lily’s mother, is unable to understand much more beyond her life of blue-collar strife, or to give the little girl the love she needs; and her husband, who soon also begins sexually abusing the little girl. The only measure of control she seems to be able to assert in her life is self-harm.

Riddled with guilt for the accident that killed the little girl’s family, test pilot Sterling, starts sending her books and taking an active interest in the her education, which includes paying for her dancing lessons once the girl tells him that dancing is the only thing that makes her happy. Lily forges herself into a determined and gritty person, who dreams but of escaping Kansas and the dreariness of her life and family.

Advised by an ill-informed dance teacher, as soon as she reaches 18 Lily escapes to Vegas, where she is told she stands a better chance at making it as a dancer. On her way there, she re-invents herself as Ruby Wilde. Failing at all the auditions and unable to make it as a dancer, Ruby eventually takes a job as a casino showgirl, which was the very last thing she wanted to do but enables her not just to become the toast of the town but to quickly amass considerable savings.

While admittedly Ruby makes for an interesting heroine, she does not seem to be that bright a spark, especially considering how well read she’s supposed to be and the valuable and wise life advice she gets from her benefactor. She ends up falling in love with the wrong man and being trapped in an abusing relationship, which ends with her love interest leaving her pregnant and stealing all she has. Simultaneously, Lily/Ruby seems to keep abreast of what is going on in the wider world, namely the assassination of Martin Luther King, nuclear testing in Nevada and the Vietnam War protests (the main events and strife of late 1960s America), and she seemingly develops an acute social conscience.

All The Beautiful Girls is quite an interesting novel, ultimately exploring love, loss and friendship, even though it follows a series of quite common formulas and prescriptions: a girl who manages to prise herself out of her life of hardship and abuse through sheer grit and determination alone, who dreams of making a life of affluence for herself, but who eventually finds out that nothing can erase the scars left by her childhood trauma. It is set in the 1950s and 1960s, in Kansas, Las Vegas, and then Albuquerque, and is structured in three parts.

The first part is set in Kansas and concerns Lily’s childhood and teenager years; it depicts her life with her aunt and uncle, and contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse. The central part, which is I think the most interesting and what makes this book such a successful one, is set in Las Vegas and concerns Lily’s years as Ruby: it depicts the whole, often surreal Las Vegas environment and culture, with all its glitz and glamour, its excesses — beginning with the outlandish and over-the-top costumes and the girls wardrobes — its sexism and exploitation, and its proud and complete alienation from real life.

The third part provides us with the resolution of the novel’s conflict and the heroine’s redemption, with Lily shedding her skin as Ruby and learning how to accept herself and how to reconstruct herself and her life. After the Las Vegas chapters, and however necessary we understand it to be both in terms of the girl’s and the novel’s development, this third part feels almost anti-climatic and quite flat and — well, a bit meh.

the verdict:

There are echoes of past literary best sellers in this novel (which reminds us for instance of a Hollywood-set Valley of the Dolls, however in a much milder, less scandalous version). But there is also something else in All The Beautiful Girls that grabs your attention and prompts you to keep reading. It is a beautifully written book, and Elizabeth J. Church’s mastery, passion and enjoyment of language is fully evident: I don’t think I have ever highlighted so many passages and turns of phrase in a book before, bits that I want to revisit and enjoy again and again. There is also an accuracy of historical detail that is to be praised and which, together with Church’s amazing gift with words, elevate this book from simply yet another chick-lit read to a good woman’s lit book to have around, or to dive into when you need a good, hopeful, girly story to cheer you up.

Genre pegging: General Fiction/Women’s Fiction
Verdict: a recommended example of good old Women’s Fiction
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
Women’s Fiction

 

 

blog tour: book review & excerpt of Jessica Strawser’s new novel, Not That I Could Tell


U.K. Kindle & paperback cover

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton. The present review is also being published to my accounts on NetGalley, GoodReads, Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media . 

I’m delighted to be taking part, this morning, in the blog tour for Jessica Strawser’s second novel, Not That I Could Tell, which was published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK on the 5th of this month (Kindle, £6.99 and paperback, £14.99), and is being marketed as a general fiction title. On the U.S., the hardcover was published on March 27th ($26.99, St. Martin’s Press), but the novel is being marketed as women’s fiction.

Courtesy of the publishers, I am bringing you an excerpt which, though small, is very mysterious and intriguing and will, I am sure, go a long way in spicing up your curiosity about this novel. My own contribution to the blog tour will be, as usual, my full review of the title.

U.S. Hardback cover

the synopsis:

Ever wonder what your friends really think of you?

Drinks in hand, a group of neighbourhood women gather around a fire pit to enjoy a rare child-less Saturday night. Giddy with freedom, they drink too much, share secrets they wish, perhaps, they hadn’t, and enjoy getting to know each other better.

The single newcomer. The imperfect mom. The new-born parents. The military wife. The almost divorcee.

Come Monday morning, one of them is gone.

As a police investigation launches, the women will band together and ask whether they should have noticed that something was amiss.

But how well can you really know your neighbours, when appearances can be so deceiving?

the excerpt:

the review:

Not That I Could Tell takes us to a close-knit neighbourhood in small-town America, in the town of Yellow Springs in Ohio, to the kind of street where everyone knows (or thinks they know) pretty much everybody else and the sum of each other’s lives. It is a Saturday night in September, and several women decide to spend a well deserved night of relaxation away from their husbands and children. Armed with their child monitors, glass of wine in hand, they get together around the fire pit in the back garden of one of their houses, getting to know each other and, in particular, the new arrival to the street, a woman who has only recently bought a house there.

Sitting around the fire, the women enjoy their rare night of freedom, drinking a glass of wine and exchanging stories and confidences. At the end of the night they return home, and by next morning they realise they can hardly remember how they got there, or indeed most of the fireside evening, and what they cannot remember seems to be as mortifying as what they can. Tellingly, perhaps, neither can they  remember having drunk all that much. Such things however are, if not to be expected at least not unheard of, and life resumes as sleepily as usual for the street’s inhabitants in general, and the five women in particular.  Nothing seems to have changed — until, that is, one of the women and her children are discovered missing.

Overnight, the lives of the street’s inhabitants are catapulted into a cycle of constant upheaval and uncertainty. As the neighbourhood reels from the shock, the police seem to trundle along a not very successful investigation, and the media seem to rejoice in the confusion they create. As the weeks progress without either a body being found, or the woman and her children located safe and sound, no one and nothing is left untouched; and one by one the women are forced to re-examine the ties that bind them to one another, how well they know themselves, and how much exactly they know about each other’s lives.

the verdict:

I wish I could say I enjoyed this book more than I have. Although Strawser’s style is quite fluid and proficient, and the novel is very well written, I feel the plot has let it down somewhat. In fact, after about 20 pages or so, I knew exactly what had happened to Kirsten and her children, and how the novel would be ending; the ‘twists and turns’ the author introduces along the way were unfortunately not enough to make me cast enough doubt on the outcome. And even though I felt that at times certain details were almost too contrived, I believe that on the balance they contributed positively to the development of the story-line.

The characters are well fleshed out and on the whole quite believable, even slightly dopey Lizzy who seems only too happy to be taken in by handsome doctor Paul, soon-to-be ex-husband of the missing woman — and this despite the veritable cacophony of alarm bells she seems so intent on ignoring. Even giving her due discount for being on the rebound (from what was to all effects a non-relationship) and perhaps somewhat inexperienced, I spent half the novel wanting to shake some sense into her.  Seriously, Lizzy? Seriously?

My main bone of contention though is with the UK publishers and their marketing people, and their view of which genre this book should be ascribed to. I agree that it is too light and straightforward for literary fiction, and similarly too light and nowhere near suspenseful enough to be classed as a mystery/suspense read, while any elements that could have made it a thriller are simply not marked enough. But surely its subject-matter, as well as the treatment thereof, make it undeniably fall under Women’s Fiction…?

Apart from that, all well and good, I should say. I’m shelving it as Women’s Lit, because it is where I believe it belongs. And it is as women’s lit that I am rating it four, wholly deserved, lovely little hearts.

Therefore, and if women’s fiction is your cup of tea, or if you’re looking for something on the general cross-section between general fiction and a thriller, a light-enough though serious-enough kind of novel talking about mysterious happenings and women’s lives and which can keep you company during your week’s holiday, I daresay this is the book you’re looking for — so look no further: now that you’ve found it, go grab your own copy. Mine’s already taken.

Genre pegging: General Fiction
Verdict: recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
Women’s Fiction 

and where else to follow this blog tour:

Jessica Strawser's Not That I Could Tell Blog tour poster

Book Review: Serenity Engulfed by Craig A. Hart

So. Yesterday was launch day for Craig A. Hart’s new Shelby Alexander thriller, Serenity Engulfed, which we marked with a lengthy feature post including one fab interview with this author.

Today, I’m starting a cycle of reviews of Craig’s two thrillers series, The Shelby Alexander Thrillers Series, and the SpyCo Series — with a review of his latest book. Here it is.

 

Edition details:

  • File Size: 2680 KB
  • Print Length: 190 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1986153517
  • Publisher: Northern Lake Publishing (April 3, 2018)
  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07B4Y76HC

the synopsis:

When Shelby’s daughter, Leslie, fails to show up at his cabin for her long-planned visit to northern Michigan, he’s concerned, but makes excuses.

When her car is found abandoned by the side of a tree-lined highway, he fears the worst.

When her cellphone appears on his front porch, he knows something terrible has happened and that he is to blame.

Enlisting the help of the new county sheriff, Shelby launches a search for Leslie, all the while dealing with a prostitute in fear for her life, a sexy writer interested in writing his life story, and the long-banished ghosts of his own past.

Familiar enemies resurface in this blazing new thriller that finds Shelby racing against time to save the most important person in his life: his own child.

the review:

Honestly, if I were Leslie, Shelby Alexander’s daughter, I would revoke paternity rights so fast Shelby wouldn’t know what hit him. Or anybody else, for that matter. Just as long as there would be some strange light, Men In Black style, and the whole world would just forget, instantly, collectively, irrevocably, that Alexander had ever been, for the flimsiest of moments, my father… Especially now, that she has a baby girl to think about. Honestly, if I were her, I would want my distance from him — as in, possibly, the Antipodeans, thank you very much.

And yes, I do know he just bursts in there practically everywhere, in a flurry of punches and bullets, together with his best mate Mack, setting the world alight until he finds and rescues her again. And I do know he, for all intents and purposes and as far as we can see, loves her dearly, and would never ever let her down again. And no, I do not think I’m being unfair on Alexander. Just think of the girl for a minute, and forget all about Alexander in Tom Selleck’s alluring skin, and the Shelby Alexander thrillers becoming something as visually and narratively satisfying, and as thoroughly aesthetically pleasing as Jesse Stone… Just put that aside for a sec, will you, and think of the poor girl…

There. Now you get exactly what I mean. Forever in the path of danger. And I’m not talking an uneven stone on the pavement. I’m talking about being kidnapped, caged, chained, shot at, manhandled, you name it. And whatever her faults, listen, she deserves so much better than becoming the currency of choice whenever any of the scum of the earth her father is so intent on cleaning from the face of Serenity, decides to have a go at exerting revenge for being hard done by by Shelby Alexander.

But anyway. Where else would we find the conflict at the source of our little instalments of simple pleasure? Because the fact is that Shelby Alexander is a cool dude, and he doesn’t give a damn about many things on this earth, and therefore to have him spring into action, and have enough to tell about, it has to be something that gets directly through his skin — and that is first and foremost his daughter. Poor, poor girl. She’s it, the permanent target, a walking bullseye for Serenity worst lowlifes. But how lucky the rest of us — because her misfortune is nothing if not our little literary fix, our shot of amusement.

This time, Hart has the infamous Ellises, the scum of what one could easily think of as otherwise near-paradisiac Serenity, back on the scene, the sociopathic Scott Ellis having been granted early release by a somewhat misguided parole board. Back on the scene are also arch-villain Darkmore, who defines himself to Leslie as her worst nightmare, and Grant Bachmann, he of Sid Bachmann descent, Shelby’s very own worst nightmare.

On Shelby’s side and apart from Mack there are still Quinn Edwards, who has now managed to sell the idea of a book on Alexander’s exploits to her publisher, a now estranged Carly pursuing her new life in New York, and a brand new Sheriff, Angela Hammer, who soon proves herself to be on the right side of Shelby’s fence, and ‘one hell of a woman’. And because good things reportedly come in threes, there’s also Katherine, a… erm… aesthetically pleasing lass right back from Shelby’s old school days — the chemistry promises, more than the dynamics with Angela, she of the growing hammer fame, who in any case is a member of the law — and, get ready for this, a cat.

Yes, ladies and gents, a cat. And what a cat! A cat that may or may not have a connection to Odawa lore and to the old Odawa man who taught Shelby most of what he knows. This, well, this promises. There’s all to look forward in the next instalment of Serenity troubles. And besides, I know Jesse Stone’s borrowed dog looked pretty much like him, only proving the old western lore that human and pet grow to resemble each other, but honestly, could you ever imagine a feline of Selleck’s quality with anything other than a cat companion…? My point, precisely. So there you go.

And then, when we think it’s all winding down towards those narratively fatidic words, The End, the cat goes and saves Shelby Alexander’s life… Craig, when’s the next instalment coming out? Can you make it pretty soon pretty please, and a wee bit longer (say, something like another 75 pages…?) Thank you.

the verdict:

I love the Shelby Alexander thrillers. They are simple, uncomplicated little stories that keep you entertained. To begin with, I love Shelby Alexander, the imperfect hero, the exasperating character who seems as lifelike as flesh — who, well, just like its maker I can only imagine as lifelike as Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone — and who, apart from his propensity to being easily found by violence and misadventure, is comfortably familiar, expectedly complex, unexpectedly vulnerable… Alexander is “the hero next door”, and we can but love him.

Craig’s prose is straight forward, his plots are inventive yet simple — actually, it is Craig’s storytelling simplicity, coupled with a quiet cinematic quality of his books’ action, that is his greatest asset and the series best selling point, together with the reason why we so readily grab one of these books to keep us company during a commuter journey, or an evening by the fireplace when there’s no Jesse Stone in the box (because, well, Jesse Stone has everything Craig’s prose has, but it does have Selleck, which Craig’s unfortunately does not, not yet, and I do love my cherries).

Genre pegging: thriller
Verdict: recommended, perfect keep-me-company reading
Rating: ♥♥♥♥½
Shelves:
mystery & thrillers; “indies”

Interviewing the Author Craig A. Hart on the launch day of his new title, Serenity Engulfed

 


 

It is with immense pleasure that I bring to you today my next feature post on another indie author, whose work I have been closely following for a while now — in fact, since he published his first Shelby Alexander thriller series book, back in 2016. His name is Craig A. Hart, and it’s been a thrill for me to witness Craig mature and develop in his career as a writer. There have been 11 novels published in the meantime, between his Alexander and his SpyCo series (the latter which he has been co-writing with Scott J. Varengo since book 2), with another one scheduled to come out in the next couple of months.

I asked Craig to supply me with a little bio of his (and maybe a little bit more, just to sate our terrible, cat-like curiosity), and to my dismay he was quite circumspect about himself and his achievements. Not that I don’t understand him perfectly — writing about ourselves is mostly akin to torture… Without much further ado, therefore, here is Craig together with what he had to say about himself:

Craig A. Hart is the stay-at-home father of twin boys, his most important job. Secondly, he is the author of the Shelby Alexander Thriller Series and the SpyCo Novella Series. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Craig lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Not that much to go on, is there? I agree. As with all our favourite authors, we wish to know more than this. And you almost despair when you realise that you will not be able to glean any new details from his Amazon author page, from his Twitter profile, or from his Facebook group page, which you definitely must join. Nor, I have to say, will you get any further satisfaction from Craig’s website, which reads exactly the same as he sent us — but which you absolutely must  visit, and especially subscribe to.

If you happen to be a bookworm and find yourself in GoodReads, then here’s Craig’s GoodReads author page — where you can finally find out a bit more about him. This is where we learn, for instance, that he is not just a writer, but also an editor, which goes a long way to explain how and why his ARCs are so clean and perfect first time round, and no trouble to read.

We also learn that he worked as editor-in-chief for the Rusty Nail literary magazine, as a manager for Sweatshoppe Media, and also as director for Northern Illinois Radio Information Service, which he describes as “an outreach that brought daily news and information to the visually impaired“.

So, what else do we find out from his GoodReads page? Quite a lot, actually. Here’s what he tells us on his profile:

He has been published in The Orange Room Review, Voices, The Stray Branch, Red Poppy Review, The Mindful Word, Inclement, Right Hand Pointing, 7×20 Magazine, and others. 

In 2015, Kindle Press published his novel Becoming Moon. NPR affiliate Northern Public Radio featured Becoming Moon in their Winter Book Series, and it won Best Novel of Summer 2015 from Pinnacle Awards. 

Besides his award-winning novel, Craig is the author of The Writer’s Tune-Up Manual, The Busy Writer, and The Girl Who Read Hemingway. 

He is also the author of the new Shelby Alexander Thriller Series. The first in the series, Serenity, released October 31, 2016. 

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Craig lives in Iowa City, Iowa with his wife, sons, and two cats. 

(Ahah, a cat person!!! I knew it! I knew it! I just knew it!)

Ah-erm. Back on topic, then.

So, how can I improve on all I’ve managed to uncover about Craig A. Hart, the author? Quite a lot, actually. Over two years of emails, newsletters and media presence, I’ve learnt that Craig is a devoted husband and father, proud of his family and willing to share his pics with his reader team. In them, Craig and his wife are always looking happy and serene — and smiling.

He reads avidly and across the spectrum, and is no strange to that rarefied book space called a library, that fewer and fewer people seem to cherish these days. We have the pics to prove it, too. He always replies to his emails, which is great, and he is always very polite, and appreciative of your input.

He’s been self-publishing for most of his author journey, ever since Kindle Press published Becoming Moon in 2015. Recently, Craig set up and launched his own publishing company, Northern Lake Publishing LLC, which is currently accepting submissions of manuscripts in popular genres.

But it’s in between the lines that you catch a glimpse of his writer’s soul. I was particularly taken by the questions and answers he has on his GoodReads profile, in which I think can be glimpsed a bit of what I call a “writer’s soul”, and I wanted to leave them here, properly linked to, for all who don’t have a GoodReads profile (more recent first):

How do you deal with writer’s block?
Booze. No, seriously…okay, yeah…it’s booze.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
There aren’t that many things I love about being a writer. It’s hard work–the hardest I’ve ever done — and it’s lonely. Working to get rid of those demons is tough. On the other hand, those moments when things come together on the page yields a euphoria that is impossible to beat with any other high. That’s what I live for as a writer.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Buckle in for the long haul. Overnight success is for the movies (or maybe the book you’re writing). If you’re meant to be a writer, you’ll write. You won’t be able to help yourself. And if you’re one of those people, then don’t let anything or anyone tell you otherwise.

How do you get inspired to write?
I read. Writers should read at least as much as they write. Reading is indispensable for a writer. A writer who doesn’t read…well, don’t get me started.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
Becoming Moon has its roots in my own experience. It is not a memoir, but elements of the plot, particularly Part Two, are heavily influenced by my own life.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a novel that, while not a sequel to Becoming Moon, is a variation on the themes of repressed desires, coming of age, and struggling to be oneself against the establishment.

§

As far as getting to know your authors goes, then, I have of course submitted Craig to my 39 Questions, which he answered with his usual candidness (though he seems to have chosen to leave two of them out). One answer however made me laugh aloud, in a mix of pleasure and surprise: that to question number eighteen, one where he describes Tom Selleck, and most particularly his rendition of Jesse Stone, as the best fit for Shelby Alexander. Thinking about it later, I asked myself why I’d been so taken aback by Craig’s reply. I again remembered this group conversation we had had about Craig’s (and Craig’s and Scott’s) characters, and which actors did we their readers saw playing them in hypothetical screen dramatisations of the books, and Craig’s and mine choices had matched almost perfectly…

It’s time to leave you with Craig’s interview, then. I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did, and that this feature article will spice up your curiosity and appetite for his books. Of which, by the way, a new one is being launched today (Serenity Engulfed, number five in The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series), and can be grabbed right now at the special price of £0.99/$1.39 in Amazon.

And while you are there, do not forget to pick up a box set of his first three SpyCo novels, Assignment: Adventure, for free, while the box set of  books 1-4 of The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series retails for £3.53 /$4.99. The first Shelby Alexander thriller, Serenity, and the first SpyCo, Assignment: Athens, are also free, both in the UK and the US — you might want to stock up for the coming holidays, that is, of course, if you can stand to wait that long to read Craig’s books

All right — here are, finally,

The 39 Questions

Craig, first of all, hello, and please let me welcome you to the scribbles, with a great big thank you for agreeing to participate on this new adventure of mine, and mostly for answering my very many questions as candidly and extensively as you have. I absolutely love your replies, and am particularly happy and proud of this interview, so I hope you’re just as happy as I am.

1. So, to begin with, could I ask you about your reading habits? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?

Oh, yes. I definitely have the reading virus and have since I was quite young. Some of my earliest and fondest memories were formed at the library, where I was known by the librarians as “the kid who checked out a stack of books taller than he was.” Granted, I was short for my age, but still…

2. Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you?

That’s difficult to say, because they kind of run together in those early memories. One book I remembering reading early–probably because I read it over and over–was Garrison’s Gorillas and the Fear Formula, which was a book related to the 1960s TV show. I’m not sure where I got it or why I loved it so much, but I treasured it. And now that I’m thinking about it, I wish I still had it!

3. How much, and what, do you read? What are your favourite genre(s)/authors/books?

I don’t read as much as I’d like, but I always have two or three books going. I read pretty widely, but I find myself gravitating most often to non-fiction. It really is an art to tell a true story in a way that reads like a novel–I’d like to try it one day.

5. How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment of it? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?

I try to read as a reader, because that’s a lot more fun. But I do sometimes find myself questioning what I’m reading. I dislike that, because it gets in the way of the enjoyment and it’s not something I do purposefully. I suppose after years of writing and editing, it becomes inescapable. So I try to turn that part of my brain off when I read, and if the book is decent, that can often work.

>6. I recently read a book that left me breathless and wishing I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?

Definitely. I remember reading a biography of Vladimir Horowitz that detailed one of his Carnegie Hall performances, one that was so spectacular that students of music left the venue vowing to go home and burn their own pianos. I do sometimes feel that way, feeling that I will never write a book as good as what I just read and should just quit now. That biography is one example–it reads like novel. Another book would be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

7. Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?

I enjoy villains with a story of their own, who aren’t simply evil for evil’s sake. The reason for their evilness can be twisted, of course, but it should at least make sense to the villain. My award for villain would probably go to Humbert Humbert, from Nabokov’s Lolita.

8. What about heroes, what type of hero/heroine is your favourite? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?

Those with flaws. Those who occasionally mess up and fail. The infallible hero/heroine isn’t very compelling to me. That’s why Kryptonite came along–because the Superman creators realized it was become dull to have a hero without a weakness–no real drama in that. If I had to choose one, I suppose I’d go with Sherlock Holmes.

10. Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones? And what do you read the most, traditional publishing house, independent publisher, small press, self-published?

I love print. I know that’s very old-fashioned of me, but I love the feel, smell, and appearance of a printed book. I appreciate the innovation and practicality of ebooks, though. I mean, why carry one book when you can carry your entire library with you? So I’ve been forcing myself to embrace the brave new world of ebooks. And I don’t pay much attention to the publisher. If a book looks good and grabs my attention, I’ll read it.

11. What title(s) do you have on your bedside table (and on your fireside one, and your desk, and in your handbag) right now?

I have The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison, The Stranger by Albert Camus, and Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz.

12. Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” – Ernest Hemingway

13. Let’s talk about the “writing bug”, then. How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?

I don’t remember exactly. I know I was writing pretty early, because I still have some little books I wrote on my mom’s typewriter. I’d fold paper to make the pages and then staple them together, and draw covers in pencil. My mom would pay me $5 for every book. I think I wrote four or five of those. They’re…hilarious, to say the least. I always sort of hoped to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I began pursuing the reality of that. Until then, it was more of a “wouldn’t that be cool” idea.

14. Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?

My ideal place is in my downstairs office, where I have all my paraphernalia and knick-knack stuff. Unfortunately, my current life as a stay-at-home dad doesn’t allow me to write there nearly as much as I’d like. So I’ve had to learn to write wherever I happen to be. For example, right now as I write this, I am sitting in a recliner in the main downstairs room watching my three-year-old twins pretend to be characters from the kids’ TV show PJ Masks.

15. Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?

I don’t keep a journal, but I wish I did. And I used to carry a notebook around when I went places, but now I don’t go many places. And when I do, the twins are with me and I’m usually too busy making sure they don’t escape from me in a parking lot to think about plot points. When I did carry a notebook, I would write down random thoughts, snatches of conversation I overheard, ideas, anything I thought might come in handy in a book. I anticipate carrying a notebook again one day, and while I’m at it, I want to start journaling.

16. So, how do you go about constructing your book’s reality? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a “pantser”? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?

I’m mostly a pantser. I do outline, but I do it after the fact. In other words, I outline what I’ve already written. This helps me stay on track without sacrificing a lot of creative impulse, and lets me look back at a glance whenever I have a question about timeline or pacing. And, yes, occasionally there will be a rogue character who decides they know better than I do. Heck, sometimes a character will invent themselves and decided to not only insert themselves into a story, but take it over. Very rude, that, but it happens–and I have yet to hear a character apologize when it does occur.

17. How do you create your characters? Are there “real life doubles” for them? I know we sort of talked about this before, but I’m particularly curious about Shelby Alexander, the intrepid sleuth of your Serenity series, though I equally like the set of spies of your Spyco series, so… will you tell me about them all?

I don’t think I’ve ever taken a character wholesale from real life. Mostly they are composites of several people or have a grain of truth and I’ve made up the rest. Shelby is interesting in that I made him up as a reaction to the norms in thrillers today–namely the ex-Navy SEAL with six-pack abs. I wanted a different sort of character, one perhaps more people could identify with. As I’ve written more about him, he has adopted many characteristics of various people I’ve known, not to mention some of my own quirks. I like to think of him as me at that age, minus the deadly right hook and penchant for trouble–I was never a boxer and am far too lazy to run around getting into gunfights.

18. Again, we sort of talked about this (or something quite close to this) before, but for everyone else’s benefit, if there was to be a movie or two made of your books, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?

I could see Tom Selleck playing Shelby. He was great as Jesse Stone, and that’s pretty close to the way I’d seem him playing Shelby as well.

19. Where do the ideas for your books come from? Is any of it based on a true event, a piece of news maybe, a film, a book or books you read? What about the Spyco series, which are I believe a collaboration with Scott Varengo — how does your collaboration work plot-wise (and characterisation-wise, and everything else-wise?)

I’ve been asked quite a bit where my ideas come from and so have had a lot of time and opportunities to think about it. But I still don’t know. Occasionally, a certain thing will spark the process–a news story, for example–but more often it’s something much smaller. Something as tiny as a raindrop can spark an idea. The other week I took my twins to my parents’ house. It was raining that day–or had just finished raining–and as we walked up to the door, I heard the water running down the spout and splashing on the flagstone. That sound immediately threw me into a story in my head about a man in solitary confinement who had no window or clock, no way to tell the passage of time. But he could hear the water dripping every time it rained, so he began using that as a reference point. As in, “He knew only that it had been two rains since he last ate.” That’s the way the ideas usually happen for me. A quick flash in the pan. I suppose it’s just the way my brain works.

With the SpyCo stuff, it’s much the same. It’s not uncommon for one of us to message the other and say something like, “Omg, listen to this…” and tell the idea. Then we’ll go back and forth a couple of times with thoughts to see if it will fit into the story, which it usually does, and then it’s off to the races. It would be very difficult to co-write with most people, I think, but we’ve been fortunate in the sense that we think very much alike and are also flexible and easygoing–at least with each other. This makes the process not only workable, but fun as well.

20. How much is there of you in your main characters? And which of them do you identify most with?

Perhaps I should be ashamed to say that I seep into most of my main characters to one extent or another. I probably identify most with the main character in my book Becoming Moon. That is a highly personal book, and semi-autobiographical (with some important exceptions). I’d tell you the character’s name, but I never name him in the book.

21. How much research did you do for either of your two series, and what kind, where, how, when? How easy, or how difficult, was it to find the info you needed?

The Shelby series is pretty easy, because it’s set in Michigan, and that’s where I grew up. I know it pretty well. I do look up specifics now and then, but it’s usually a simply process. The SpyCo series is another matter, because it takes place around the world. While I place to circle the globe at some point, I haven’t yet, so research is important. Scott and I both do research for those books, often going so far as to fire up Google Earth and virtually “walk” the routes our characters take in the story.

22. How easy or how difficult is it for you to write about your book’s themes? Do you see yourself, fr instance, ever going into some real hard and dark, or graphic stuff? (Some Scandi-style, hard-core noir, maybe?)

I’m drawn to dark themes. Neither Shelby nor SpyCo gets that dark (with some specific exceptions), because I’m writing for market with those and that’s not the audience I’ve found for them. But I do see myself exploring darker subjects in a darker style at some point.

23. Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?

I don’t know about “everything.” I will say that with every new book, I learn something new about the characters. Sometimes they surprise me with a piece of their story. In Serenity Engulfed, for example, we/I discovered a piece of Shelby’s childhood that had not yet been touched on, and which has not yet been fully revealed. I can also see, though, if a writer has written, say, a thirty book series on a character(s), that they’d have to know them pretty well by that time. I feel like I’m still getting acquainted with mine.

24. Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?

Shelby is my favorite hero to write, because he so easy. That’s not to say it’s easy to write books that he’s in, but he as a character is easy. Dialogue flows–it’s like he’s actually speaking and I’m just taking dictation. For villains–I really enjoyed writing the character of Smith in Serenity Stalked. Speaking of dark, that book has a couple of dark spots. I delve into Smith’s past a bit and take a look at why he’s the way he is. My two overall favorite characters, though, would be Shelby and Mack.

25. Is there another sequel in the works, for either series? I hope you’re telling me that there’s another Assignment sequel coming up soon, somehow restoring my very own order of things, but if not, what else is in the forge? (And why the back-flipping kitties are you not, then?!?) How far are you into writing your next title, then, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?

Yes, there is another book for both series coming up. Serenity Engulfed is coming April 3 and Assignment: London is scheduled for May 1. I’d very much like to put out two more Assignment books this summer (in addition to London), with perhaps another Serenity late summer or early fall (but don’t hold me to that last part).

26. Of all your titles so far, which is your favourite one? Which was the one that gave you more pleasure, and the one you found the hardest to write?

Becoming Moon was by far the hardest to write, probably because it was the most personal. It’s also probably my favorite, for that very reason. Besides that one, though, I suppose the first Serenity is number one. It marked a turning point in my writing career, plus it’s a fun book.

27. For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)

Once I have some ideas, I generally choose the one that excites me the most or the one that simply won’t leave me along (often those two are the same). Then I simply begin writing. Once I have a scene or two down, then I begin giving more thought to the future of the story and start fleshing out characters and their motivations. I try to plot action like a film, try to give it the same rhythm, and build the action throughout. A sense of timing in fiction is, I think, an art in itself. I’m not totally sure it can be taught, but it can certainly be honed. And there are even charts online you can get to see if you’re pacing according to a classic story structure. Not a bad idea, if you are a writer who struggles that that aspect. Then once you get a feel for it, you can improvise.

29. Finally, what’s your favourite quote about writing?

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” – Hemingway

30. Here are the quintessential questions, then — first one: why do you write?

I don’t know how not to write. I do know that I’m miserable when I’m not writing, so maybe I write not to be miserable. Other than that, it is simply an inexorable pull that I feel each and every day.

31. How long have you been writing?

I don’t know exactly, but 25 years would be a close guess.

32: What was the very first thing you wrote which made you stop and look at it, and think: “wow, yes, this could be something”?

I wrote a story in my teens set in the Middle Ages. It was the best thing I’d written to that point (I read it over a few weeks ago and it’s not great) and I thought it might get accepted. I sent it out and it was rejected, but it came back with a handwritten note from the editor, which was a great sign back when people actually mailed physical manuscripts. So, even though it was disappointing to be rejected (and there were many, many more), I was still encouraged to continue.

33. So, how did you come to writing? Did you take the academic path, or is it just something you discovered you were good at, and decided to pursue?

Both, actually. I’ve taken college courses that were useful, but it was mostly my autodidactical approach that shaped my writing. This is not a reproach of formal learning, mind you, only to say that it will take you only so far in a field like creative writing.

34. What kind of thing do you prefer to write, and how did you come to choose your genre(s)?

I enjoy writing stories that examine the dark, gritty side of humanity. And I’d like to write more of that. I write thrillers now because I’ve always enjoyed the action and fun inherent in the genre. It’s what I started writing when I first tried the writing path, and now that I’ve returned to it, I find it is even more fun now than it was then. And it also has room for that dark, gritty stuff if the writer so chooses.

35. Do you write full time? What’s your usual writing routine? How long does it usually take you to produce a title, from concept to first draft, and then through revisions to publishing?

My full-time job is as a stay-at-home parent to my twins. Writing is a side gig. I usually write during their nap or after they go to bed. And on the weekends my wife often takes them off my hands so I can write. On average, I try to finish a book in three months from first draft to publishing. I don’t revise all that much, because I write pretty cleanly and often edit as I go. I know most writing coaches advise against that, but it works for me.

36. The “writing life”, as it is — is that something you recommend? Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!), and which are you not so keen on?

I do not recommend it and one should only do it if they can’t do anything else. It’s a tough market, the pay is uncertain, and the odds are against success. I consider myself fortunate to have the platform that I do, because the truth is that for over twenty years, there was next to nothing in terms of recognition or interest. It takes a long time to learn the craft of writing–I’m still learning. I know there are examples of “overnight success,” but most of the time those successes were many years in the making.

37. You are what goes by the name of an “independent author”, i.e., an author who did you choose the traditional path to publication. And if you didn’t… why not? Why did you choose self-publishing, and would you do it all over again?

I’d like to preface this answer by saying that were I offered a lucrative contract by a traditional publisher, I would probably take it. Having said that, I very much enjoy doing it on my own. Going with a traditional publisher comes at a cost. You lose control of the work, in many cases, not mention the lion’s share of the profit. It’s not uncommon for publishers to pay 10-15% royalty on sales, which isn’t great when you consider the 70% that KDP (Amazon’s publishing platform) will pay. Granted, you have to sell books to make money, and that’s where most authors stumble. Seventy percent of zero is, well, zero, after all. But if you have a market, you can do just as well and even much better going it alone or with a hybrid. The downside is that there are many unscrupulous entities out there who have no issue taking advantage of authors. Always check into the history of a publisher before signing anything away. And better yet, keep your rights to yourself.

38. Traditional publishers are often perceived as the gatekeepers as far as quality of literary output is concerned, with indies and self-pub’ed authors seen as offering less literary worth, and therefore less value for money. Tell me about your take on this issue of trad vs indie publishing, gatekeeping, and quality standards and literary worth.

Traditional publishers have a stake in the failure of indies, simply because of revenue. There is are limited dollars available, after all. To be fair, however, we have to look at the history of independent publishing. It used to be largely the case that those who self-published did so because they couldn’t get a traditional contract (there were exceptions, of course). With the publishing revolution, however, that changed. Now authors can produce books on par with the quality of those put out by the traditional publishers. This does not mean that they also do, though, and that’s where the stigma remains. Independent authors have a responsibility to put out the best product they can. Just because one CAN publish, doesn’t mean one SHOULD publish.

39. Last “quintessential” question, then: I know you have just launched your own publishing company, which is great, and that you are planning a very busy summer of 2018 — but where do you see yourself as a writer, but also as the head of your own publishing business, in the long term?

I will always be first and foremost a writer. And I hope very much that I will always think of the writer’s interests in any author that I publish.

And last but by no means least, and because I’m sure everyone is just dying to know, which of these do you prefer?

Coffee, or tea? Tea
Cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? Cheesecake
Turquoise, or aqua green? Aqua green
iolets, or jonquils? Violets
Mountain, or the sea? The sea
Music, or theatre? Theatre
Cats or Dogs? Cats

Craig A. Hart’s social media & links:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Craig’s Bibliography & where to find his books for sale
(please note, active links to Amazon; the links provided by the author are to Amazon.com)

Becoming Moon, Kindle Press – 2015 – Literary Fiction; Northern Lake Publishing – 2018 – Thriller (new edition)

The Shelby Alexander Series

  1. Serenity, Amazon Digital Services – 2016 – Thriller
  2. Serenity StalkedSweatshoppe Publications – 2017 – Thriller
  3. Serenity Avenged, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  4. Serenity Submerged, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  5. Serenity Engulfed, Northern Lake Publishing – 2018 – Thriller

The SpyCo Series

  1. Assignment: Athens, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  2. Assignment: Paris, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  3. Assignment: Istanbul, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  4. Assignment: Sydney, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  5. Assignment: Alaska, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  6. Assignment: Dublin, Amazon Digital Services – 2018 – Thriller

Collections

  1. The Shelby Alexander Series 1-4
  2. Assignment: Adventure, Books 1-3
  3. Assignment: Danger, Books 4-6

Interviewing the Author Craig A. Hart on the launch day of his new title, Serenity Engulfed, plus my review!

 


 

It is with immense pleasure that I bring to you today my next feature post on another indie author, whose work I have been closely following for a while now — in fact, since he published his first Shelby Alexander thriller series book, back in 2016. His name is Craig A. Hart, and it’s been a thrill for me to witness Craig mature and develop in his career as a writer. There have been 11 novels published in the meantime, between his Alexander and his SpyCo series (the latter which he has been co-writing with Scott J. Varengo since book 2), with another one scheduled to come out in the next couple of months.

I asked Craig to supply me with a little bio of his (and maybe a little bit more, just to sate out terrible, cat-like curiosity), and to my dismay he was quite circumspect about himself and his achievements. Not that I don’t understand him perfectly — writing about ourselves is mostly akin to torture… Without much further ado, therefore, here is Craig together with what he had to say about himself:

Craig A. Hart is the stay-at-home father of twin boys, his most important job. Secondly, he is the author of the Shelby Alexander Thriller Series and the SpyCo Novella Series. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Craig lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Not that much to go on, is there? I agree. As with all our favourite authors, we wish to know more than this. And you almost despair when you realise that you will not be able to glean any new details from his Amazon author page, from his Twitter profile, or from his Facebook group page, which you definitely must join. Nor, I have to say, will you get any further satisfaction from Craig’s website, which reads exactly the same as he sent us — but which you absolutely must  visit, and especially subscribe to.

If you happen to be a bookworm and find yourself in GoodReads, then here’s Craig’s GoodReads author page — where you can finally find out a bit more about him. This is where we learn, for instance, that he is not just a writer, but also an editor, which goes a long way to explain how and why his ARCs are so clean and perfect first time round, and no trouble to read.

We also learn that he worked as editor-in-chief for the Rusty Nail literary magazine magazine, as a manager for Sweatshoppe Media, and also as director for Northern Illinois Radio Information Service, which he describes as “an outreach that brought daily news and information to the visually impaired“.

So, what else do we find out from his GoodReads page? Quite a lot, actually. Here’s what he tells us on his profile:

He has been published in The Orange Room Review, Voices, The Stray Branch, Red Poppy Review, The Mindful Word, Inclement, Right Hand Pointing, 7×20 Magazine, and others. 

In 2015, Kindle Press published his novel Becoming Moon. NPR affiliate Northern Public Radio featured Becoming Moon in their Winter Book Series, and it won Best Novel of Summer 2015 from Pinnacle Awards. 

Besides his award-winning novel, Craig is the author of The Writer’s Tune-Up Manual, The Busy Writer, and The Girl Who Read Hemingway. 

He is also the author of the new Shelby Alexander Thriller Series. The first in the series, Serenity, released October 31, 2016. 

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Craig lives in Iowa City, Iowa with his wife, sons, and two cats. 

(Ahah, a cat person!!! I knew it! I knew it! I just knew it!)

Ah-erm. Back on topic, then.

So, how can I improve on all I’ve managed to uncover about Craig A. Hart, the author? Quite a lot, actually. Over two years of emails, newsletters and media presence, I’ve learnt that Craig is a devoted husband and father, proud of his family and willing to share his pics with his reader team. In them, Craig and his wife are always looking happy and serene — and smiling.

He reads avidly and across the spectrum, and is no strange to that rarefied book space called a library, that fewer and fewer people seem to cherish these days. We have the pics to prove it, too. He always replies to his emails, which is great, and he is always very polite, and appreciative of your input.

He’s been self-publishing for most of his author journey, ever since Kindle Press published Becoming Moon in 2015. Recently, Craig set up and launched his own publishing company, Northern Lake Publishing LLC, which is currently accepting submissions of manuscripts in popular genres.

But it’s in between the lines that you catch a glimpse of his writer’s soul. I was particularly taken by the questions and answers he has on his GoodReads profile, in which I think can be glimpsed a bit of what I call a “writer’s soul”, and I wanted to leave them here, properly linked to, for all who don’t have a GoodReads profile (more recent first):

How do you deal with writer’s block?
Booze. No, seriously…okay, yeah…it’s booze.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
There aren’t that many things I love about being a writer. It’s hard work–the hardest I’ve ever done — and it’s lonely. Working to get rid of those demons is tough. On the other hand, those moments when things come together on the page yields a euphoria that is impossible to beat with any other high. That’s what I live for as a writer.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Buckle in for the long haul. Overnight success is for the movies (or maybe the book you’re writing). If you’re meant to be a writer, you’ll write. You won’t be able to help yourself. And if you’re one of those people, then don’t let anything or anyone tell you otherwise.

How do you get inspired to write?
I read. Writers should read at least as much as they write. Reading is indispensable for a writer. A writer who doesn’t read…well, don’t get me started.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
Becoming Moon has its roots in my own experience. It is not a memoir, but elements of the plot, particularly Part Two, are heavily influenced by my own life.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a novel that, while not a sequel to Becoming Moon, is a variation on the themes of repressed desires, coming of age, and struggling to be oneself against the establishment.

§

As far as getting to know your authors goes, then, I have of course submitted Craig to my 39 Questions, which he answered with his usual candidness (though he seems to have chosen to leave two of them out). One answer however made me laugh aloud, in a mix of pleasure and surprise: that to question number eighteen, one where he describes Tom Selleck, and most particularly his rendition of Jesse Stone, as the best fit for Shelby Alexander. Thinking about it later, I asked myself why I’d been so taken aback by Craig’s reply. I again remembered this group conversation we had had about Craig’s (and Craig’s and Scott’s) characters, and which actors did we their readers saw playing them in hypothetical screen dramatisations of the books, and Craig’s and mine choices had matched almost perfectly…

It’s time to leave you with Craig’s interview, then. I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did, and that this feature article will spice up your curiosity and appetite for his books. Of which, by the way, a new one is being launched today (Serenity Engulfed, number five in The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series), and can be grabbed right now at the special price of £0.99/$1.39 in Amazon.

And while you are there, do not forget to pick up a box set of his first three SpyCo novels, Assignment: Adventure, for free, while the box set of  books 1-4 of The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series retails for £3.53 /$4.99. The first Shelby Alexander thriller, Serenity, and the first SpyCo, Assignment: Athens, are also free, both in the UK and the US — you might want to stock up for the coming holidays, that is, of course, if you can stand to wait that long to read Craig’s books

All right — here are, finally,

The 39 Questions

Craig, first of all, hello, and please let me welcome you to the scribbles, with a great big thank you for agreeing to participate on this new adventure of mine, and mostly for answering my very many questions as candidly and extensively as you have. I absolutely love your replies, and am particularly happy and proud of this interview, so I hope you’re just as happy as I am.

1. So, to begin with, could I ask you about your reading habits? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?

Oh, yes. I definitely have the reading virus and have since I was quite young. Some of my earliest and fondest memories were formed at the library, where I was known by the librarians as “the kid who checked out a stack of books taller than he was.” Granted, I was short for my age, but still…

2. Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you?

That’s difficult to say, because they kind of run together in those early memories. One book I remembering reading early–probably because I read it over and over–was Garrison’s Gorillas and the Fear Formula, which was a book related to the 1960s TV show. I’m not sure where I got it or why I loved it so much, but I treasured it. And now that I’m thinking about it, I wish I still had it!

3. How much, and what, do you read? What are your favourite genre(s)/authors/books?

I don’t read as much as I’d like, but I always have two or three books going. I read pretty widely, but I find myself gravitating most often to non-fiction. It really is an art to tell a true story in a way that reads like a novel–I’d like to try it one day.

5. How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment of it? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?

I try to read as a reader, because that’s a lot more fun. But I do sometimes find myself questioning what I’m reading. I dislike that, because it gets in the way of the enjoyment and it’s not something I do purposefully. I suppose after years of writing and editing, it becomes inescapable. So I try to turn that part of my brain off when I read, and if the book is decent, that can often work.

>6. I recently read a book that left me breathless and wishing I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?

Definitely. I remember reading a biography of Vladimir Horowitz that detailed one of his Carnegie Hall performances, one that was so spectacular that students of music left the venue vowing to go home and burn their own pianos. I do sometimes feel that way, feeling that I will never write a book as good as what I just read and should just quit now. That biography is one example–it reads like novel. Another book would be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

7. Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?

I enjoy villains with a story of their own, who aren’t simply evil for evil’s sake. The reason for their evilness can be twisted, of course, but it should at least make sense to the villain. My award for villain would probably go to Humbert Humbert, from Nabokov’s Lolita.

8. What about heroes, what type of hero/heroine is your favourite? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?

Those with flaws. Those who occasionally mess up and fail. The infallible hero/heroine isn’t very compelling to me. That’s why Kryptonite came along–because the Superman creators realized it was become dull to have a hero without a weakness–no real drama in that. If I had to choose one, I suppose I’d go with Sherlock Holmes.

10. Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones? And what do you read the most, traditional publishing house, independent publisher, small press, self-published?

I love print. I know that’s very old-fashioned of me, but I love the feel, smell, and appearance of a printed book. I appreciate the innovation and practicality of ebooks, though. I mean, why carry one book when you can carry your entire library with you? So I’ve been forcing myself to embrace the brave new world of ebooks. And I don’t pay much attention to the publisher. If a book looks good and grabs my attention, I’ll read it.

11. What title(s) do you have on your bedside table (and on your fireside one, and your desk, and in your handbag) right now?

I have The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison, The Stranger by Albert Camus, and Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz.

12. Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” – Ernest Hemingway

13. Let’s talk about the “writing bug”, then. How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?

I don’t remember exactly. I know I was writing pretty early, because I still have some little books I wrote on my mom’s typewriter. I’d fold paper to make the pages and then staple them together, and draw covers in pencil. My mom would pay me $5 for every book. I think I wrote four or five of those. They’re…hilarious, to say the least. I always sort of hoped to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I began pursuing the reality of that. Until then, it was more of a “wouldn’t that be cool” idea.

14. Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?

My ideal place is in my downstairs office, where I have all my paraphernalia and knick-knack stuff. Unfortunately, my current life as a stay-at-home dad doesn’t allow me to write there nearly as much as I’d like. So I’ve had to learn to write wherever I happen to be. For example, right now as I write this, I am sitting in a recliner in the main downstairs room watching my three-year-old twins pretend to be characters from the kids’ TV show PJ Masks.

15. Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?

I don’t keep a journal, but I wish I did. And I used to carry a notebook around when I went places, but now I don’t go many places. And when I do, the twins are with me and I’m usually too busy making sure they don’t escape from me in a parking lot to think about plot points. When I did carry a notebook, I would write down random thoughts, snatches of conversation I overheard, ideas, anything I thought might come in handy in a book. I anticipate carrying a notebook again one day, and while I’m at it, I want to start journaling.

16. So, how do you go about constructing your book’s reality? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a “pantser”? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?

I’m mostly a pantser. I do outline, but I do it after the fact. In other words, I outline what I’ve already written. This helps me stay on track without sacrificing a lot of creative impulse, and lets me look back at a glance whenever I have a question about timeline or pacing. And, yes, occasionally there will be a rogue character who decides they know better than I do. Heck, sometimes a character will invent themselves and decided to not only insert themselves into a story, but take it over. Very rude, that, but it happens–and I have yet to hear a character apologize when it does occur.

17. How do you create your characters? Are there “real life doubles” for them? I know we sort of talked about this before, but I’m particularly curious about Shelby Alexander, the intrepid sleuth of your Serenity series, though I equally like the set of spies of your Spyco series, so… will you tell me about them all?

I don’t think I’ve ever taken a character wholesale from real life. Mostly they are composites of several people or have a grain of truth and I’ve made up the rest. Shelby is interesting in that I made him up as a reaction to the norms in thrillers today–namely the ex-Navy SEAL with six-pack abs. I wanted a different sort of character, one perhaps more people could identify with. As I’ve written more about him, he has adopted many characteristics of various people I’ve known, not to mention some of my own quirks. I like to think of him as me at that age, minus the deadly right hook and penchant for trouble–I was never a boxer and am far too lazy to run around getting into gunfights.

18. Again, we sort of talked about this (or something quite close to this) before, but for everyone else’s benefit, if there was to be a movie or two made of your books, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?

I could see Tom Selleck playing Shelby. He was great as Jesse Stone, and that’s pretty close to the way I’d seem him playing Shelby as well.

19. Where do the ideas for your books come from? Is any of it based on a true event, a piece of news maybe, a film, a book or books you read? What about the Spyco series, which are I believe a collaboration with Scott Varengo — how does your collaboration work plot-wise (and characterisation-wise, and everything else-wise?)

I’ve been asked quite a bit where my ideas come from and so have had a lot of time and opportunities to think about it. But I still don’t know. Occasionally, a certain thing will spark the process–a news story, for example–but more often it’s something much smaller. Something as tiny as a raindrop can spark an idea. The other week I took my twins to my parents’ house. It was raining that day–or had just finished raining–and as we walked up to the door, I heard the water running down the spout and splashing on the flagstone. That sound immediately threw me into a story in my head about a man in solitary confinement who had no window or clock, no way to tell the passage of time. But he could hear the water dripping every time it rained, so he began using that as a reference point. As in, “He knew only that it had been two rains since he last ate.” That’s the way the ideas usually happen for me. A quick flash in the pan. I suppose it’s just the way my brain works.

With the SpyCo stuff, it’s much the same. It’s not uncommon for one of us to message the other and say something like, “Omg, listen to this…” and tell the idea. Then we’ll go back and forth a couple of times with thoughts to see if it will fit into the story, which it usually does, and then it’s off to the races. It would be very difficult to co-write with most people, I think, but we’ve been fortunate in the sense that we think very much alike and are also flexible and easygoing–at least with each other. This makes the process not only workable, but fun as well.

20. How much is there of you in your main characters? And which of them do you identify most with?

Perhaps I should be ashamed to say that I seep into most of my main characters to one extent or another. I probably identify most with the main character in my book Becoming Moon. That is a highly personal book, and semi-autobiographical (with some important exceptions). I’d tell you the character’s name, but I never name him in the book.

21. How much research did you do for either of your two series, and what kind, where, how, when? How easy, or how difficult, was it to find the info you needed?

The Shelby series is pretty easy, because it’s set in Michigan, and that’s where I grew up. I know it pretty well. I do look up specifics now and then, but it’s usually a simply process. The SpyCo series is another matter, because it takes place around the world. While I place to circle the globe at some point, I haven’t yet, so research is important. Scott and I both do research for those books, often going so far as to fire up Google Earth and virtually “walk” the routes our characters take in the story.

22. How easy or how difficult is it for you to write about your book’s themes? Do you see yourself, fr instance, ever going into some real hard and dark, or graphic stuff? (Some Scandi-style, hard-core noir, maybe?)

I’m drawn to dark themes. Neither Shelby nor SpyCo gets that dark (with some specific exceptions), because I’m writing for market with those and that’s not the audience I’ve found for them. But I do see myself exploring darker subjects in a darker style at some point.

23. Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?

I don’t know about “everything.” I will say that with every new book, I learn something new about the characters. Sometimes they surprise me with a piece of their story. In Serenity Engulfed, for example, we/I discovered a piece of Shelby’s childhood that had not yet been touched on, and which has not yet been fully revealed. I can also see, though, if a writer has written, say, a thirty book series on a character(s), that they’d have to know them pretty well by that time. I feel like I’m still getting acquainted with mine.

24. Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?

Shelby is my favorite hero to write, because he so easy. That’s not to say it’s easy to write books that he’s in, but he as a character is easy. Dialogue flows–it’s like he’s actually speaking and I’m just taking dictation. For villains–I really enjoyed writing the character of Smith in Serenity Stalked. Speaking of dark, that book has a couple of dark spots. I delve into Smith’s past a bit and take a look at why he’s the way he is. My two overall favorite characters, though, would be Shelby and Mack.

25. Is there another sequel in the works, for either series? I hope you’re telling me that there’s another Assignment sequel coming up soon, somehow restoring my very own order of things, but if not, what else is in the forge? (And why the back-flipping kitties are you not, then?!?) How far are you into writing your next title, then, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?

Yes, there is another book for both series coming up. Serenity Engulfed is coming April 3 and Assignment: London is scheduled for May 1. I’d very much like to put out two more Assignment books this summer (in addition to London), with perhaps another Serenity late summer or early fall (but don’t hold me to that last part).

26. Of all your titles so far, which is your favourite one? Which was the one that gave you more pleasure, and the one you found the hardest to write?

Becoming Moon was by far the hardest to write, probably because it was the most personal. It’s also probably my favorite, for that very reason. Besides that one, though, I suppose the first Serenity is number one. It marked a turning point in my writing career, plus it’s a fun book.

27. For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)

Once I have some ideas, I generally choose the one that excites me the most or the one that simply won’t leave me along (often those two are the same). Then I simply begin writing. Once I have a scene or two down, then I begin giving more thought to the future of the story and start fleshing out characters and their motivations. I try to plot action like a film, try to give it the same rhythm, and build the action throughout. A sense of timing in fiction is, I think, an art in itself. I’m not totally sure it can be taught, but it can certainly be honed. And there are even charts online you can get to see if you’re pacing according to a classic story structure. Not a bad idea, if you are a writer who struggles that that aspect. Then once you get a feel for it, you can improvise.

29. Finally, what’s your favourite quote about writing?

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” – Hemingway

30. Here are the quintessential questions, then — first one: why do you write?

I don’t know how not to write. I do know that I’m miserable when I’m not writing, so maybe I write not to be miserable. Other than that, it is simply an inexorable pull that I feel each and every day.

31. How long have you been writing?

I don’t know exactly, but 25 years would be a close guess.

32: What was the very first thing you wrote which made you stop and look at it, and think: “wow, yes, this could be something”?

I wrote a story in my teens set in the Middle Ages. It was the best thing I’d written to that point (I read it over a few weeks ago and it’s not great) and I thought it might get accepted. I sent it out and it was rejected, but it came back with a handwritten note from the editor, which was a great sign back when people actually mailed physical manuscripts. So, even though it was disappointing to be rejected (and there were many, many more), I was still encouraged to continue.

33. So, how did you come to writing? Did you take the academic path, or is it just something you discovered you were good at, and decided to pursue?

Both, actually. I’ve taken college courses that were useful, but it was mostly my autodidactical approach that shaped my writing. This is not a reproach of formal learning, mind you, only to say that it will take you only so far in a field like creative writing.

34. What kind of thing do you prefer to write, and how did you come to choose your genre(s)?

I enjoy writing stories that examine the dark, gritty side of humanity. And I’d like to write more of that. I write thrillers now because I’ve always enjoyed the action and fun inherent in the genre. It’s what I started writing when I first tried the writing path, and now that I’ve returned to it, I find it is even more fun now than it was then. And it also has room for that dark, gritty stuff if the writer so chooses.

35. Do you write full time? What’s your usual writing routine? How long does it usually take you to produce a title, from concept to first draft, and then through revisions to publishing?

My full-time job is as a stay-at-home parent to my twins. Writing is a side gig. I usually write during their nap or after they go to bed. And on the weekends my wife often takes them off my hands so I can write. On average, I try to finish a book in three months from first draft to publishing. I don’t revise all that much, because I write pretty cleanly and often edit as I go. I know most writing coaches advise against that, but it works for me.

36. The “writing life”, as it is — is that something you recommend? Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!), and which are you not so keen on?

I do not recommend it and one should only do it if they can’t do anything else. It’s a tough market, the pay is uncertain, and the odds are against success. I consider myself fortunate to have the platform that I do, because the truth is that for over twenty years, there was next to nothing in terms of recognition or interest. It takes a long time to learn the craft of writing–I’m still learning. I know there are examples of “overnight success,” but most of the time those successes were many years in the making.

37. You are what goes by the name of an “independent author”, i.e., an author who did not choose the traditional path to publication. And if you didn’t… why not? Why did you choose self-publishing, and would you do it all over again?

I’d like to preface this answer by saying that were I offered a lucrative contract by a traditional publisher, I would probably take it. Having said that, I very much enjoy doing it on my own. Going with a traditional publisher comes at a cost. You lose control of the work, in many cases, not mention the lion’s share of the profit. It’s not uncommon for publishers to pay 10-15% royalty on sales, which isn’t great when you consider the 70% that KDP (Amazon’s publishing platform) will pay. Granted, you have to sell books to make money, and that’s where most authors stumble. Seventy percent of zero is, well, zero, after all. But if you have a market, you can do just as well and even much better going it alone or with a hybrid. The downside is that there are many unscrupulous entities out there who have no issue taking advantage of authors. Always check into the history of a publisher before signing anything away. And better yet, keep your rights to yourself.

38. Traditional publishers are often perceived as the gatekeepers as far as quality of literary output is concerned, with indies and self-pub’ed authors seen as offering less literary worth, and therefore less value for money. Tell me about your take on this issue of trad vs indie publishing, gatekeeping, and quality standards and literary worth.

Traditional publishers have a stake in the failure of indies, simply because of revenue. There is are limited dollars available, after all. To be fair, however, we have to look at the history of independent publishing. It used to be largely the case that those who self-published did so because they couldn’t get a traditional contract (there were exceptions, of course). With the publishing revolution, however, that changed. Now authors can produce books on par with the quality of those put out by the traditional publishers. This does not mean that they also do, though, and that’s where the stigma remains. Independent authors have a responsibility to put out the best product they can. Just because one CAN publish, doesn’t mean one SHOULD publish.

39. Last “quintessential” question, then: I know you have just launched your own publishing company, which is great, and that you are planning a very busy summer of 2018 — but where do you see yourself as a writer, but also as the head of your own publishing business, in the long term?

I will always be first and foremost a writer. And I hope very much that I will always think of the writer’s interests in any author that I publish.

And last but by no means least, and because I’m sure everyone is just dying to know, which of these do you prefer?

Coffee, or tea? Tea
Cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? Cheesecake
Turquoise, or aqua green? Aqua green
iolets, or jonquils? Violets
Mountain, or the sea? The sea
Music, or theatre? Theatre
Cats or Dogs? Cats

Craig A. Hart’s social media & links:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Craig’s Bibliography & where to find his books for sale
(please note, active links to Amazon; the links provided by the author are to Amazon.com)

Becoming Moon, Kindle Press – 2015 – Literary Fiction; Northern Lake Publishing – 2018 – Thriller (new edition)

The Shelby Alexander Series

  1. Serenity, Amazon Digital Services – 2016 – Thriller
  2. Serenity StalkedSweatshoppe Publications – 2017 – Thriller
  3. Serenity Avenged, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  4. Serenity Submerged, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  5. Serenity Engulfed, Northern Lake Publishing – 2018 – Thriller

The SpyCo Series

  1. Assignment: Athens, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  2. Assignment: Paris, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  3. Assignment: Istanbul, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  4. Assignment: Sydney, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  5. Assignment: Alaska, Amazon Digital Services – 2017 – Thriller
  6. Assignment: Dublin, Amazon Digital Services – 2018 – Thriller

Collections

  1. The Shelby Alexander Series 1-4
  2. Assignment: Adventure, Books 1-3
  3. Assignment: Danger, Books 4-6

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Finally, here’s Craig A. Hart’s new Shelby Alexander thriller, Serenity Engulfed, together with my review:

 

Edition details:

  • File Size: 2680 KB
  • Print Length: 190 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1986153517
  • Publisher: Northern Lake Publishing (April 3, 2018)
  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07B4Y76HC

the synopsis:

When Shelby’s daughter, Leslie, fails to show up at his cabin for her long-planned visit to northern Michigan, he’s concerned, but makes excuses.

When her car is found abandoned by the side of a tree-lined highway, he fears the worst.

When her cellphone appears on his front porch, he knows something terrible has happened and that he is to blame.

Enlisting the help of the new county sheriff, Shelby launches a search for Leslie, all the while dealing with a prostitute in fear for her life, a sexy writer interested in writing his life story, and the long-banished ghosts of his own past.

Familiar enemies resurface in this blazing new thriller that finds Shelby racing against time to save the most important person in his life: his own child.

the review:

Honestly, if I were Leslie, Shelby Alexander’s daughter, I would revoke paternity rights so fast Shelby wouldn’t know what hit him. Or anybody else, for that matter. Just as long as there would be some strange light, Men In Black style, and the whole world would just forget, instantly, collectively, irrevocably, that Alexander had ever been, for the flimsiest of moments, my father… Especially now, that she has a baby girl to think about. Honestly, if I were her, I would want my distance from him — as in, possibly, the Antipodeans, thank you very much.

And yes, I do know he just bursts in there practically everywhere, in a flurry of punches and bullets, together with his best mate Mack, setting the world alight until he finds and rescues her again. And I do know he, for all intents and purposes and as far as we can see, loves her dearly, and would never ever let her down again. And no, I do not think I’m being unfair on Alexander. Just think of the girl for a minute, and forget all about Alexander in Tom Selleck’s alluring skin, and the Shelby Alexander thrillers becoming something as visually and narratively satisfying, and as thoroughly aesthetically pleasing as Jesse Stone… Just put that aside for a sec, will you, and think of the poor girl…

There. Now you get exactly what I mean. Forever in the path of danger. And I’m not talking an uneven stone on the pavement. I’m talking about being kidnapped, caged, chained, shot at, manhandled, you name it. And whatever her faults, listen, she deserves so much better than becoming the currency of choice whenever any of the scum of the earth her father is so intent on cleaning from the face of Serenity, decides to have a go at exerting revenge for being hard done by by Shelby Alexander.

But anyway. Where else would we find the conflict at the source of our little instalments of simple pleasure? Because the fact is that Shelby Alexander is a cool dude, and he doesn’t give a damn about many things on this earth, and therefore to have him spring into action, and have enough to tell about, it has to be something that gets directly through his skin — and that is first and foremost his daughter. Poor, poor girl. She’s it, the permanent target, a walking bullseye for Serenity worst lowlifes. But how lucky the rest of us — because her misfortune is nothing if not our little literary fix, our shot of amusement.

This time, Hart has the infamous Ellises, the scum of what one could easily think of as otherwise near-paradisiac Serenity, back on the scene, the sociopathic Scott Ellis having been granted early release by a somewhat misguided parole board. Back on the scene are also arch-villain Darkmore, who defines himself to Leslie as her worst nightmare, and Grant Bachmann, he of Sid Bachmann descent, Shelby’s very own worst nightmare.

On Shelby’s side and apart from Mack there are still Quinn Edwards, who has now managed to sell the idea of a book on Alexander’s exploits to her publisher, a now estranged Carly pursuing her new life in New York, and a brand new Sheriff, Angela Hammer, who soon proves herself to be on the right side of Shelby’s fence, and ‘one hell of a woman’. And because good things reportedly come in threes, there’s also Katherine, a… erm… aesthetically pleasing lass right back from Shelby’s old school days — the chemistry promises, more than the dynamics with Angela, she of the growing hammer fame, who in any case is a member of the law — and, get ready for this, a cat.

Yes, ladies and gents, a cat. And what a cat! A cat that may or may not have a connection to Odawa lore and to the old Odawa man who taught Shelby most of what he knows. This, well, this promises. There’s all to look forward in the next instalment of Serenity troubles. And besides, I know Jesse Stone’s borrowed dog looked pretty much like him, only proving the old western lore that human and pet grow to resemble each other, but honestly, could you ever imagine a feline of Selleck’s quality with anything other than a cat companion…? My point, precisely. So there you go.

And then, when we think it’s all winding down towards those narratively fatidic words, The End, the cat goes and saves Shelby Alexander’s life… Craig, when’s the next instalment coming out? Can you make it pretty soon pretty please, and a wee bit longer (say, something like another 75 pages…?) Thank you.

the verdict:

I love the Shelby Alexander thrillers. They are simple, uncomplicated little stories that keep you entertained. To begin with, I love Shelby Alexander, the imperfect hero, the exasperating character who seems as lifelike as flesh — who, well, just like its maker I can only imagine as lifelike as Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone — and who, apart from his propensity to being easily found by violence and misadventure, is comfortably familiar, expectedly complex, unexpectedly vulnerable… Alexander is “the hero next door”, and we can but love him.

Craig’s prose is straight forward, his plots are inventive yet simple — actually, it is Craig’s storytelling simplicity, coupled with a quiet cinematic quality of his books’ action, that is his greatest asset and the series best selling point, together with the reason why we so readily grab one of these books to keep us company during a commuter journey, or an evening by the fireplace when there’s no Jesse Stone in the box (because, well, Jesse Stone has everything Craig’s prose has, but it does have Selleck, which Craig’s unfortunately does not, not yet, and I do love my cherries).

Genre pegging: thriller
Verdict: recommended, perfect keep-me-company reading
Rating: ♥♥♥♥½
Shelves:
mystery & thrillers; “indies”

book review: How I Lose You by Kate McNaughton

400 pages, hardcover £16.99 

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Transworld / Doubleday (Random House UK), via NetGalley. This review is also being published on NetGalley, GoodReads, LinkedIn, Amazon UK, and my social media accounts. Acceptance of a copy for review is not binding.

the synopsis:

When Eva and Adam fall into bed one Friday night, tired and happy after drinks with friends, they have their whole lives ahead of them. But their story ends on page twelve.

That’s no reason to stop reading though, because How I Lose You is a story told backwards – and it’s all the more warm, tender and moving because we know it is going to be interrupted. It’s a story Eva thought she knew – but as you and she will discover, it’s not just the ending of the story that she got wrong.

advance praise:

“Intriguing, poignant and totally absorbing. I had no idea where it was going, but found it thoroughly addictive. A masterful exploration of grief, relationships and the secrets that we keep from those closest to us. I loved it.” ~ Ruth Hogan

“McNaughton is a profoundly tender storyteller. A truly moving book about love, humanity and sadness, laced with wit – compelling reading for anyone who needs to find a light in the dark” ~ Daisy Buchanan

“Pulls you into its thrall from the very first pages. A book I’ll press into the hands of my friends, urging them to read it” ~ Kerry Hudson

“Intensely moving” ~ Katie Khan

“Superb – so confident and deft and skilfully written” ~ Louise O’Neill

the review:

The advance praise for this novel seems to have been quite universally, overwhelmingly positive — and quite deservedly so. It also seems to exhaust most of the adjectives I would want to describe this book and my impressions of it in my review.

The fact is, How I Lose You is an intensely moving and thoroughly captivating and immersive book. It is “Intriguing, poignant and totally absorbing”, as Ruth Hogan describes it. It is intense and moving, powerful and masterful, compelling and addictive and tender and sad and at the same time witty and sensible, and deft and pacy, and confidently and skilfully written.

It is also, and most of all, an extremely beautiful story, albeit a rather sad and tragic one, told in a rich, lyrical and intimate voice which pulls the unwitting reader into the heart of the narrative straight from the beginning, and holds them there, breathless and enthralled. We identify with Eva, the main character of the story; we commiserate with her; we feel her immense pain and grief; we feel her loss, her emptiness, her devastation. We feel her doubts, her longing, her frustration, each of her tentative steps, her hesitations.

Structurally, the story is told retrospectively by Eva, starting on the eve of Adam’s death and ending the very moment their love story starts, i.e., on the evening when they kiss for the first time. There are also a series of flashbacks along the way, which help contextualize events as we become acquainted with Eva and Adam’s story.

You’d be wrong to think that this is just another love story, though, as How I Lose You is much more than that. It is a masterful reflection on, and exploration of, the devastation of loss and the emptiness it leaves behind, gnawing away inside you; and also on the nature of grief itself. At the same time, the story explores the nature of relationships, how much we share and  how much we hide from each other — even those closer to us — and whether we ever really know those around us, including those we love the dearest.

I am completely bowled over by this novel, and especially by the fact that this is a debut novel, such is its level of proficiency and accomplishment. In fact, if I were to set verisimilitude as the litmus test for quality in fiction, McNaughton’s prose would take an unchallenged first prize. Her linguistic mastery and the narrative format of choice come together to give the story a feeling of authenticity akin to that we usually associate with memoirs and autobiographies; and, several times as I was reading it, I had to remind myself that How I Lose You is but a work of fiction: that’s how real this narrative feels, and such is Kate McNaughton’s mastery as a storyteller.

the verdict:

This is a rich and poetic, beautiful, beautifully written book, poignant and heart-wrenching but  thoroughly captivating and immersive. I do not frequently find books that engage me to the degree McNaughton’s debut novel managed to, and I am very happy I had the opportunity to read it. I can safely say that I recommend it wholeheartedly — and that it’ll be joining that other pearl of my last twelve months of reading, Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon, on the shelf reserved for my very favouritest books.

Genre pegging: Literary Fiction / Science Fiction & Fantasy
Verdict: a rich and poetic, poignant and thoroughly immersive read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
literary fiction; my favouritest books;


Tell No Lies by Lisa Hartley: book excerpt

 


 

Enfield police station reminded Caelan of a model a child had made by sticking cardboard boxes together. One shoebox on the bottom with two more piled on top. The small car park in front of the building was almost full, and she had to make several attempts at manoeuvring into a space. As she slammed her door, another vehicle entered the car park, reversing neatly into the last available parking spot. Caelan paused as she recognised the vehicle.

‘Hello, stranger,’ she called as the driver emerged. Tim Achebe was a few years older than Caelan – she guessed mid-thirties. There weren’t many black police officers in the country who held a rank above that of inspector, but Achebe had risen to DCI in record time, and was widely tipped as a future Commissioner. She had first met him a few days ago, though with all that had happened, it felt longer.

Achebe grinned at her. ‘Morning. We meet again.’ He pointed to her battered face, wincing. ‘Looks nasty. How are you feeling?’

‘I’ve been better.’

‘But you’re here.’

‘No point sitting around feeling sorry for myself.’ She didn’t add that she had nowhere to go except a hotel, even if she had wanted to take some time off to recuperate.

‘No one could blame you, not after Nasenby, and…’ He paused. ‘You know.’

After she had discovered that Nicky, her colleague and former lover, whom she’d believed she’d seen killed, was still alive and had been hiding in a safe house. Caelan didn’t trust herself to reply, and was thankful when Achebe didn’t push for a response.

As they crossed the car park together, Caelan said, ‘I wasn’t sure who would be here.’

‘One of my DIs has been involved, but she’s off sick – had a car accident on her way home last night.’

‘Shit. Is she okay?’

He held the door of the station open for her. ‘Yes, thankfully. I spoke to her husband. Cuts and bruises.’

Caelan nodded, hesitating just inside the door. ‘Who are we here to see?’

Achebe glanced around, lowered his voice. ‘This is an Organised Crime Partnership operation.’

‘We’re working with the NCA?’

‘Yeah. They’ve been sniffing around in Edmonton for a while, but haven’t got very far.’

‘Edmonton?’ Caelan ran through the possibilities, didn’t like any of them. Though she wasn’t an expert, she knew of several gangs in the area, and anything linked to their activities could be dangerous. What was she walking into here?

‘We’re meeting with a couple of NCA officers, and… I understand you’ve been told about Nicky Sturgess?’ Achebe glanced at her, then averted his gaze.

Caelan stepped closer to him. ‘Did you know?’

Achebe raised his head. ‘That she was alive, in hiding? No. I had no idea.’

She nodded, believing him. ‘Who’s questioning Michael?’

‘Nasenby? I don’t know. Still can’t believe he was behind it all, to be honest.’

Caelan managed a short laugh, but it was an effort. ‘You can’t have been as surprised as I was. I thought I knew him.’

‘Did he do that to your face?’ Achebe touched his own cheek with a fingertip.

‘Yeah. He didn’t take kindly to being accused of murder. Several murders.’

‘Including that of a ten-year-old child.’ Achebe’s face was blank, his voice little more than a whisper. Caelan touched his arm.

‘We couldn’t have known, Tim.’

Achebe rubbed his eyes. ‘Just makes me sick to think of him sitting there, watching us run around trying to figure out what had happened, all the time knowing he’d done it. Enjoying watching us struggle.’

‘You think that’s what he was doing?’

‘Fuck, I don’t know. He was so… smooth, you know? Self-assured. But he had to know the truth would come out eventually.’

‘I don’t think he did. I think he believed he’d get away with it, even while I was listing all the evidence we had.’

‘Arrogant prick.’

Caelan laughed. ‘I think that’s what he thought of you.’

Achebe’s eyes opened wide. ‘Bloody cheek.’

‘Detective Small, DCI Achebe?’

The voice came from behind them. Caelan turned, looked at the man who had spoken. Stepping forward, he held out his hand, smiling at her. ‘I’m Spencer Reid, NCA. It’s good to meet you. I’ve heard… Well, I’ve heard about you.’

Caelan shook his hand, stepped away as he turned to greet Achebe. She hadn’t worked with the National Crime Agency before, though she had been involved in a couple of joint operations with the organisation it had replaced. The NCA existed to bring to justice serious and organised criminals, including those involved in drug trafficking, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and money laundering. Its representatives worked in partnership with other organisations in the UK and internationally. Caelan wondered what they wanted with her.

Reid gestured towards the door he had emerged from. ‘We’re through there.’

 


 

my first guest on The “Indies” Corner: John Hindmarsh answers The 39 Questions

 


 

Today is a double special day ~ it’s not just the day The “Indies” Corner first goes live, but the day I introduce you to my very first guest, writer John Hindmarsh, an Australian-born writer of thrillers and sci-fi, who used to be an ICT consultant and who just may have been around the globe more than once in his lifetime…

Between long-term and short-term assignments, John tells me he has worked in about a dozen different countries worldwide, and visited another dozen or so as a tourist. The list of countries he’s been to is truly enviable, and includes such places as Amsterdam, Istanbul, Singapore, Bangkok, Moscow, Athens, Copenhagen…

In the last five years of his career, John sub-contracted with IBM, working with banking clients at a senior level. He has now settled in the California mountains, in the company of his Japanese American wife. And John added about himself:

“[I s]topped all that [sub-contracting] at the end of 2012. I turned 79 at the beginning of this month [Feb]. I have a serious although stable health problem [a form of leukemia] diagnosed a year ago – I’m apparently too old for the typical cures. I like hiking, kayaking and skiing. I’m focused on writing aggressively! What more can I say? :-)”

John released his first book, Broken Glassin 2011. Since then, many more titles have followed, and John is currently working on his 10th title, the 3rd volume in his Annihilation series. You can follow John on Twitter, where he indefatigably tweets about his books and promotions under the handle @john_hindmarsh, or through his webpage, which can be found at www.JohnHindmarsh.com .

§

The first book I read of John’s was Shen Ark: Departure, and I absolutely loved it. It is a very funny and addictive space opera, where the main characters are rats who suffer a mutation and evolve, within a few rat generations, to become highly capable, sentient and technological creatures.

By the time I had finished it, all I wanted was more of the same (yes, give me anthropomorphised animal characters anytime, and I’ll coo like an amorous spring woodpigeon). However, as I looked John’s bibliography up, I did not find more of Shen Ark, but I did find Broken Glass, the first of John’s The Glass Complex Trilogy. Its synopsis intrigued me enough to prompt me to buy a copy… and the rest is history.

I am currently reading Body Shop, which is currently still at release price of $0.99 / £0.99, and will be reviewed here on Tuesday, followed by Mark One on Thursday, and then by Broken Glass next Saturday.

Here’s John’s bibliography to date:

The Glass Complex Series
Broken Glass, Self-published, 2011, Science Fiction [space opera]
Fracture Lines, Self-published, 2016, Science Fiction [space opera]
Diamond Cut, Self-published, 2017, Science Fiction [space opera]

Shen Ark: Departure, self-published, 2013, Science Fiction [space opera]

Mark Midway Series
Mark One, self-published, 2013, technothriller
Mark Two, self-published, 2014, technothriller
Mark Three, self-published, 2014, technothriller
Mark Four, self-published, 2016, technothriller

Annihilation Series
The Darwin Project, self published, 2017, technothriller
Body Shop, self published, 2018, technothriller

 


The 39 Questions

 

Hi John!

It is a real pleasure to welcome you to the scribbles.

Before we start, I’d also like to thank you not just for being here, but for taking the time and having the patience to answer my many questions.

So — to begin with: could I ask you about your reading habits? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?

Thank you. I’m totally infected; since about ten years old.

Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you?

An encyclopedia; I was ten.

How much, and what, do you read? What are your favourite genre(s) / authors / books?

Thrillers and SF, with an occasional foray into fantasy.

Do you have any books that you return to over and over again? If so, which are they?

I’ll occasionally re-read all the books I have of a writer, mainly to re-assess writing style.

How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment of it? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?

I used to read as a reader and now it’s totally chaotic.

I recently read a book that left me breathless and wishing I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?

Not sure I can properly respond. There are writers I admire for the quality of the world/universe they have created and characters they have created – Cherryh, Modesitt, Butcher, Child, Anderle, Dawson — the list goes on.

Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?

You mean in addition to Moriarty?

What about heroes, what type of hero/heroine is your favourite? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?

Smiley [le Carre’s spy novels], the unnamed protagonist in Len Deighton’s novels, Bren Cameron in Cherryh’s Foreigner series, Jack Reacher [Child], Honor Harrington [Weber], …

If you were a fictional character, what sort of character would you like to be, and what genre would you hope to be written into? And who by?

Me and by me. :-) I wrote myself into my first book, and no one has ever commented on what is an anomaly. I’ll expand the concept in a later book. So a background character, with control.

Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones? And what do you read the most, traditional publishing house, independent publisher, small press, self-published?

More ebooks although I buy an occasional hardcover when a favorite author [traditional press] releases a new book.

What title(s) do you have on your bedside table (and on your fireside one, and your desk, and in your handbag) right now?

Um – I don’t have a handbag. I have hundreds on my Kindle in both my genres. I have Artemis by Andy Weir [waiting to be read] and Origin by Dan Brown [just read], both hard cover sitting on my coffee table and bedside.

Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?

Let’s talk about the “writing bug”, then. How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?

About 12 when I first wrote a SF story. I was raised on a farm in very rural Australia and writing was not a trade one followed. So after years of not writing I released my first book in 2011. I will release book #10 in the next 7 – 10 days.

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?

A study looking out onto about 30 pine trees sometimes all snow-covered; there are 20+ trees in our backyard. I am not a Starbucks writer – no appeal.

Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?

No.

So, how do you go about constructing your book’s reality? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a “pantser”? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?

I’ll typically have a story idea in mind for years. My current series [Annihilation – technothriller], for example, was triggered in 2014 by a quotation from a speech by Elon Musk – about artificial intelligence. I’ve had a SF story bubbling around for ten years. A thriller series for about three years. A standalone story for fifteen years. At first I was a total pantser. I now try to outline – but that makes life boring. Often a character grabs the story and away it goes.

How do you create your characters? Are there real life doubles for them?

I develop them to suit the story; no real life analogues.

If there was to be a movie made of your book, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?

Hugh Jackman, Samuel Jackson, Vin Diesel, Tom Hanks, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson… Depends which book/series, I suppose.

Where did the idea for your book come from? Was any of it based on a true event, a piece of news maybe, a film, a book you read?

I have this muse who sits on my shoulder and fills my mind with strange ideas. And then beats me with a baseball bat if I ignore her. It hurts…

How much is there of you in your main character?

Minor aspects I suppose are inevitable.

How much research did you do for this book, and what kind, where, how? How easy, or how difficult, was it?

Current series – more than usual – super intelligence. Generally I have a lot of experience I can weave into stories – well, apart from murdering people, I suppose.

How easy or how difficult was it for you to write about your book’s themes?

Not sure of the question.

Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?

Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?

I think I enjoy each key protagonist at the time. One of the alien characters – antagonist – in The Glass Complex series was a delight to write. Killed him off, though. My editor was sad.

Is there a sequel in the works? If not, what else is in the forge? And how far are you into writing your new title, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?

Book #2 of the current series is up for release end of Feb, I have books 3 and 4 in mind and will write them as quickly as I can – rate to be determined. I have at least 4 – 7 books I could write this year without reaching deeply into my ideas.

Of all your titles so far, which is your favourite one? Which was the one that gave you more pleasure, and the one you found the hardest to write?

Probably my first book – Broken Glass. Released in 2011 and reached best-seller status [i.e., reached the top paid 100 and flagged by Amazon as a Best Seller] on Amazon US and UK in 2017.

For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)

I suspect this process is unique to each author. I’ll develop an idea that includes a concept, a protagonist, antagonist, challenges, and an ending. I try to provide thrills/page turning urges along the way. Plus breadcrumbs to link each book in a series.

If one of your characters were to become a writer, what advice would you have for them?

Write more books – you need books to market. Ignore the naysayers. Write more books – the writing part of the brain is like muscle – the more you write, the fitter it gets.

Finally, what’s your favourite quote about writing?

Write more books. [Didn’t we have that question already?] LOL

Here are the quintessential questions, then — first one: why do you write?

I cannot not write. I would probably be unbearable to live with if I couldn’t be creative, preferably with words.

How long have you been writing?

Since 2013 as a serious writer. Since I was 12 as a wannabe writer.

What was the very first thing you wrote which made you stop and look at it, and think: “wow, yes, this could be something”?

Broken Glass.

So, how did you come to writing? Did you take the academic path, or is it just something you discovered you were good at, and decided to pursue?

Not the academic path. I couldn’t constrain the urge to write. Don’t know yet if I’m any good.

What kind of thing do you prefer to write, and how did you come to choose your genre(s)?

I write in genres that appeal to me – Thrillers and Science Fiction [space opera].

Do you write full time? What’s your usual writing routine?

Yes. I had interruptions to my routine through 2017 and am trying for a more disciplined approach for 2018. Target is 3,000 words a day, 5 days a week.

The “writing life”, as it is — is that something you recommend? Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!), and which are you not so keen on?

Recommend – only if you seriously want to be a writer. The less enjoyable aspects are the non-writing parts [e.g., marketing].

Who are you signed with (or not)? Why did you choose the traditional path to publication? And if you didn’t… why not?

The thought of hawking my work to numerous agents and then hawking same to publishers and when/if successful, waiting 18 or more months for the book to reach a reseller – no way. I can complete a book, work through the edits, get a cover [and influence the design], format it as an ebook, and the time delay between completing the edit corrections and uploading the book to Amazon is about seven days. Also, I’m an alpha type – I like to be in control.

Ninth “quintessential” question, now: where do you see yourself as a writer, in the long term?

Successful? With 20 plus books published [currently 10]. And continuing to write.

And last but by no means least, which of these do you prefer? [

Coffee, or tea? Coffee
Cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? Blueberry muffins
Turquoise, or aqua green? Turquoise
Violets, or jonquils? Violets
Mountain, or the sea? Mountain
Music, or theatre? Music

Once again, John, thank you so much for agreeing to appear on the scribbles, and I’ll meet you here again on Tuesday, for my first review of one of your titles, Body Shop!

 


 

And here you are: John Hindmarsh, talking about books, reading, writing, being a writer, and being himself.

I’ll be back on Tuesday, with my review of Body Shop, and a teeny weeny excerpt just to further spice your curiosity about this author.

Until Tuesday, then!

 


blog tour: book review and a whole lot more about Tell No Lies and its author, Lisa Hartley

 


 

So. Here I am as promised, though a bit later than usual — blame it please on the horrible migraine that’s been plaguing me for three straight whole days now.

Migraine-stricken or not, however, I could not fail to be here to introduce you to a lovely and talented young writer, Lisa Hartley, whose second book on the Detective Caelan Small series has just been published. Moreover, it is a thrill for me to participate in another of Canelo’s blog tours, courtesy of no less lovely Ellie Pilcher’s kind invite.

The book I’m talking about is Tell No Lies, a sequel to Ask No Questions, a series about an intrepid undercover detective and her trials and tribulations as she tries to go about her job. Just like Ask No Questions, Tell No Lies was published by the fab folks at Canelo, branded as a Crime / Thriller / Detective Fiction novel, and it came out 19th February last.

Here’s Tell No Lies cover image:

And here’s the book blurb:

Now they’re coming after Caelan’s team…

A tortured body is found in a basement. Drug dealing and people smuggling is on the rise. Then police start going missing.

There seems to be no connection between the crimes, but Detective Caelan Small senses something isn’t right.

Plunged into a new investigation, lives are on the line. And in the web of gangs, brothels and nerve-shattering undercover work, Caelan must get to the truth – or be killed trying.

And then there’s Nicky…

Utterly gripping, written with searing tension and remarkable dexterity, Tell No Lies is a blistering crime novel for fans of Angela Marsons, Rebecca Bradley and Faith Martin.

Here’s where to find the book:

Amazon (UK)

Kobo (UK)

Google Books (UK)

Apple Books (UK)

And here’s Lisa, then:

Lisa Hartley lives with her partner, son, two dogs and several cats. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Studies, then had a variety of jobs but kept writing in her spare time.

She is currently working on the next DS Catherine Bishop novel, as well as a new series with Canelo.

You can find Lisa on Twitter under her very original handle of @rainedonparade

Here’s the promised excerpt of Tell No Lies:


 

Enfield police station reminded Caelan of a model a child had made by sticking cardboard boxes together. One shoebox on the bottom with two more piled on top. The small car park in front of the building was almost full, and she had to make several attempts at manoeuvring into a space. As she slammed her door, another vehicle entered the car park, reversing neatly into the last available parking spot. Caelan paused as she recognised the vehicle.

‘Hello, stranger,’ she called as the driver emerged. Tim Achebe was a few years older than Caelan – she guessed mid-thirties. There weren’t many black police officers in the country who held a rank above that of inspector, but Achebe had risen to DCI in record time, and was widely tipped as a future Commissioner. She had first met him a few days ago, though with all that had happened, it felt longer.

Achebe grinned at her. ‘Morning. We meet again.’ He pointed to her battered face, wincing. ‘Looks nasty. How are you feeling?’

‘I’ve been better.’

‘But you’re here.’

‘No point sitting around feeling sorry for myself.’ She didn’t add that she had nowhere to go except a hotel, even if she had wanted to take some time off to recuperate.

‘No one could blame you, not after Nasenby, and…’ He paused. ‘You know.’

After she had discovered that Nicky, her colleague and former lover, whom she’d believed she’d seen killed, was still alive and had been hiding in a safe house. Caelan didn’t trust herself to reply, and was thankful when Achebe didn’t push for a response.

As they crossed the car park together, Caelan said, ‘I wasn’t sure who would be here.’

‘One of my DIs has been involved, but she’s off sick – had a car accident on her way home last night.’

‘Shit. Is she okay?’

He held the door of the station open for her. ‘Yes, thankfully. I spoke to her husband. Cuts and bruises.’

Caelan nodded, hesitating just inside the door. ‘Who are we here to see?’

Achebe glanced around, lowered his voice. ‘This is an Organised Crime Partnership operation.’

‘We’re working with the NCA?’

‘Yeah. They’ve been sniffing around in Edmonton for a while, but haven’t got very far.’

‘Edmonton?’ Caelan ran through the possibilities, didn’t like any of them. Though she wasn’t an expert, she knew of several gangs in the area, and anything linked to their activities could be dangerous. What was she walking into here?

‘We’re meeting with a couple of NCA officers, and… I understand you’ve been told about Nicky Sturgess?’ Achebe glanced at her, then averted his gaze.

Caelan stepped closer to him. ‘Did you know?’

Achebe raised his head. ‘That she was alive, in hiding? No. I had no idea.’

She nodded, believing him. ‘Who’s questioning Michael?’

‘Nasenby? I don’t know. Still can’t believe he was behind it all, to be honest.’

Caelan managed a short laugh, but it was an effort. ‘You can’t have been as surprised as I was. I thought I knew him.’

‘Did he do that to your face?’ Achebe touched his own cheek with a fingertip.

‘Yeah. He didn’t take kindly to being accused of murder. Several murders.’

‘Including that of a ten-year-old child.’ Achebe’s face was blank, his voice little more than a whisper. Caelan touched his arm.

‘We couldn’t have known, Tim.’

Achebe rubbed his eyes. ‘Just makes me sick to think of him sitting there, watching us run around trying to figure out what had happened, all the time knowing he’d done it. Enjoying watching us struggle.’

‘You think that’s what he was doing?’

‘Fuck, I don’t know. He was so… smooth, you know? Self-assured. But he had to know the truth would come out eventually.’

‘I don’t think he did. I think he believed he’d get away with it, even while I was listing all the evidence we had.’

‘Arrogant prick.’

Caelan laughed. ‘I think that’s what he thought of you.’

Achebe’s eyes opened wide. ‘Bloody cheek.’

‘Detective Small, DCI Achebe?’

The voice came from behind them. Caelan turned, looked at the man who had spoken. Stepping forward, he held out his hand, smiling at her. ‘I’m Spencer Reid, NCA. It’s good to meet you. I’ve heard… Well, I’ve heard about you.’

Caelan shook his hand, stepped away as he turned to greet Achebe. She hadn’t worked with the National Crime Agency before, though she had been involved in a couple of joint operations with the organisation it had replaced. The NCA existed to bring to justice serious and organised criminals, including those involved in drug trafficking, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and money laundering. Its representatives worked in partnership with other organisations in the UK and internationally. Caelan wondered what they wanted with her.

Reid gestured towards the door he had emerged from. ‘We’re through there.’

 


 

So… what do you think? Curious enough…? Here’s what I thought of Lisa Hartley’s Tell No Lies, then:

the review:

Now — I’ll try to steer away from any big spoilers in this review, seeing that you have the blurb and the extract up above, telling you most of what you need to know about this book. Therefore, I’m diving straight into my impressions and enjoyment of it.

I liked that the book, even though it is a sequel, stood very well on its own: you definitely do not need to have read the first instalment to understand and enjoy this book’s action and the characters. I happen to have read Tell No Lies before I read Ask No Questions, and I found it fully-formed and perfectly standing on its own. Though there are a few details that you will not be in possession of unless you’ve read Ask No Questions first, they are not however of any great amount, and your not knowing them does not interfere with the story or your understanding thereof.  Of course, I do recommend reading both books in the series, and in the right order, as it makes it a much more immersive and complete experience of the storyline, of the characters and of what’s at stake.

Notwithstanding, in this sequel we find that the characters are fully fleshed out, with Caelan Small coming across as the larger than [the] life [of the book’s plot] character. She is a bit of a loner, a bit of an introvert, a bit bristly, set in her ways, with a very strong north to her personal compass, and therefore at odds with the establishment that she is both a part of and apart from.

Caelan remains, somehow, a bit of a dark horse, a bit of a mystery, with all around her finding her difficult to get to know and befriend. A specialist undercover agent, she’s the best at what she does. She’s so good at changing identities and assuming her new personas that even her colleagues, the people she intimately works with day in day out, have a hard time to distinguish where Caelan begins and ends. But we, the readers, know better than that, because we’re privy to everyone’s actions and even thoughts. I dare say, we get to know Caelan better than most everybody else. And we get to like her, just as she is, a bit damaged, and bit interrupted, and all too human.

Caelan is therefore the unquestionable hero of the whole story, however else others might want to paint her, the person who’s the best at her game and who can be relied upon to save the day; but she’s also a bit of an anti-hero, as she clashes for the second time in Tell No Lies with the half-disembodied, extremely callous machinery of her crime unit, where power games are played, at the higher levels, irrespective of their dire consequences, including (or quite particularly) the welfare and safety of officers on the frontline.

Part of this frontline are, of course, undercover detectives Caelan, and her former crime unit and life partner, Nicky Sturgess, who was supposedly dead and now suddenly reappears, very much alive and seemingly already back on the job, to Caela’s complete shock and bewilderment. There is also Richard Adamson, another undercover detective who’s worked extensively with Caelan and trusts and respects her and her work.

We start this book with the special crime team being rebuilt, after the debacle of the last operation, and what transpired afterwards. In short thrift, we are reintroduced to Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Crime and Operations, Elizabeth Beckett, who seems to rule the roost of special crime operations with a rather heavy iron hand, but without either knowing or caring much about what the correct procedure and safety might be, or what the experienced, in-the-field officers like Caela think would be a more suitable strategy.

Then comes the turn of DCI Tim Achebe, an ambitious but honest officer, with an unflinching sense of right and wrong, who intuitively likes Caelan and welcomes working with her. He is a new school and a ‘restructured man’, aware and sensitive and politically correct, savvy and almost as straight as the proverbial arrow.  Even though his moral compass is as straight north as Caelan’s, he is a man who, unlike Caelan, knows how to navigate the corridors of power with all its plots and coups, and play the power game. He made the grade younger than most, and is tipped to fly even higher and become the next Assistant Commissioner, maybe even a Commissioner.

This time they are working with the National Crime Agency, trying to find who is responsible for the torture and savage death of two men, one of them a low-grade constable with no ties to the area where the crimes were committed, its precinct or any of their ongoing investigations. From the beginning, Caelan and Adam —  and Tim — are not impressed with the NCA officers they are set to work alongside, just as Caelan hadn’t been impressed with the way Elizabeth Beckett had handled her, Nicky, or the whole issue of her fake death. They have a bad feeling about the operation — almost as much as we the readers do! — but they do not have any choice over the matter. They have, after all, to follow orders.

the verdict:

I love the way these Detective Caelan stories are structured and told. They start with an introduction that is quite punchy and leaves you feeling breathless, as well as a bit shocked and adrift. From there, Lisa Hartley spins her yarn in such a way that she keeps us hanging on, both interested in the story and entertained by it.

I love how much ‘contemporary noir’ these novels feel. Like so many contemporary crime novels, these Detective Caelan stories, and Tell No Lies in particular, deal with the darkest side of human nature, with gruesome crimes that are hard to fathom or to stomach, by those in charge of investigating them in real life, by our fictional characters, and by the readers of such novels themselves. They tend to reflect life as it is, no frills, no rose tinted glasses, no happy ever afters. Moreover, they also tend to raise moral questions, especially about such issues as how power structures are working within such institutions as the police forces and crime agencies, about personal integrity and honesty and about fair play, and about how much or how often it is that an officer all too willing to break the rules can be found — and the broader consequences of it all, both in personal and social terms.

The themes they deal with are very contemporary, very up-to-the-minute problems, such as modern-day slavery, human trafficking, child trafficking, and prostitution rings, and their potential relationship with drug lords and drug trafficking and pushing networks. These are all problems that are not just confounding and eluding our fictional detectives and crime heroes, but many police forces and crime agencies throughout the world.

Lisa Hartley’s books are written in a fluent and unfussy, though still quite punchy, hard-hitting and fast-paced narrative style, which does not shy away from the, erm odd, “idiom”, but makes these novels light to read without detracting in any way from the story or the seriousness of its themes, or from its actors and their characterization.

All in all, I found them extremely pleasant and entertaining, and just the kind of book I like to pack in my handbag to keep me company on a train or aeroplane journey. I can’t wait for Lisa’s next offering, knowing it’s going to be at least as good as any of these.

Genre pegging: Crime / Thriller / Detective Fiction 
Verdict: A very interesting, punchy enough read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Shelves: c
rime; thrillers


 

Now, last but by no means least, here’s my interview with Lisa:

  • Before we start, Lisa, I would like to welcome you to my blog, and to thank you profusely for taking the time to answer my many questions. So, to begin with, could I ask you about your reading habits? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?

  • Thank you for the welcome, and the chance to appear on your blog! I’d say I was quite young when I was “infected” – around seven or eight? I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember.

  • Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you?

  • Probably an Enid Blyton. I can’t remember exactly when though

  • How much, and what, do you read? What are your favourite genre(s)/authors/books?

  • I read a lot of crime books, and I also enjoy historical fiction (and historical crime fiction!) I have loads of authors whose work I love, and one of my favourite things is discovering a new author, then finding out they’ve written several books in a series, and having them all to look forward to.

  • Do you have any books that you return to over and over again? If so, which are they?

  • Not as such, no. I do return to books years later sometimes.

  • How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment of it? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?

  • I think I read as a reader, just allowing myself to be caught up in the story. Then again, as a writer and also someone who studied English at university, I do find myself dissecting a book sometimes too. Perhaps it depends on how much I’ve been drawn into the story.

  • I recently read a book that left me breathless and wishing I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?

  • I have, many times. The sort of book where you glance up from the pages and are surprised to find yourself in your own living room rather than wherever the book is set, because it’s been so real to you. I can’t think of a specific title, but there have also been books where the final twist has been so clever I’ve shaken my head in awe.

  • Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?

  • Hannibal Lecter comes to mind. I think often in crime fiction the motivations and personality of the villain are explored, and that makes them a more rounded person, rather than just a character you know you’re supposed to hate. Lecter is clearly incredibly evil, but he’s also fascinating, and the relationship he has with Clarice Starling shows his humanity, such as it is. It’s a strange, tense, terrifying relationship, but it’s a relationship nevertheless.

  • What about heroes, what type of hero/heroine is your favourite? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?

  • In many of the books I read, the heroes are ordinary people – the police officers working around the clock to solve the crime, the victim or witness rebuilding their lives. I don’t think I really have favourites, though there are lots of fictional characters I would like to meet.

  • If you were a fictional character, what sort of character would you like to be, and what genre would you hope to be written into? And who by?

  • Tricky one! I’d say crime, but then I’m not very brave and don’t have a particularly strong stomach… Maybe a book set years ago, in Elizabethan times perhaps. As for who by – Hilary Mantel? I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

  • Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones? And what do you read the most, traditional publishing house, independent publisher, small press, self-published?

  • A mixture of both. I love ebooks if I’m travelling – before them I would use up most of my luggage allowance on books rather than clothes! But I still buy paperbacks, and sometimes hardbacks of the latest books from my favourite authors.

  • What title(s) do you have on your bedside table (and on your fireside one, and your desk, and in your handbag) right now?

  • The Photographer’ by Craig Robertson. ‘Kingdom Come’ by Toby Clements. And loads more on my Kindle, too many to list.

  • Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?

  • “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read,” always makes me smile. (Groucho Marx)

  • Let’s talk about the “writing bug”, then. How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?

  • I started writing when I was at primary school. When I was around eight years old, I wrote a short book about a woman and her pet cats, when I should have been doing maths or something. I wrote short comics and magazines with my brother. I always wanted to be a writer, but never believed it would actually happen, if that makes sense.

  • Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?

  • I have a desk in the corner of the living room. I used to write in our spare room, but we have three dogs now, and me working upstairs while they rampaged around downstairs didn’t really work. I used to write on a laptop, but I found I was getting aches and pains from hunching over it. Now I have a desktop with a large monitor, which helps.

  • Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?

  • No, I don’t keep a diary or have a notebook or anything like that.

  • So, how do you go about constructing your book’s reality? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a “pantser”? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?

  • I usually have a rough idea where a book is going to go, but I don’t often write anything down. It’s just how I’ve always worked. And yes, often a character will surprise me!

  • How do you create your characters? Are there real life doubles for them?

  • No, and they usually just wander into my head and then I try to flesh them out a little.

  • If there was to be a movie made of your book, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?

  • I’ve honestly no idea. I love Maxine Peake’s acting, but I don’t really see her as my main character. I’d definitely like her to appear somewhere though!

  • Where did the idea for your book come from? Was any of it based on a true event, a piece of news maybe, a film, a book you read?

  • TELL NO LIES is a sequel, and so there were threads from the previous book I needed to pick up. Most of the story seemed to flow from there.

  • How much is there of you in your main character?

  • Not much, I don’t think. I couldn’t do Caelan’s job, not for a minute. Maybe there are some similarities on a personal level.

  • How much research did you do for this book, and what kind, where, how? How easy, or how difficult, was it?

  • A little. I read articles, spoke to my partner who grew up in one of the areas in the book, and used the Transport for London website quite often!

  • How easy or how difficult was it for you to write about your book’s themes?

  • One of the themes in particular wasn’t easy, and neither was the reading I did around it. But then I don’t think it should be, not when the situation you’re writing about is a reality for some people. That’s partly why I think it’s important certain things are written about. Anything that can help raise awareness, and possibly lead to people understanding or recognising someone they know or have seen needs help.

  • Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?

  • I think characters always have the capacity to surprise you. Especially when you’re writing a series of books, because the characters grow and develop as they go through different experiences, as real people do. In that way, it would be impossible to know everything about them.

  • Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?

  • I love writing about Caelan Small – I love marching around London with her. I also really enjoy writing about her boss, Ian Penrith. I’m not sure about villains. I think they’re all fun to write about in a way.

  • Is there a sequel in the works? If not, what else is in the forge? And how far are you into writing your new title, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?

  • Hopefully yes, there will be more Detective Caelan Small novels. I’m also working on the next book in my other series, which features Detective Sergeant Catherine Bishop.

  • Of all your titles so far, which is your favourite one? Which was the one that gave you more pleasure, and the one you found the hardest to write?

  • When writing the first draft, I’ve loved working on them all. When editing, I’ve been sick of seeing them! Then when they’re published, it’s out of your hands. They’re out there for people to enjoy (or not!)

  • For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)

  • I just make sure I keep writing, keep moving forward. My rule has always been if you keep writing, even if you only write a couple of hundred words a day, eventually you’ll have a book. I don’t really have a process.

  • If one of your characters were to become a writer, what advice would you have for them?

  • Again, keep sitting down and writing something. I used to dream a lot about being a writer, without actually doing much writing at all.

  • Finally, what’s your favourite quote about writing?

  • I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. (Douglas Adams)

  • Here are the quintessential questions, then — first one: why do you write?

  • I’m not sure. It’s something I do, like some people draw or sing, or play a musical instrument.

  • How long have you been writing?

  • For as long as I can remember.

  • What was the very first thing you wrote which made you stop and look at it, and think: “wow, yes, this could be something”?

  • A piece of descriptive writing about a place in Derbyshire while at secondary school. I was already dreaming of being a writer, but I had no idea if I was any good at it. My teacher loved this particular piece, and it gave me confidence. It wasn’t that I thought the piece of writing could be developed into an article or something, more than I saw the reaction and it made me believe in myself (a tiny bit – it took many more years before I had any kind of confidence in my work, and to a point, I still don’t!)

  • So, how did you come to writing? Did you take the academic path, or is it just something you discovered you were good at, and decided to pursue?

  • Both. I studied English at A level and then at university, and creative writing was a part of that.

  • What kind of thing do you prefer to write, and how did you come to choose your genre(s)?

  • I love writing within the crime genre because there’s so much scope, and I think you find elements of most of the other genres within it anyway. Many crime books have a little romance, a little humour, and so on.

  • Do you write full time? What’s your usual writing routine?

  • I have a son and so I work around his school day and holidays. I usually write when he’s at school, though I often work in the evening too. It depends where I am with a book – if I don’t want to lose my thread, I’ll carry on when he’s in bed.

  • The “writing life”, as it is — is that something you recommend? Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!), and which are you not so keen on?

  • I would definitely recommend it. The aspects I enjoy are the flexibility, which is vital for me. My son has various disabilities, and I can’t think of another job that would allow me to be around as much. I enjoy interacting with like-minded people, and have met some amazing friends because of writing (and reading). That said, being a writer can mean you feel isolated. You work alone, and spend most of your time with made-up people.

  • Who are you signed with (or not)? Why did you choose the traditional path to publication? And if you didn’t… why not?

  • My Detective Caelan Small series is published by the wonderful people at Canelo, and I self-publish my Detective Sergeant Catherine Bishop series. It’s just the way things have worked out.

  • Ninth “quintessential” question, now: where do you see yourself as a writer, in the long term?

  • I’d like to carry on writing for as long as possible, or for as long as people want to read my books!

  • And last but by no means least, which of these do you prefer?

    • Coffee, or tea? Tea.
    • Cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? Blueberry muffins.
    • Turquoise, or aqua green? Aqua green.
    • Violets, or jonquils? Violets.
    • Mountain, or the sea? Mountain.
    • Music, or theatre? Theatre.

 

book review: fLy ~ by M.Z

 


 

240 pages, paperback £8.99 / $13.32
Book Guild Publishing Ltd (28 Jan. 2018)  

196 pages, Kindle £3.49 / $4.89
The Book Guild (24 Jan. 2018)
Troubadour Publishing Limited/The Book Guild

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Troubador Publishing Limited / The Book Guild. This review has also been published to NetGalley, GoodReads, LinkedIn, Amazon UK, to The Book Guild website, and my social media accounts.

the synopsis:

fLy is an unusual type of fly. fLy is the narrator of this grubby, witty, insensitive story that follows the unhappy lives of two couples that both live on the campus of an elite English private boarding school. fLy lives with Tristan and Hannah; Tristan, an English teacher, is infatuated with one of his students, Sasha Burnham and Hannah, his wife, battles with alcohol dependency, an eating disorder and low self-esteem. But Hannah’s world changes when she realises that she is the object of desire for Jean Lempriere, a colleague of Tristan’s.

Hannah has made friends with the other couple on the campus, Fi and Raymond. Raymond is the Head of Economics and a bully and Fi is his frumpy, down trodden wife that confides all in Hannah. fLy humorously reveals the sex role-playing that Raymond introduces into his married life, and divulges the dishonesty that plays a vital part in the unfolding infidelity that unites both couples.

fLy’s raw narrative seizes our trust in all that is divulged ensuring the reader knows, at last, what it means to be the ‘fly on the wall’!

the review:

Sometimes, upon reading a book, I’m compelled to try to find out something else about it and its author, about its context, in order to build up a bit of the puzzle that, in fact, every book is. fLy by M.Z has been one such instance, though this time success might have completely eluded me.

I had been quite intrigued with the synopsis when I came across the book, and on that basis alone I decided that it would be interesting to find out what the book could possibly be all about and, in particular, how it went about being what it was about. After all, it is not every day that you see a book where the narrator is, erm, a fly.

Of all things, right? All possible embodiments for a narrator? A fly. 

Yes. I know. Flies are not exactly the most endearing of creatures, and therefore not that frequently found anthropomorphised in literature. But a fly as an omniscient narrator? And a “witty” fly, at that? Telling the story from its fly point of view and its fly-brain understanding of things? Mmm. No wonder the synopsis included the words “grubby”, “raw”, and “insensitive”.

This book is for you, grab it now!, the little imp on my shoulder kept prodding me on the ear, tugging at my earlobe. That fly narrator had indeed tickled my fancy like nothing else I could think of. Moreover, my first cursory read of the synopsis had evoked some vague image of Kingsley Amis at this best. To say that I had been intrigued would be a serious understatement. I  did therefore take the gamble, and the book, fully aware that anything deemed politically incorrect would potentially be a nightmare to review.

So, how did the gamble go? Oh! Quite well, as it happens. It turns out that fLy does not have any regard for our human rules or mores, those of what constitutes fair conversation topics included, as you would expect. It is a fly. And flies do have different standards — for everything. And that too was to be expected.

What you wouldn’t expect is anything like what this book turned out to be — though to be fair, I didn’t quite know what to expect to begin with, apart from something completely different, possibly even unique, involving a fly and perhaps vaguely reminiscent of The Old Devils. And, in its difference and uniqueness, fLy does not disappoint: I have never read anything quite like it. Would I read it again? Will I read the next instalment of fLy’s “raw”, “insensitive”, and “grubby” narrative? I’ll let you know in a little while.

And here we now are. Because “raw”, “insensitive” and “grubby” is exactly how our fly’s narrative goes. It’s what we get. Because fLy… Well, fLy is a fly, lest we forget such fact, and therefore fascinated with everything and anything remotely grimy and all things dirt (and dirty). Rot and decay, decomposition, putrefaction: that’s what a fly knows best, what she knows most about. All its senses are perfectly attuned to the detection of organic materials and all the minute changes therein; its little fly sensory array revel in scents and smells and tastes and flavours of all things gross, from excreta to other bodily fluids and secretions. The grossest, the slimiest, the better.

The same goes for moral grossness and sliminess, as far as fLy is concerned. fLy is an old and very wise, and apparently quite knowledgeable fly, who understands a lot about human nature, and knows that what humans deal in, what they get up to, is in no way of a better or cleaner nature than what all flies wallow in, which is, erm, well, what humans and other animals secrete and excrete. fLy sees absolutely no difference between the two things: what the humans she observes unconsciously, bodily offer to her fly delectation, and the actions and activities she observes them consciously, deliberately, manipulatively engaging in, and in which fLy equally delights.

fLy seems indeed not to see any difference between material and moral sliminess. Both are grimy and grim, and she’s not choosy: human actions are dishonest and disreputable, dirty, grimy, slimy, gross, just as human excretions and secretions are dirty, grimy, slimy, gross, just like her enjoyment of the latter, and very particularly of the former, is equally deemed gross and dirty and sordid. As far as human morals are concerned, fLy wallows in everything we civilised humans would either ostensibly shy away from, or mention only in the most faintly whispered gossip. And that’s something else, in itself; I’m sure fLy has something to say about it.

At the end of the book, we are left to feel that the level of sordidness is the same, be it the human or the fLy proclivities we focus on, the human or the fLy moral standards and compass. Being a fly, fLy willingly consumes all it is afforded to by its human subjects. The more, the better. And the dirtier, more sordid it is, the more delectable, and delectably human, fLy finds it to be.

And we too, the readers, find enjoyment in fLy’s narrative. Ring any bells? Much?

the verdict:

So. Would I read this book again? Very honestly, and aware as I am how much a second reading often reveals hidden details, I probably will. And will I read any more adventures of fLy in humanland? Oh, very, very definitely. This book is something else. It’s unique and in a category very much of its own.

fLy by M.Z. is a very well written book, very creative and innovative, quite entertaining and even hilarious in parts, while at the same time forcing us to plunge into the world of fLy, which the reader cannot help but find grotesque and distasteful but absolutely fascinating. It forces us also to confront fLy’s observations about human nature, mostly through its comparisons between human morals and rot and decay, between human actions and excretions and secretions, and the value each has to a voyeuristic outsider such as fLy.

And fLy is indeed a masterful narrator, as much as it is a willing and crafty witness of human behaviour. Its descriptions are incredibly detailed and graphic, and it skilfully depicts its human subjects in all their disgraceful antics. The characters fLy paints are full and life-size, and they make us laugh, and commiserate, and bounce back and forth between liking and disliking, understanding and rejecting, accepting and deploring. We end the book in full knowledge that our own, human world is, in its own way, just as grotesque and distasteful, and perhaps just as fascinating, as that of fLy’s.

From a detached, distanced perspective, as we reach the last word, we realise that voyeurism — and that we all are, potentially, circumstantially, simultaneously, both the voyeur and the watched thing, and pawns and kings in our own and in other people’s game —  may indeed be all this novel is fundamentally about.

As I finished the book, I wanted to find out something more, anything that would contextualise it for me. The only thing I was able to find was the two-line author bio…

Author M. Z. lives in Epsom, Surrey and wrote this story after reminiscing about the long letters that she used to write about her experiences at university where she studied English and American Literature.

And I wonder. As I remember the details of the dedication and acknowledgements pages of this book, I look at the above bio and I wonder if this is indeed a roman à clef, or whether that bio is but part of the whole, of the larger fictional construct. Well done, M.Z., because I very much doubt we, the readers, will ever really get to know.

Genre pegging: general fiction
Verdict: a very clever and accomplished novel, and a fascinatingly entertaining read;  recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
my favourite books; fiction; one to keep