Book Chat with Duke Miller

Today’s post feels appropriate for Memorial Day, since many innocent humans who suffered and died as a result of living in war zones controlled by evil, power-hungry despots are remembered in it. Duke Miller is my guest today. Duke’s a truly gifted and unique writer whose work is often influenced by the grim realities of his past as an emergency relief worker.

Like other writers I’ve featured recently, Duke and I go back a while. We both worked with an indie publisher from about 2013-2016, and I’m a huge fan of his novel Living and Dying with Dogs, as well as his poetry collections.

Unlike me, however–who pretty much gave up on all attempts at creativity during the pandemic–Duke continued to write his truth regularly on a cool group blog called Tin Hats. It’s an honor to host Duke today.

Mary: So Duke, when did you first know you were a writer? And when did you decide you were going to write at least one book?

Duke: I first tried to write my sense of self when I was about fourteen years old. Before then my writing consisted of school assignments. I was dyslexic. I wrote all of my letters backwards. When I held a sheet of my writing up to a mirror, it was perfectly legible. They didn’t call it special education back then, but I remember being placed in an unsupervised room and asked to throw bean bags through the open mouth of a stand-up wooden clown face. I got pretty good at that and slowly the therapy began to work and by the time I was about ten I started writing the letters facing the proper direction. My first short story was about an acacia tree and how a boy floated down from the sky using a full-grown acacia tree as a parachute. If you don’t know what they look like you can google them and understand where I was coming from. Interestingly enough, I ended up in Africa surrounded by acacia trees. They became a link to my past.

I tried to write my first book when I was about twenty years old. But it was a failure since I was more interested in girls and booze, running around acting crazy. I considered my life as a movie back then, not a book, and so I portrayed different roles upon the stage. I relied upon my youth, looks, and naiveté to see me though. However, when I hit twenty-two years of age, I decided I was way too ignorant. I had graduated from college without any knowledge whatsoever. For one year I drove a truck and read everything I could lay my hands on.  I probably read three or four hundred books that year. (Jack London’s Novel) Martin Eden guided me and became a great friend. 

Reading, as you might know, is the best way to learn how to write, since everything in this world is derivative and we say, “Yes, that writer was influenced by so-and-so”. Hard to beat Shakespeare and the Bible for those iconic images and turns of phrase. I’m an atheist, but I have read the Bible cover-to-cover and continue to go back to it for those phrases and themes that have destroyed great parts of the world. It is very unfortunate, but that is our history. 

Mary: I haven’t read the Bible cover-to-cover, but did attend many years of Catholic school and Catholic religious services, so I’m familiar with the more commonly read texts. In my experience, their phrases, stories, and themes come to mind at odd times, usually when something particularly good or bad has happened. It’s also interesting how you talk about considering your life as a movie when you were young. I don’t know if I saw mine quite that way, but do recall filtering certain thoughts and actions through my brain as though they were text, perhaps snippets from a book or screenplay.

Anyway, I’ve heard your work classified as “magical realism”–which is accurate–but based on my experiences reading magical realism, your work is also more surreal and poetic than most. How do you classify your genre?

Duke: I write in the “Duke Miller genre.” It’s sort of poetic “automatic writing” that becomes informed fiction. My readers tell me they like it, but can only take small doses of it at a time. 

Here is an example:

All my writing starts as a poem.

“The Child in the Bath”

A toddler taking a bath in a metal tub, throwing a yellow ducky at the dog, smiling up at me

But then, the prose says, is that all you want when you could have full-grown people who suffer profoundly, are eager to complain bitterly, who firebomb great cities

I drum my fingers, fidget with a square of chocolate, listen to the sound of drugs moving up the mountain road, wonder about men killing women

These are the thoughts that drive me to the kitchen table at 3:30 in the morning with my eyes burning holes in my head

Mary: Thank you for that example, Duke, which I think serves as a great introduction to your work. For people just learning about your writing now, which of your books would you recommend?

Duke: I’d recommend Tragedy Wears Many Hats and Living and Dying with Dogs. The others are fine, but I like those the best. They are for people who like poetry informed by a life of dealing with madness on a massive scale. That’s the way I write and as they say down here, “ni modo.” Nothing to be done.

Mary: Where do your characters originate?

Duke: All my characters are facets of me, and most importantly, the females I have known. When I write about a “character,” I’m really writing about myself. I’m writing about the way I absorbed different aspects of a person who I held or spoke with late at night. There is a great melancholia hanging over me. I write a lot about bodies lying there in the field or along the side of the road. The living and the dead are extensions of me. They take form in the present with my five senses and then walk the halls of my memory later on when I am removed from some lousy situation. I give them life in my mind and they are always shifting around, turning into something new every moment. That is a fact of life for me and those people and events get into my dreams. I think a good writer of fiction must have a very active imagination. They can hopefully remember their dreams. Write them down in the middle of the night. Otherwise important images and dream conversations will be lost.

Mary: Definitely good advice about writing down the dream stuff. So many great songs and stories in history are the result of a writer keeping a notebook under the pillow or bed. But your life, Duke, has taken you to places most people reading this blog have never been and will never go. I feel as though your writing–much like good war journalism–forces readers to look at things they wish weren’t part of our world, but will never stand a chance of changing unless those in power take a hard look and use the resources they have to enact real change. That’s one reason I’m grateful for your work. And speaking of things we wish weren’t part of our world, how has the Covid pandemic affected you?

Some of Duke’s friends and contacts from his days working in South Sudan

Duke: The Covid pandemic doesn’t particularly bother me. I hated to see all the political mistakes that translated into needless deaths. But I’m used to big die offs of the human species. I once slept in a field with ten thousand dead. Unfortunately, hardly anyone was concerned, since the dead people were Black Africans and like an African politician once told me, “Every white death in Africa, is worth ten thousand black deaths in the eyes of the world.” I think that’s true. Very few of my friends or family know or even care about eastern Congo. Millions upon millions have died there in the past thirty years. Most preventable deaths. But no one cares. This is one of the reasons I am occasionally depressed. These kinds of ideas inform my fiction. I haven’t included Covid in my work. I have other things that move me.   

Duke’s pilot, Heather Stewart, who was unafraid to fly into war zones

Mary: That’s a lot to digest right there. As a White woman who’s never been to Africa and has never truly educated herself on the situation in eastern Congo, I plead “guilty as charged.” I do hope you take comfort in knowing that the work you did as an international aid worker made a real difference. Also, your writing sheds a unique light on both the horror and the beauty of your experiences.

So what are you reading now, and/or what books have influenced you most?

Duke: I’m often asked the question about what books or writers have influenced me. The list is long but here are few examples: Brautigan, McCullers, London, Thompson, Baudelaire, Gauguin, Plath, Bukowski, Kosinski, Parker, Rilke, Barth, William Goldman, Loren Eiseley, Thoreau, and Böll. Here are seven books that are important to me: The Temple of GoldThe End of the RoadJesus’ Son, Blood Meridian, The Sheltering Sky, A Separate Peace, and Green Mansions. There are many, many others and all writing is derivative in one way or another: nothing new under the sun, which comes from Ecclesiastes “there is no new thing under the sun.” We can’t win, which is why I try my level best to put two words together in an odd way, with a new feeling rising up from their trace, their touch upon my lips. I’m currently reading Woolfe, Chekov, and Sartre.

Mary: Thanks, Duke. My to-read list is now considerably longer. What are you writing these days?

Duke: I write in several places, including a blog called “Tin Hats.” Fellow writers Jan, Aaron, Kari, and I are the Tin Hatters. We started it after our old publisher Booktrope went bust in 2016. Buried in my hard drive are a bunch of love poems, an unfinished novel on Africa, and a reworking of Flipka, an out-of-print novel by Jan. The central character is a woman who thinks menstrual blood is paranormal. The plot spins out of control from there. Hard to write, since my new kittens take up much of my time.

Duke’s kittens, Birdy and Stormy

Mary: Well, I really liked Flipka, so it’d be great if you and Jan published a new version of it. And your kittens are precious.

So here’s a final question: What’s something about you that you wish more people knew?

Duke: I’m not a very public person. I have dealt with a lot of stress in my life and am still dealing with it. I prefer to be pretty much alone. I was never able to play the marketing game concerning my books. I used to tell book managers, “Fuck Facebook and Twitter”. I think I was ahead of my time.  Of course, only a handful of people have ever heard of my books. That’s the result of leading a life far removed from making a buck at all costs. I much prefer the ends of the world. The lonely paths. I need to say one last thing: I’ve met the best and the worst people at the end of the road, places like the Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar. I often ask myself why I’m not there? You might be surprised about who is out there, waiting just for you and the meeting can be either good or bad. Who knows? It’s called life and death.   

Incidentally, I had this song on repeat play for the hour or so that it took me to answer these questions. Music inspires my words.

Mary: Thank you for being here, Duke. As always, I’ve enjoyed talking to you and appreciate your time, insight, and musical tips. Please keep writing.


Duke with Stormy

Duke Miller worked in 25 different counties in mostly war zones or unstable countries as an emergency relief worker, coordinator, and director.  He worked with the displaced, refugees, inmates at reeducation camps, migrants held on US military bases, and relocated refugees in the United States.  He can hardly stand to watch what is happening in Syria, Myanmar, Yemen, Tigray/Ethiopia, the Congo and the Ukraine. We are repeating the same old story and it will continue until it stops on a moment’s notice and like one of his loved ones says, humans are doomed, but the world will be just fine.

His work can be found here on Amazon and here on the Tin Hats blog.

Posted in #MondayBlogs, 2022, author talk, Book chat, COVID, fiction, in memoriam, interviews, life experiences, poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Book Chat with Sahar Abdulaziz

Book Chat is back! This week, I’m thrilled to be joined by the amazing Sahar Abdulaziz. Several years ago, Sahar and I worked with the same publisher, but I didn’t really become familiar with her work until I discovered–and fell in love with–her novel Unlikely Friends. As some of you may know, I’m a fan of stories that feature intergenerational friendships, and Unlikely Friends is a wonderful example of such a story. But that’s only the beginning. Sahar is also a brilliant writer of suspense, non-fiction, and more. So without further ado….

Mary: Sahar, when did you first know you were a writer?

Sahar: I don’t recall having a single definitive moment when I thought, hey, this is who I am, what I do. Acknowledging that I am a writer/author came as more of a progression: I write; therefore, I am. It wasn’t until I compiled an author bio that I faced this eye-opening epiphany, and even then, it took an accomplished author-friend to persuade me to self-define as an author. Up to then, when asked, I’d say, “Me? Oh, I write stuff.”

However, taking ownership of the writer/author title brought a strong sense of self. —I’m a writer. I’m an author. This is who I am—who I want to be. As a creative, I use words as my artistic medium to extol images and emotions. Once I established the title, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. More so, owning the title allowed me to commit to learning the craft and how best to make black spots on paper inspire.

Mary: I love that last phrase how to make black spots on paper inspire. What genres do you write? And why?

Sahar: I am a multi-genre writer. I have written in suspense, thriller, non-fiction, satire, contemporary fiction, sci/fi, and a children’s book. I don’t consciously shift genres, but write the stories that speak to me. Many of my stories incorporate genre fluidity, or a hybrid genre, meaning, a genre that blends themes and elements from two or more different genres.

For example, one novel might be satirical but equally suspenseful. Another novel is a thriller, but proportionately mysterious. I have written contemporary fiction that publishers labeled as Family Life Fiction, whatever that is. Publishers have categorized my suspense novels as psychological or political thrillers. I don’t deliberate on the story category until its completion, and then only for marketing and publishing purposes, but thank goodness for subgenres, I guess.

Mary: For sure! And I wish more authors would feel comfortable writing stories that speak to them, regardless of genre. It takes courage to veer off the path, but the results can obviously be very rewarding.

So, which of your books would you recommend to someone discovering your work for the first time? And why?

Sahar: Being a hybrid-genre writer, any recommendation I make would depend on what the reader enjoys.

I write character-centered stories concerning pressing societal issues. When a novel is a thriller, the characters will face systemic racism, bigotry, sexism, and misogyny. The suspense books all unpack indefensible problems like domestic violence, sexual assault, and generational child abuse. Along with being heartwarming and hopefully funny, my satire novels unveil shattering emotions like loneliness, loss, and grief. My non-fiction book “puts a FACE on most disorders” while unmasking the devastation inflicted on those living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, and SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder]. The book also seeks to provide coping tools and strategies for symptom management.

Mary: That’s an amazing list, and I look forward to reading much more of your work.

Now, let’s talk about something we all wish would go away: the pandemic. We’ve been dealing with for over two years now. How has it affected your writing?

Sahar: Two years? Uck, it feels like a lifetime.

The pandemic had a significant impact on my writing between 2019 and 2022. I was in the middle of writing books 3 & 4 in The Abernathy & Crane Series, which is satire. It’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy, encouraging and funny, but nothing happening in the world felt close to that. I am honestly shocked the last two satire books didn’t turn out to be dystopian. No exaggeration.

As a writer, I believe in showing up for myself foremost, so despite wanting to curl up into a blob under the covers, I fought through the sadness and continued writing. But I won’t lie. There were countless times filled with prolonged emotional droughts when my words fell flat or refused to fall.

Eventually, however, despite the grief and heartache the pandemic has and continues to cause, I found my writing voice again, but not without a fight.

Mary: I’m glad your writing voice has returned, Sahar. I think it will be years before we have any grip on the effect the pandemic has had on our brains. Like you, I’ve struggled with a good deal of sadness over the past two years and some days I still find myself unable to write. Recently, though, I’ve been working on a novel in which the pandemic figures prominently. Have you included references to COVID in your writing so far? And/or do you see yourself writing about it anytime soon?

Sahar: Great question, and I don’t have a concrete answer for you on this yet. But it has been something I have thought about and discussed with other writers. COVID-19 is a part of our collective story and not something we can write past. At the same time, we are all still in the fog, grappling with how to insert this life-changing event into fiction. Some authors have made it an integral feature in their novels, while others have chosen not to include it.

So far, my stories have taken place before the COVID-19 event. However, I haven’t ruled out including the pandemic in future writing projects.

What’s something about you that you wish more people knew?

I am NOT my characters.

I have never been a librarian, although they are my heroes. I have never been a serial killer, although I am admittedly a serial muncher. I have also never committed homicide or any of the other heinous atrocities some of my characters have done. However, no matter what genre I write in, I am emphatically and unequivocally dedicated to exposing these cruelties through story because for me, silence is never an option.

Mary: No, it is not. Sahar, thank you so much for chatting with me today. It’s been a pleasure having you as a guest, and I hope readers of my blog will check out your work!

AUTHOR BIO:

Suspense writer Sahar Abdulaziz is the author of twelve books––including, But You LOOK Just Fine, The Broken Half, Tight Rope, The Gatekeeper’s Notebook, Unlikely Friends, Devoted Friends, Unexpected Friends, and her latest 2022 release, Forever Friends. Most of her work is in realistic fiction: psychological thrillers, suspense, and satire. She writes about characters facing complicated life challenges and is determined to tell their stories, eager to put pen to paper to share their compelling accounts. Honors include Women Under Scrutiny Anthology, The Daybreak Press Award, Fofky’s Reader’s Choice Award, and Monroe County Community Media Expression Award.

CONTACT

Posted in #MondayBlogs, 2022, author talk, Book chat, COVID, guest blog, publishing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Book Chat with Paula Coomer

Welcome to the second installation of Book Chat! If things go well, I hope to feature at least one writer a week here on my blog. Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Nillu Nasser.

Today, I get to interview Paula Coomer, a wonderful writer I was fortunate enough to meet when we both wrote for the same–now defunct–publisher. Paula writes both fiction and nonfiction, and I’ll bet if you read on, you’re going to want to check out her work!

Mary: When did you first know you were a writer, Paula?

Paula: I knew from a very young age that I was an observer. I “wrote” my first book at four, meaning I drew pictures and copied lines from the newspaper onto manila notebook pages. As for when I decided to get truly serious about writing, I was in my thirties. My first book came out the year I turned forty.

Mary: What genres do you write?

Paula: I write poetry and literary fiction, primarily. I consider myself a serious writer. But I do have one food memoir out, as well as a follow-up cookbook. Those were unplanned. They sort of happened on their own, and they have been my most popular books so far.

Mary: Which of your books would you recommend to someone who’s discovering your work for the first time?

Paula: I think Jagged Edge of the Sky, my second novel, is a fun read, although a little complicated. It’s not mainstream, but I think having it set partially in Australia has added an element of interest to it, plus it was nominated for big awards—even the Pulitzer—so at least my publisher thought it had literary merit. Somebody Should Have Scolded the Girl, my most recent short story collection might also appeal to readers, although some of the stories are a bit tough to read. I write mostly about rural women. Tough things happen to women in most of my stories.

Mary: I’ve begun reading Somebody Should Have Scolded the Girl, and am enjoying it a lot so far. The characters feel very real, and I’m a huge fan of gritty stories that expose the true beauty in humanity. This leads to my next question: Of all the scenes you’ve created in your writing, which have you liked best?

Paula: I really like the sex scenes in Jagged Edge of the Sky. I like sex to be really understated. I don’t like erotica or pornography, but I do like it when sex is heavily hinted at in such a way that it makes your breath quicken.

Mary: Ditto! Now let’s talk a bit about our current world situation. We’re two years into the pandemic now. How has this scourge that materialized on earth almost overnight and changed practically every element of life as we once knew it affected your writing?

Paula: I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t, but I had already written my way through very hard times personally, so living through a pandemic felt like just one more thing I had to endure in my life. I wrote more poetry than anything, primarily because I was working on hard stuff in writing that had to do with the traumas in my life. To write about trauma when you are in the midst of being traumatized by world events proved to be very difficult for me. I’ve recently set that project aside in favor of diving into a novel—an actual happy story—I’ve been mapping out and taking notes on for years. The nonfiction stuff will have to wait. This is a time to be generating as much joy as we can.

Mary: Many movies and TV shows filmed during the pandemic have avoided setting scenes specifically in 2020 or 2021. One reason is that so much about COVID-19 (our knowledge of it, policies around it, mutations in the virus itself, predictions about its future, etc.) is changing in real time. But writing books allows for more flexibility. Have you included references to COVID-19 in your writing so far? And/or do you see yourself writing about it anytime soon?

Paula: I have written about COVID in nonfiction, but I don’t ever see myself writing about it in fiction. I do have a climate-catastrophe novel making the rounds, but the enemy is snow, not a virus.

Mary: Are there any books about “the craft” that you’ve found particularly helpful in your writing career? If so, which ones?

Paula: Oh gosh. So many. Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Stephen King’s On Writing. Brenda Ueland made me aspire to be a good teacher. Annie Dillard made me want to write beautiful prose, although I don’t know if I’ve ever truly arrived at that level of craft. Of course, craft is not something you arrive at. You get better, you get worse, you get better again. Anne Lamott’s practical advice about just getting to it has always stayed with me. Natalie Goldberg helped me understand writing as a practice and spiritual path, which it needs to be, as you must lose yourself and your ego if ever truly are going to write what matters to yourself and to the world. Stephen King made me understand that even for writers like him there is no magic but there are demons, and you must be prepared to face those within yourself before you can step away from ego. It’s a tough business. We need to turn to those who have gone before us if we are serious at making a career of books. It’s about maintaining a culture of wisdom as you seek your own wise evolution. You can’t add to that body of understanding if you don’t recognize yourself as a link in that chain.

Mary: I love what you just said: You can’t add to that body of understanding if you don’t recognize yourself as a link in that chain. One thing that upsets me is when writers (of all ages) discount classics because they consider them boring or dated. Of course, writing–like all art–keeps evolving, but it’s so important to recognize the risks others have taken in the past so we can write what we do now. And speaking of other writers, what books are you currently reading for enjoyment/entertainment? And who are a few of your personal favorite authors?

Paula: I am reading a book called On Suspect Terrain by John McPhee, one of my favorite non-fiction writers. I also just finished The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, a book I recommend to everyone, hard as it is to stomach. You can’t understand racism fully without reading this book. Favorite books currently—Diane Seuss’s frank: sonnets. And I read everything Wendy J. Fox writes. Lidia Yuknavitch, of course.

Mary: Okay, so I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read any of Lidia Yoknavitch’s work. But I just went to her website and have added two of her books to my summer reading list. She sounds amazing. Now let’s get back to you. Have you experienced periods of time (longer than a couple of days) when you thought you might stop writing?

Paula: I used to quit writing every August and December, until I realized that what I needed was a break during those months. Other than that, I want to quit all the time, but what I really need is to find ways to bring balance to my life. More movement, etc. And, I realize, what I really want to give up is the business side of writing. I think that is the downfall of many of us. The applications for conferences, grants, queries, setting up events, etc. I’d love to be able to pay a publicist or an assistant to take that part over, but I’ve never wanted to part with the cash. Usually, the times I want to quit the most are times when I’m not writing. If I can even make myself go to the desk for thirty minutes a day, I’m more content. At times I think I was happier when I was just writing in my journal, writing poems I never intended to show anyone.

Mary: Yup. I hear you on all of that. But I’m glad you did start publishing and hope you continue. Here’s my final question: What’s something about you that you wish more people knew?

Paula: I wrote a seriously good experimental snowpocalypse novel that is also plausible in terms of the science behind the forming of a mini-ice age based on current climate conditions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a novel on the page, but it’s not exactly a graphic novel, either. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a publisher, which means the message will be lost, which is exactly what happens in the book—a woman dreams of the coming ice age, but because of trauma in her current life, she’s not remembering her dreams.

Mary: Well, I hope you do find a publisher for it. It sounds fascinating, and I think a lot of people will relate to the idea of important environmental messages being lost due to all the trauma we’re going through as humans on earth.

Thank you so much for being here today, Paula! It’s been a treat reconnecting, and I look forward to talking again soon!

More about Paula Coomer

Paula Coomer is a poet and literary fiction writer who occasionally writes about food and health. Her writing has appeared in many journals, anthologies, and online publications. Books include the novels Jagged Edge of the Sky and Dove Creek, short story collections Somebody Should Have Scolded the Girl and Summer of Government Cheese, poetry collections Nurses Who Love English and Devil at the Crossroads. A food memoir, Blue Moon Vegetarian, was followed by the much-loved cookbook Blue Moon Vegan. A long-time teacher of writing, Ms. Coomer has been a nominee for the Pulitzer, the Pushcart, and others. She lives with her husband Phil in the tiny town of Garfield, Washington, where she coaches writers and organizes and facilitates Clearwater Writers, a retreat program on the Wild and Scenic Clearwater River near Syringa, Idaho. 

Paula blogs here.

If you’d like to check out Paula’s books and support indie bookstores, click here.

You can also find all Paula’s books–and purchase them–here on Amazon.

Posted in #MondayBlogs, 2022, author talk, books, novel writing, pandemic, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PSA: Don’t Neglect Routine Health Matters

In February 2020, I had some blood drawn done at a local hospital. Since I had a slight cold, the phlebotomist handed me a mask “due to an abundance of caution.” At the time, only a handful of COVID cases had been reported in the US, and I wasn’t particularly concerned. Still, when I exited the lab, I left the mask on and found myself riding the elevator alone. In the parking garage, people who spotted my blue-shielded face avoided eye contact and walked past as if I was invisible. It sounds callous to say this now, but at the time, I found the situation slightly amusing. I’d just watched the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry wears a MAGA hat as a “people repellent” and wondered if perhaps a surgical mask might have a similar effect. Something to remember next time I don’t want to be bothered, I thought.

These days, thankfully, masks are required for everyone entering hospitals and medical establishments. My immune system’s compromised, so I don’t take anything about COVID lightly. I’ve received more mRNA vaccinations than most people, and do my best to stay up-to-date on the latest news about new cases and treatments.

But one thing I’ve neglected–and perhaps you’re in this category too–is routine healthcare. A few weeks ago, I got a bad cut on my arm while moving some furniture, and when I checked my medical records, saw that I hadn’t had a tetanus shot in many years. So I called the local pharmacy and got a shot the next day. Then I realized I hadn’t had a mammogram in a while, and was surprised to learn four years had passed since my last one. Fortunately, I was able to schedule that this past week and all was good. Next on the list is a shingles shot and a colonoscopy.

Not fun, but important! Have you also let routine medical care slide during the pandemic? If so, please do the stuff you’ve put off. Thank you!

love,

mary

Posted in health, PSA, routine health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Book Chat with Nillu Nasser

If you’re anything like me, your reality has grown significantly smaller over the past two years. Despite the availability of Zoom and Facebook, connection between individuals–even close friends–has changed. But now, as it seems we’re getting a bit of a break from COVID here in the US (fingers crossed), I’m hoping to reconnect with the world. And what better way to do that than by discussing books and writing? So I’m hoping to interview at least one writer a week here on my blog, and anyone who wants to listen in or join the conversation is welcome. Please pull up a chair!

This week, I’m thrilled to be speaking with with Nillu Nasser. I met Nillu online years ago when I saw a link to one of her poems on Twitter and was so moved that I immediately followed her blog. I’ll cut to the chase and say that Nillu is an incredibly talented and versatile writer. She’s also kind and generous, and it’s an honor to call her a friend.

Finally, the first book in Nillu’s Druid Heir Series (Midlife Dawn) is free on Amazon Friday, March 18th. So grab your copy and enjoy!

—–

Mary: When did you first know you were a writer?

Nillu: I’ve always known on some level. Even back when I was just writing in my journal for myself or writing to a pen friend. Spoken words I sometimes find tiring; written words are for me a source of energy and understanding. I can take the time to weave intricate sentences or get the nuance just right without worrying that it is already someone else’s turn to speak or that I have bored my listener. I can examine a thought carefully, tangibly, without it slipping through the fog of my brain like a wandering child at a funfair.

I think the aha moment came at a time I was unhappy in my job and the opportunity had come for my husband and I to move to Switzerland. I’d just given birth to our second child, and time felt like it was slipping through my fingers. I suddenly felt an urgency to make my dreams happen. I’d written short stories by then, was an active member in Twitter’s flash fiction community and had started my first novel. But I hadn’t finished it. So, we decided to just go for it. We’d move to Switzerland and I’d try my hand at making a living with fiction. I’m so glad I took that step. I don’t think I’d really claimed my true identity until then.

So I continue to write now. It comforts me, just like it did when I was a child. The physical act of writing, the tap of the keyboard, the soreness of my fingers after a long day’s work, the crease of the page and the glare of the screen that blurs my vision are satisfying. They mean I have done an honest day’s work. Fiction may be a lie, but writing is truth. It’s a tool for self-insight and healing. It’s the closest I’ve come to magic.

Mary: I love those last few sentences, Nillu, and totally agree about the healing–possibly magical–power of writing.

Mary: What genres do you write?

Nillu: I write Literary Fiction under Nillu Nasser and Paranormal Women’s Fiction under N. Z. Nasser. Initially, I made the step to PWF during the pandemic, when the world seemed dark. I wanted to write something light and magical, with a cast of characters who could rely on each other.

PWF was a revelation. It’s feminist and fun, with a big splash of mystery, adventure and humour. Plus, I get to write about characters in their midlife. Central to PWF is an older woman saving the world. Older women are some of the wisest, most fun, courageous people I know. Too often fiction is about 20-somethings and it feels good to redress that.

Both my literary fiction and my PWF feature diverse casts and strong women. I love the balance that the two strands bring to my work. Literary fiction is often about surviving the world. It’s poetic, deep and oh so human. Urban fantasy is about saving the world. It’s atmospheric, magical and escapist, and a whole heap of fun to write. PWF is what I am concentrating on right now while I complete the Druid Heir series.

Mary: Which of your books would you recommend to someone who’s just discovering your work for the first time?

Nillu: If you want immersion in culture and feeling, then my standalone literary fiction novels are for you: All the Tomorrows and Hidden Colours.

All the Tomorrows has my heart. It was my first published novel and I’m so proud of it still. Akash and Jaya’s love against the backdrop of the Indian heat and under the weight of cultural expectations will stay with me. Some day I might return to that world.

My personal favourite of my books is Hidden Colours. That story helped me understand what it must have been like for my grandparents to flee Idi Amin’s Uganda, during the 1972 exodus of East African Asians. In Hidden Colours, one of the main characters is a Syrian acrobat. So I got to play with scenes in the circus. It is set in Berlin, where my husband is from and where we once lived together. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

But I digressed! If you want magic, adventure, laugh-out-loud fun, a slow-burn romantic sub-plot, with karaoke-loving leopards, hot teleporting werewolf-wizards and a druid heroine in her midlife, whose family have been keeping their magical past a secret, then try my Druid Heir series. These books allowed me to write a character who discovers she is more powerful than she realised. Once Alisha knows who she is, there’s no stopping her. I’m a London girl and that’s where the books are based. Magic pops up in unexpected places: in a tea shop, in a park and at a gym. It’s my first series, and it’s been a blast weaving this complex world together, exploring new storylines, deepening the characterization, the friendships and enmities. There are four books out (the fourth Midlife Drift releases on 15 March) with three more to come.

If you want a taster of my voice in either genres, then there’s a free short story for newsletter subscribers in both genres. Or for the PWF, you could join my reader group Nasser’s Book Nymphs for teasers.

Mary: Of all the scenes you’ve created in your writing, which are you most proud of?

Nillu: For me, it’s often the scenes between women that I am most proud of. Initially, when I started writing, I made sure I did the Bechdel test, to make sure I had scenes in which women took centre stage, where they weren’t talking about men. But then I realized, I do that naturally. I’ve always found comfort, honesty and sisterhood in female friendships and my characters do too.

It might be sisters, or best friends, a mother-daughter relationship, or an older mentor figure advising a younger woman, but I love those scenes. There’s a bra-buying scene in Druid Heir that I love. In Hidden Colours, there’s a kindly old German woman who’s a guardian at the circus residences. She steals all the scenes she’s in. But I also come back to this extract from All the Tomorrows:

It always lifted Jaya’s spirits to spend time with Ruhi. She did not have to pretend in their relationship. There was immediate intimacy; it was liberating to disengage from the polite dances of social need. Here, there were no storms to weather, just acceptance, and she loved Ruhi fiercely for it.

She liked to think that even if she and Akash had survived, their heterosexual marriage would have come secondary to this sisterly bond, that somehow, her relationship with Ruhi would remain pure, beyond corruption. It struck her as infinitely sad when women erased their common history over a perceived slight or out of sync expectations. It gladdened Jaya that she and Ruhi had been strong enough to withstand petty jealousies, that they had created room in their relationship for differing points of view and personalities. Over the years she had determined that she and Ruhi shared a profound love story of their own, one that orbited above the drama and betrayal of romantic relationships.

So yes, it’s my scenes with women. But then, I think that reflects my preferences, not necessarily reader ones. For example, according to my readers, Orpheus the vampire is a scene stealer!

Mary: I read All the Tomorrows a couple of years ago and loved it. When I finished it, I immediately gave it to my mom, who loved it as well. The relationship between Jaya and Ruhi is incredibly beautiful.

Mary: Who are your favorite authors?

Nillu: I love reading too much to be loyal to one or a few authors. Maybe my tastes are too broad or maybe I have a fickle heart. More likely, perhaps, that I fall in love with authors and their worlds easily, and often find that books come to me for a reason or they speak to me during certain phases of my life.

In fiction, I fell head over heels for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jonathan Safran Foer, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Daphne Du Maurier, Erin Morgenstern, George R. R. Martin, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Kamila Shamsie, Cormac McCarthy, Kevin Herne, Patricia Briggs, Radclyffe Hall, Susan Cooper and NK Jemisin. In poetry for Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Audre Lorde, John Keats, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And there’s non-fiction favourites like Robert McFarlane, Bill Bryson and Barry Lopez. But ask me again tomorrow and I may well come up with another list…

Thanks for having me, Mary. It was such a treat to talk writing and books with you.

Me: Thank you so much for being here, Nillu! I hope someday we can meet in person!

More about Nillu

N. Z. Nasser is a writer of Literary Fiction and Paranormal Women’s Fiction. Her stories are about women who change the world, often filled with magic and always rooted in friendship. A lover of barefoot walks along the beach, she is glad to have left behind her career in the civil service and to never wear heels again. Whether she is writing in her garden office or wrangling laundry, she is happiest with a cup of tea at her side. She lives in London with her husband, three children, two cats and a fox-mad dog.

Where to buy Nillu Z. Nasser’s books:

Paranormal Women’s Fiction

Druid Heir Series (for fans of magic-wielding heroines over 40)

Literary Fiction

All the Tomorrows (a story of love and self-discovery in Mumbai)

Hidden Colours (an immigrant circus story in Berlin)

Where to follow Nillu Z. Nasser:

Website

Newsletter

Instagram

Facebook

TikTok

Nasser’s Book Nymphs Reader Group

Posted in #MondayBlogs, 2022, author talk, Book release, books, COVID, giveaway, literature, new fiction, poem, promo, reading, Uncategorized, women's fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rebooting, with Hope

Photo by Raphael Renter (@raphi_rawr), courtesy of Unsplash

Since we turned our clocks ahead yesterday, March 12, it feels like an appropriate time to reflect a bit on the past two years. Many books will be written about the shocking and unprecedented things that’ve happened during the time period between Daylight Savings Sunday 2020 and now. I’ll share some of my thoughts and experiences here, and invite you to share whatever you’d like in the comments section. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged or written much at all. If you’re anything like me, your world has shrunk significantly during the pandemic. But now that it looks as though we might be moving into a more “normal” phase–or at least getting a bit of a respite from non-stop stress–it’d be lovely to reconnect.

——

I went to Costco the morning of March 8, 2020. The “novel coronavirus,” had been in the new for weeks, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about it. I knew how sensationalistic media can be. Yes, the virus was terrible and dangerous, but I fully expected it to be squelched soon. After all, we were living in the 21st century, with sophisticated science and medicine. Plagues were in the past and fodder for dystopian novels. Right?

Perhaps I should’ve been more alarmed by the atmosphere inside the store, though. For a place with a reputation for being wildly busy on weekends, shoppers were in scarce supply. And there were zero marketing representatives handing out free samples in the grocery section. People must be sleeping in, I decided. It wasn’t until that evening when I learned that many attendees of the recent Biogen conference in Boston had become ill with COVID-19 that the lights in my head went on. Later that week, the world shut down.

Of course, some people were more in tune with reality than me. But even if predictions about the pandemic terrified you in early 2020, did you ever think we’d still be dealing with COVID now? Or that almost 500 million people worldwide would become sickened by it? That over six million would die? That it would affect every human being on earth in one way or another?

—–

Two years after the virus was first isolated, I still have trouble processing it all. Some days, I wake up expecting to find that COVID was just a bad dream.

—–

Equally difficult to process is the way it so quickly became politicized. Who’ll ever forget when Trump told Americans that COVID wasn’t a serious cause for concern, and that he wanted the country reopened by Easter, 2020. Those of us who despised Trump were well aware of how dangerous his lies were. But watching him deny the seriousness of COVID’s threat in hopes of retaining voter support was a new, surreal low. The leader of the free world–an individual with no background in either science or medicine–was blatantly rejecting advice about a deadly virus from people who’d dedicated their lives to science and medicine.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t wish he was somehow right. Who wouldn’t have wanted COVID to melt away like springtime snow and disappear forever? But science and fairy tales are two different things, and Trump–who’d been well informed about the science and knew how unpopular the truth would be to his voting base–chose the fairy tale approach.

Unfortunately, that approach only worked in the minds of people who wanted to believe it and/or didn’t get particularly sick, die, or lose a beloved friend or family member to COVID. But Trump–together with his flunkies and sycophants–had already committed to minimizing COVID’s threat, and the mere thought of apologizing or admitting they’d made mistakes was anathema to them.

It’s no wonder Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (written in 1961) rose to the top of bestseller lists when the pandemic began and remains a strong seller today. Doublethink and brainwashing are alive and well in 2022, thanks to Trump and his associates.

Things only got worse after Trump lost the election to Biden. That’s when he and his MAGA sympathizers doubled (and tripled, and quadrupled) down on the Doublethink. I guess that’s what you do when you realize your career will end the moment the world sees you as a naked “emperor.” It must be exhausting to feel you have to continue denying basic and obvious truths, like the effectiveness of vaccines against severe illness and death. Although science also tells us brainwashing will do that do a person.

It’s hard to identify the worst part of it all when we’re reeling from so much pain and loss. But conspiracy theories that blame innocent individuals like Dr. Fauci–who’ve desperately been trying to save as many people as possible from COVID–for all sorts of patently untrue atrocities is right up there at the top. It’s chillingly similar to the way Putin tells Russian people that Russian troops in Ukraine are trying to save Ukraine from fascists. Doublethink.

In closing, I’ll say that I hope Americans who’ve been seduced by Trump’s Doublethink start recognizing they’ve been duped. And soon. It’s okay to make mistakes, and apologizing goes a long way in this world. Trump himself might want to give it a try. Maybe he can redeem himself–at least partly–and restore the United States to a place where honesty and science are once again recognized as true pillars of freedom.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’re doing okay. These pandemic years have been tragic, strange, divisive, lonely, shocking, confusing, terrifying, and a whole lot more. But the days are getting warmer here in the U.S. Longer, and sunnier too. Here’s to better times.

xo,

Mary

Posted in #MondayBlogs, 2020, 2022, honesty, pandemic, politics, Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Pet Portraits: A Positive Pandemic Trend

Things are looking up this week, with the Biden/Harris inauguration on Wednesday and the new administration’s vow to get the pandemic under control its top priority. Few humans alive today have been through anything like 2020: a year when pain and suffering were at their worst, yet we couldn’t gather physically with friends and family without risking a potentially fatal infection. If there’s a definition of hell on earth, that may be it.

And so, as the weeks and months wore on–delivering loss, sadness, and anxiety at every juncture–people took comfort in both new and familiar pets, who provided unconditional love, snuggles, and support at times when most other companions were available only via phone, text, or Zoom. I’ve always loved having animals in the family, but since last March, I’ve felt a more intense appreciation for our dog and cats, and have snapped more photos of them than ever before. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that professional and artistic pet portraits are currently enjoying newfound popularity.

Humans love decorating their homes and offices with pictures of loved ones, so why shouldn’t images of beloved pets be displayed too? Hence, when I discovered a company called West & Willow–which makes custom pet portraits–I was intrigued. I scrolled through the website and was quite impressed with both the ease of ordering, and the quality of the pictures. Instructions and specifics–as well as tips and answers to most questions you may have are here–but the bottom line is that if you send W&W a digital picture of your pet (or pets), the digital artists at the company will follow your instructions and create an adorable, framed picture for you.

Below are the snapshots of our pets I sent to West & Willow…

…and here’s the framed, customized, 12″x16″ portrait I received last week. The light at the top is the flash from my camera, and I chose not to have the animal names included in the portrait. The background color is dusty pink, and the frame is walnut. What’s your opinion? I like it a lot.

Now, if you’re seeking something more “fine art” in nature, you may want to consider commissioning a painter, sculptor, or other artist to create an original piece for you. My friend Kabir Shah is a painter who enjoys making different types of art, including animal portraits. I’ve been fortunate to get to know Kabir because he’s designed three gorgeous book covers for me, and I’ve become a huge fan of his work.

Here are a few examples of Kabir’s fine art animal portraits. All of these have either been commissioned or were done as gifts for family and friends.

If you’d like to check out more of Kabir’s animal portraits and his other work, there’s a great selection here on his website. And if you’re interested in talking to him about commissions, he can be contacted here.

Finally, both Kabir and West & Willow also do memorial portraits of cherished animals who’ve passed away.

Do you have dear pets who’ve helped you get through the pandemic? If so, please tell me about them in the comment section and/or post a photo.

Thanks so much for reading, and stay safe. I hope we can all get vaccinated soon, and return to something like normal existence in 2021.

xo,

Mary

Posted in 2020, animals, art, beauty, COVID, dogs, paintings, pandemic, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Virtual Launch for IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY Part 2: Featured Books and Authors

Hello again!

If you saw Part 1 of this post, you know I recently held a virtual launch for my novel, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, complete with a raffle, featuring cool literary prizes. Unfortunately, due to a bunch of planning errors on my part, there wasn’t enough time to adequately promote the authors who generously donated books. Several people who attended the online launch asked for a list of these authors and their books, as well more info about them. So, here it is. Please read on to learn more about these wonderful writers and get two more chances to win a Kindle copy of It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way.

Oh, and if you read any of these books–whether by winning a copy or by purchasing–PLEASE consider writing an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. In our commercialized world, reviews are incredibly critical to indie writers for so many reasons. Thank you!

1.Willful Avoidance by JT Twissel

Willful Avoidance by JT Twissel

According to the tax man, it’s a crime to trust your husband. A crime that could cost you everything but your skin; particularly if you are intelligent enough to know better.  Maya Bethany is a young woman with two children accused of that crime (willful avoidance) but, instead of compromising with the tax man, she decides to fight.  Two men enter her life, both claiming to want to help.  This book is really about navigating the post-divorce minefield with the added burden of an unfair tax debt.  Extra bonus is a bit of info about tax law and Innocent Spouse Relief which every married woman (and man) should know. The book is currently out of print, but check out Jan’s blog, Saying Nothing in Particular. So much thoughtful writing. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always poignant. ___________________________________________________________________________________________

2. The Passion Thief by Anne McCarthy Strauss

The Passion Thief by Anne McCarthy Stauss

The Passion Thief, published by Booktrope, 2014. The Passion Thief is a story about the one who got away. Strauss injects humor into the tragic situation of a woman torn between a boring marriage and her still-exciting first love. She keeps you guessing until the book’s extraordinary ending.

Order on Amazon here.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3. Love Notes from Humanity by Various Writers, Feminine Collective

Love Notes from Humanity

Donated by Julie Anderson, founder of Feminine Collective.  The writers of some of these poems are award-winning authors, journalists, bloggers, and activists, while others are previously unknown artists. The poems are a collective made of a global community; the writers are from Australia, Canada, Central America, The United Kingdom, The United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, South Africa and The United States.

Order on Amazon here.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

4. Elevator Girl by Kim Hruba

Elevator Girl by Kim Hruba

Elevator Girl is a romantic comedy about a woman who steps into an elevator and comes face-to-face with her high school nemesis – which normally wouldn’t be so bad until two things happen: One, she gets assigned to work with him. Then she realizes that he has no idea who she is.

Order on Amazon here.

Also, check out this awesome blog (Wannaskan Almanac) to which Kim contributes regularly.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

5. Ferry to Cooperation Island by Carol Newman Cronin

Ferry to Cooperation Island by Carol Newman Cronin

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain—or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

This salt-sprayed fourth novel by 2004 Olympic Sailor Carol Newman Cronin celebrates wilderness and water, open space and open-mindedness, and the redemptive power of neighborly cooperation.

Order here on Amazon, and check out Carol’s blog here.

___________________________________________________________________

6. Secrets and Lies by Julie Anderson

Secrets and Lies by Julie Anderson

Julie’s memoir is a brave, vulnerable look into the truest parts of her desires, longings, and shame while struggling to understand who she is: a beautiful, powerful, soul. She uses poetry and a bit of prose to take us through this epic, often ugly & heartbreaking journey, which includes being thrust into the modeling world at a young age, sexual assault, eating disorders, and being shamed by ones who are supposed to love us. It’s also about her desire to break free from that baggage and soar. And soar she does. Because ultimately, there is hope and active, powerful self-acceptance, self-belief and self-love, like a goddess clawing her way out of the flames.

Order on Amazon here, and check out Feminine Collective here.

___________________________________________________________________

7. The Shape of Us by Jacqueline Cioffa

The Shape of Us, by Jacqueline Cioffa

“Beauty lies in truth, hardcore, from the depths of the soul. Jacqueline Cioffa’ takes us there, brave, raw & unfiltered.” – Sandra Bernhard

The Shape of Us celebrates the complexities and authentic beauty of real, everyday women. Cioffa’s essays and poems are intimate and relatable; they are a deep dive into the roles of being female. Unapologetic, triumphant and poignant, Cioffa doesn’t shy away from complex mother-daughter relationships, sexual and physical abuse, body shaming, insecurities, self-worth, and complicated friendships, while celebrating the empowerment and admiration of the delightful and dirty business of being female. Self-discovery, self-love, and pearls of wisdom only discovered after a life in the trenches of modeling, fame, aging, and a nervous breakdown. The Shape of Us boldly asks and answers the question, what it means to be a strong, opinionated, independent woman.

Order on Amazon here, and check out Jacqueline’s blog here.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

8. A Medical Affair by Anne McCarthy Strauss

A Medical Affair by Anne McCarthy Strauss

After suffering a life-threatening asthma attack, Heather Morrison ends up in a NYC emergency room, and opens her eyes to the handsome man she perceives to be the knight in hospital scrubs who saved her life. She falls instantly for this very married doctor, and ends up involved in a torrid affair that violates medical ethics and legal mandates…and that’s only the beginning.
A Medical Affair could be a game changer for many women as it exposes the truth behind her doctor’s behavior and Heather’s subsequent civil suit. Although a work of fiction, A Medical Affair warns women of the prevalence of and reality behind doctor-patient affairs.

Order on Amazon here.

_____________________________________________________________________

9. Raw & Unfiltered by Various Writers, Feminine Collective

Feminine Collective, Raw & Unfiltered Also donated by Julie Anderson, this is a collection of bold poems and essays about relationships: authentic, honest, and at times self-deprecating and humorous. First published on Feminine Collective from 2014 to 2015, the women (and a few men) bravely share their unfiltered realities. This collection represents new and emerging writers, most of whom were unpublished before Feminine Collective.

Order on Amazon here.

Check out Feminine Collective here.

__________________________________________________________________

10. All the Tomorrows by Nillu Nasser

All the Tomorrows by Nillu Nasser

Akash Choudry wants a love for all time, not an arranged marriage. Still, under the weight of parental hopes, he agrees to one. He and Jaya marry in a cloud of colour and spice in Bombay. Their marriage has barely begun when Akash embarks on an affair.

Jaya can’t contemplate sharing her husband with another woman, or looking past his indiscretions as her mother suggests. Cornered by sexual politics, she takes her fate into her own hands in the form of a lit match. Nothing endures fire. As shards of their past threaten their future, will Jaya ever bloom into the woman she can be, and will redemption be within Akash’s reach?

Order on Amazon here, and check out Nillu’s blog here

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In conclusion, I’ll add that we raffled off various versions of my own three novels, Leaving the Beach, Living by Ear, and It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way (new, beautiful covers by Kabir Shah.) If you’re interested in ordering a paperback or ebook or any of them, please visit my Amazon Author Page , your local bookstore (you may have to ask the bookseller to order a copy for you), or wherever you purchase books online. You can also always email me at MaryRowenHorgan@gmail.com, and for help, or more info about any of the books on this page. Audiobooks, narrated by the wonderful Gryphon Corpus, for Leaving the Beach and Living by Ear are also available on Audible, Authors Direct, Apple Books, and other audiobook retailers.

Want a free Kindle copy of It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way? Please leave a comment below (any comment at all!) and you’ll be entered in a raffle to win one. I’ll pick two names on Friday, October 30th. Good luck!  xo, mary

leaving_the_beach_evolved_cover final_for_publivingbyearebook IDHTBTW_updated_cover

Posted in book launch, Book release, book reviews, books, contests, COVID, events, giveaway, Jim croce, Leaving the Beach, living by ear, new fiction, pandemic, party, promo, promotion, Uncategorized, virtual book launch, women's fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Virtual Book Launch for IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY, Part 1 (Includes Video from Launch)

2020 will always be remembered as the year hijacked by COVID-19. So much suffering, so much confusion, so many deaths.

And plans? Well, with pretty much all indoor events involving more than a few people getting postponed, moved outside, canceled, or held virtually, making plans hasn’t been the same in the U.S. since March. So when it became apparent that the in-person launch I’d envisioned for my third novel It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, (September, 2020, Evolved Publishing) wouldn’t be possible, my first instinct was to scrap the whole thing and hope for a better situation if I ever managed to write and publish a fourth book.

But a dear friend encouraged me to consider an online launch with a simple agenda, with no pressure on anyone to attend. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became to try.

I researched virtual book party and found a great post on Jane Friendman’s blog by Carol Newman Cronin—writer and Olympian—who’d launched her novel, Ferry to Cooperation Island, on Zoom. And—happy coincidence—it turns out that Carol and I are both represented by the wonderful literary agent April Eberhardt. Carol shared some great tips, many of which I employed (thank you, Carol!)

For several reasons, however, I didn’t want to do a Zoom launch. Luckily, I came across a really cool streaming platform called StreamYard, which integrates well with Facebook Live and offers cool features like screen-sharing and featuring guests in your virtual “studio,” even if those guests are on another continent (or just across town.) I won’t go into the techie stuff, but if you’re interested in doing an event using StreamYard, here’s a terrific tutorial to get you started. And if—like me—technology isn’t your strong suit, you may want to enlist some help. My husband Mike offered to produce the event and did an excellent job. Thank you, Mike!

Once I had a handle on the logistics, I thought about the event itself and decided on a few things:

  1. The event would last an hour, and guests would be informed of that time allotment at the very beginning. They would also be told that they could leave the “party” at any time, and/or come and go as they pleased. No one wants to feel trapped or locked into an event, especially during the pandemic.
  2. It would be structured as much like an in-person book launch as possible. IE: greeting guests and introduction, followed by a brief reading from It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, followed by a bit of Q & A.
  3. In the remaining time (20-30 minutes), we’d raffle off some books by authors of women’s fiction, including me. Guests could win literary prizes, and I’d do some low-key author promo. And (with a bit of luck) it’d be fun too.

I sent out snail mail invites to friends whose addresses I knew and invited everyone on my FaceBook Author Page to message me if they’d like to attend. Every invitation that went out via snail mail contained a door prize number (for the raffle), and I also assigned door prize numbers to each person who replied to the online invite. I created a spreadsheet of people who’d been mailed invites and added all who replied online, crosschecking for duplicates. To me, this seemed like a good way to make sure everyone had a chance to win during the raffle, but it ended up being the biggest problem we encountered at the party. (I’ll explain why later.)

Next, I contacted some author friends who write women’s fiction. With apologies to pals who write in other genres, I wanted to stick to one genre, due mainly to time constraints.

Then, a really cool thing happened. I was talking to Gryphon Corpus, the incredibly gifted voice actor and narrator of the audiobooks for my novels Living by Ear and Leaving the Beach, and she offered to read a passage of It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way at the launch party. Spoiler alert: Gryphon’s reading was the highlight of the party.

So how did it work out? Well, I was nervous as hell, which is apparent in the video (below). Technically, it went well, thanks to Mike. If you’re interested in using StreamYard for a presentation of your own, you can scroll around in the video and see some of the screen-sharing options it offers.

Video from It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way Virtual Book Launch, 10/8/2020

The raffle, as mentioned earlier, had some issues, because the snail mail invites containing door prize numbers didn’t all land in the hands of their intended recipients. (Some mailing addresses were incorrect, etc.) Of course, some recipients were unable to attend, while others didn’t realize that the small piece of paper with a handwritten number on it was intended for use in the raffle and discarded it. Mike and I made some last-minute adjustments during the launch, resulting in some prizes ending up with zero winners, some ending up with one (yay!) and some ending up with two. Also, too much time got spent figuring out who (if anyone) had won various books, and far too little was spent promoting the books and authors. In Part 2 of this post, I’ll do my best to rectify that!

And to anyone else planning a virtual book launch (or any event involving a raffle), I recommend waiting for guests to RSVP before assigning door prize numbers.

To learn more about the books and authors featured in the raffle and take a chance to win a Kindle copy of It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, please check out Part 2 of this post tomorrow, October 26.

Thanks so much for reading! As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Posted in 2020, book launch, Book release, books, COVID, events, Jim croce, new fiction, pandemic, promotion, publishing, Uncategorized, virtual book launch, women's fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Change, a New Novel, an Author Talk, & Free Audiobooks

IDHTBTW_updated_cover It’s September, and like every month since March 2020, things don’t feel normal or safe. COVID-19 rages; police continue to brutalize Black and Brown people; far too little is being done to combat climate change. In 2016, the majority of Americans believed we lived in a democracy that–although far from perfect–was doing all right. Now, in 2020, many of us fear that without a regime change in the November election, American democracy will die. So please vote for change if you care about preserving our democracy

Anyway, in the midst of all this, my novel, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, will be released by Evolved Publishing on September 14th. Set primarily in Arlington, MA in 2012-2013, the story isn’t about racial injustice, global warming, or contagious illness.

It is, however, filled with flawed characters facing serious challenges, and it delves into themes like sexual assault, sexual harassment in the workplace, mental illness, the invisible scars of war, intergenerational friendships, and feelings of isolation in elderly AmericansOn Wednesday, September 16th, from 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., I’ll be giving a free, virtual Author Talk on some of these issues, with a focus on how women in all three of my novels deal with sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Many thanks to Ginger Galaini of the Dale City Neighborhood Library in Virginia for making this opportunity possible. If you’d like to participate in this interactive discussion, please click on the link above.

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way has been superbly edited by Jessica West, and the cover art and design are by the wonderful Kabir Shah. It also includes lots of references to the great Jim Croce, whose music provided the soundtrack for much of my youth.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Molly keeps rushing into relationships with the wrong men, brought about by a violent incident during her teen years, which skewed her judgment. Now she’s drinking too much, taking foolish risks, and allowing a predatory male to sexually harass her at work.

A chance encounter with Fred Flaherty, her 72-year-old divorced neighbor, leads to a tentative friendship. Fred, a Cold War veteran and ham radio operator, has suffered considerably over the decades, but also dreams of a better future. As summer becomes autumn, the two neighbors share stories of personal loss, bond over their passion for Jim Croce’s music, and develop trust and mutual respect.

This is fortunate, because winter is about to bring on challenges neither could have predicted.

And in the spirit of giving back to readers, I’d like to offer some free audiobook coupon codes for my other two novels, Leaving the Beach,* and Living by Ear.* Both are narrated by the amazing Gryphon Corpus, who possesses the unique gift of breathing human life into fictional characters. As I listened to Gryphon’s narration of these stories, I was so mesmerized that I often forgot I’d written the words.

I hope you’ll check them out! If you’d like a coupon code for either audiobook, please tell me in the Comments section below, or email to: mary(at)pocomotech(dot) com

*Both audiobooks are sold on Audible and various other audiobook outlets. However, the free codes I can offer for Leaving the Beach can only be redeemed on Audible, and the free codes I have to offer for Living by Ear are redeemable only on Authors Direct. The good news is that redemption and downloading are very straightforward. And if you need assistance, I’m most happy to help!

 

 

Posted in 2020, author talk, Book release, books, giveaway, Jim croce, Leaving the Beach, life, life experiences, live events, mental health, music, new fiction, pandemic, promo, promos, promotion, promotional items, publishing, sexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment, Uncategorized, women, women's fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments