Publisher Doug Lance’s popular eFiction Magazine has grown into a range of magazines, each featuring a different genre of short stories, etc. One of my own early stories, Gypsies, I was recently reminded, is still available in the September 2011 issue of the original magazine. If you haven’t seen eFiction, and would like to read this odd story of childhood disaffection, here’s the link: http://www.fictionmagazines.com/shop/efiction-issues/efiction-september-2011/
Doug has been very instrumental in getting quite a few writing careers off the ground, introducing their voices to the growing world of readers of eBooks and magazines. If discovering a new, unusual writing voice is something that appeals, visit eFiction today and see if it provides a few tasty morsels. My bet is that it will, and then some!
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As Independent Authors, we often have to work directly with our marketing and communications. Much of that involves using digital images, such as book covers. in the interest of helping to clarify what can be a bit confusing to someone not schooled in digital graphics, here are a few notes on image file formats and what they mean for your book cover and online marketing graphics.
Digital images, or bitmaps as they are known, have had a long interesting history. The internet has been a huge influence on how they are formatted. Back in the day of Pac-Man and Compuserve, bitmapped images were severely limited in color fidelity and even resolution by the low bandwidth of the internet as it was then. Most users had a dial-up connection which at best, could handle 56K bits per second. Most of the time it ran at about half of that. Compuserve invented the GIF format as a break-out way to transmit color images in an 8-bit per pixel color model that revealed color into 256 different steps of hue. It was also a faster way of sending an image through a telephone line.
Needless to say, it was pretty rudimentary, but then so were the graphics processors in those days. My first PC was a 286 IBM clone that could handle some color on a black-screen with scrolling colored type. Graphics were jagged and all flat color sections. No photographic images except greyscale at that time. Full color came later, along with the JPEG format, in 1992 after a long conference of the Joint Photographic Experts Group. It was designed to make color photographic material possible to transmit. Although it used almost full-spectrum color modeling, in order to keep the bandwidth needed to transmit the images, they were compressed by algorithm and slightly blurred. Some detail is generally lost in the compression as is a degree of nuanced color fidelity. Much later, jpeg formats were opened up to include less compression and greater color fidelity.
Along with later systems, including Apple’s Macintosh, came full spectrum images that were not compressed at all. Lossless images. These were called TIFF images and although they took up a great deal more room on a hard drive, were much closer to true color and sharp resolution. It can be confusing trying to keep all the formats straight, but to make it simple, think of TIFF (Also PNG and a few other high-rez formats) as the apex of both color fidelity and sharpness, then comes JPEG in downward-varying degrees of compression and finally, GIF images at the bottom.
Some uses dictate the format preferred. For ebook covers and online catalogs, jpegs are usually chosen. For do-it-yourselfers, I recommend that if your image manipulation software allows, create your jpeg images with no compression at the highest quality settings. They’ll be slightly larger files than the compressed versions, but they will look much better on the screen. I also recommend 96dpi resolution for screen images over the standard 72 dpi. The higher resolution adds a lot of depth and better type contrast. In the case of some service agencies, such as Amazon KDP, you can actually upload your covers in uncompressed TIFF format. This is my own preferred format for online images if they are accepted. From the image they receive, they will re-sample and model your supplied image downwards for size and resolution, but at least they’ll be starting with the best, most faithful version of your image.
The color model (based on the primary components of spectrum that dictate the appearance of the spectrum chosen) most frequently used for both JPEGs and TIFFs is 24-bit RGB (designed for transmitted color, such as from a monitor) and CMYK (designed for reflected color as from a printed page) which should be kept to their respective applications. I’ve been known to use a 32-bit CMYK image, which is a much larger file that a 24-bit JPEG to achieve the contrast and color I want, then converting it downwards to a JPEG and adjusting for brightness to bring it close to the original appearance. It’s a step you really don’t need to take. I just like to tweak things in all kinds of ways. But using the right amount of compressions for the application’s best color model – RGB or CMYK – Monitor or print – you’ll get the best results. The most recent iteration of the JPEG model is the JPG2000 (.jp2 file suffix) which accepts any bit depth for improved scaleability, but outside of professional graphics circles is still not readily accepted. Another format is the PNG format which works best if an image is dominated by a single color or flat colors such as in charts, logos, etc.
One last tip, if you want to use Unsharp Masking (or another name for sharpening, etc.) to make your titling pop a bit more, use it sparingly (lesser percentages) to reduce haloing and jaggies, and then only after all other procedures, such as contrast adjustment, color tweaking and resampling have been accomplished. Jus’ sayin’.
I hope that any Apple users reading this will broaden this post by adding any comments unique to their platform. In addition, feel free to ask questions. If I can answer them I will, or refer them to someone who can.
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Snow came in, unexpectedly this morning, for about an hour as the temperatures plunged. Weather wise, it’s been a relatively comfortable year for us… but only weather-wise. The infirmities of aging have caught us and brought us forced reflection. We can prioritize easier now than we used to be able to, when the world beckoned and anything seemed possible. Recent events here and abroad have made it clear that possibilities for most humans have shrunk down substantially, and while luck seems to drawn thin at times, it’s still a ready player.
The image is an Ojibway Dreamcatcher hanging in my window while the snow falls outside. It’s a simple web spread over a bent willow twig hoop with some natural decorations added. It reminds me that hope is the most common of human traits. Our species may sometimes follow paths that later prove to be a bad decision; but even once the darkness begins to fall, we hope for a brighter day.
The ancients were observers of Creation and celebrated the cyclic nature of our lives and our home. Each year, as Winter’s grip seems too strong to break, the days begin to lengthen. Sol Invictus was the Roman celebration of the solstice, which occurred some four days later than it does now. All living things in their own ways, celebrate the sun’s victory each year. We humans have created all kinds of different observances and Holidays to ritualize our joy at the coming promise of a new year. Hope.
The tradition of the dreamcatcher evokes an idea of gathering and keeping all our good dreams while letting the bad ones disappear, leaving our lives hopeful. This coming year, I join with most of my human brethren in wishing the best of the coming year to all… even if I still have to pull that coat a little tighter around my old shoulders. Pull your loved family (two legs and four legs) closer to you. Share your love along with your hope. It’s the best gift we can give each other, and one that as long as we use it, it will never fail or wear out.
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There is evidence and an eyewitness account that November 14th at 2AM, the Protest Camps near the pipeline threatening Standing Rock’s water, were poisoned by unlit overflights. Crop Duster equipped helicopters were used to spray chemical agents within the circumferences of the camps. The video came without any vetting, so view it aware that it is a rough, un-documented video. Here it is. It speaks for itself. Those of us who remember the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1975 will not find this a surprising behavior for those who wish to destroy this legal opposition to a proven threat to downstream water.
For any who do not recall the Occupation, I suggest a reading of Peter Mattheissen’s great book, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, which documents the entire Leonard Peltier case and the Occupation which created it. The video features the words of Candida Rodriguez Kingbird of Standing Rock Reservation. Originally posted to YouTube 11/14…
This video cannot be shared on Facebook and on related social network sites. All attempts to do so have resulted in the posts and even personal messages carrying it, taken down. Download it if you wish to share it and send it through emails. It has been thoroughly scanned to make sure it is virus/malware free, with the latest version of Avast Antivirus.
Additional reading: Kathy Peltier asking for presidential clemency for her father.
48 BCE: While Rome’s cruel cohorts set the torch to Alexandria’s quays and trading vessels, a thoroughly unexpected group of conspirators; a wizened astronomer, a young librarian and a scribe, creep out of the city with a priceless hoard of ancient knowledge. They believe their mission is to save the secrets hidden within for the future and mankind’s ultimate salvation. But what do they actually know of the objects in their care? What neither of the younger conspirators knows yet, is that they are part of a plan already in motion involving deceit, sleight of hand and distraction. They are serving unknown masters and the star-gazer leading them onwards has little light to shed on the coming voyage across the sea or their ultimate destination. Gifts lie waiting aboard their first galley bound North, that will change them both forever. Whether the truth of their conspiracy will be revealed, remains to be seen.
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The eBook, currently 94,000 words, is available now, first through Amazon Kindle and will be offered at a very special introductory price of $2.99 for our loyal readers. It is free for Kindle Unlimited readers. The full series will involve at least three or four books. Reviewers, please request an Advanced Reader copy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org Download your copy here.
Here is a map, included in the book, of the voyages taken by the conspirators during the course of the first book…
An excerpt from the opening…
Alexandria, Egypt 48 BCE
“See them approaching the docks, Simon? Down towards the quay wall… right there.” The bearded man pointed repeatedly, a long sleeve brushed the dark, curly head of the tall youth peering seawards from where they crouched behind the parapet. A bandaged hand shaded his eyes against the early morning sun as it struck out from under the clouds. Darkness still hung off to the west as the city tried to sleep, but a cohort of Roman legionnaires was on the move already.
“Yes, but what are they doing, Harkhebi? Is that… a torch? Torches?” He gripped the older man’s arm in alarm and looked up for confirmation.
“It is. Fire. They don’t need the torches to see the streets.”
“What, then? Why are they bringing fire, now? The siege is won.”
The older man strained to watch the legionnaires crawling about the docks where the fleet lay. He rubbed his greying beard and replied, “I think they mean to torch the docks and the fleet.” he shook his head and pulled Simon up to his feet, telling him, “We must leave the roof now and return. You know we have little time left.” He laid his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and said, “I know I’ve asked you several times already, but is everything prepared?”
“Yes. Yes, the scrolls and parchments are safely gathered into merchant bundles for the caravan. Yesterday as evening approached, Ahkos told me the camels were ready and provisioned. He slipped away to join Demetrius after the moon fell.” Simon looked back to the docks where the first flares of burning tar and hemp leapt skyward from the westernmost ships merchant storehouse. “Has the time arrived, then?” He thought of the months of secret preparations, lies instead of explanations and suddenly being called away from any task he was performing. His meticulous work was becoming more uneven than ever as his focus drifted. Add to that the threat of discovery. The last Pharaoh had decreed that any theft from the Library was punishable by a slow death by strangulation. Now, Simon’s throat always felt dry. This adventure was exciting of course, but he could almost hear his mother’s stern, disappointed voice, all the way from Tarsos saying, that’s not the way you were raised, to become a thief and a liar. Remember your traditions before you lose them.
“It has, young Tarsene, it has. We must be gone. Now.” Harkhebi’s reminder snapped Simon from his own feelings. The two hurried to a tall ladder leaning up from a lower roof. They then descended, through a narrow stairwell, to the dark alley below. The precious burdens they had yet to gather were to be transported secretly, according to an exhaustive plan, by a small caravan, down through all the orchards and farms, deep into the desert and up through the mountains into Marmarica to meet a trading ship waiting near old Ardanis to carry them north to Tarsos and safety. The preparations were known to only four men and the ship’s captain, Harkhebi’s cousin, Cassio.
Cassio had been the one who gave Harkhebi the idea of using the Roman siege and intrigue as cover for a quick departure. He’d recently boasted that he’d been more than able to bring in all manner of goods lately with no one watching the ports at all. Wisely though, they planned to leave from Ardanis instead of the much closer ports near the river’s mouth.
While the Romans set their fires to Alexandria’s docks, the two crept back through a maze of dark alleys to the rear gate of the library annex storehouse. No one, but a fat old tomcat atop a wall, saw them. Harkhebi retrieved a rusty key from within the folds of his dark grey robes and they slipped through the heavy iron-bound wooden gate into the courtyard where two shapeless, cloth-wrapped bundles lay waiting. A two-wheeled hand cart in very poor repair, stood nearby.
Simon, apprenticed for several years now to the master teacher and astronomer, waited near the cart while Harkhebi entered the storehouse. In only moments, he returned with two leather packs slung over both shoulders and gave one to Simon. Simon slung it over his shoulders as Harkhebi carefully lifted each bundle, placing it securely in the cart. Satisfied with the placement, he laid his own pack atop them, then added two water skins from near the gate into the cart as well. Harkhebi put his finger across his lips then gestured towards the gate.
Simon nodded and lifted the cart poles while the older man retrieved two tall, wooden walking staves one of which he stuck down into the cart. They moved silently through the gateway and down the still dark alley. About halfway to the far gate, the wheel on the right began to wobble. When it began to squeal as well, they halted. Using his heavy-soled shoe as a hammer, Simon pounded it back on the axle and pushed a twig into the empty hole where the pin had been. Harkhebi smiled and whispered, “It should hold us past the city walls at least.”
At some distance from them, the first of the Alexandria merchant fleet began burning as the wind rose. Cries from the quay mixed with dark smoke as Alexandria awoke to the destruction of her remaining commerce following the long siege. By the time the flames, fanned by the wind, had found the huge library the two conspirators and their rude cart were outside the city walls. They made their way across the river and then along a meandering goat trail through the trees that led towards a low stone outcropping where a ragtag caravan waited.
Six camels, a ragged driver, his helper and four ponies, looked for all the world like the poorest merchant caravan ever seen near such a rich city of renown and legend. Perfect for the task at hand. Ahkos, the only one of them familiar with keeping the bad-tempered camels under control was first to see the cart and two conspirators approaching from his spy-hole cleft in the sandstone. He whistled twice with his fingers against his teeth. Sharp blasts to catch their attention. The wind had been rising all morning, blowing smoke from the city thick enough to sting the eyes and make it hard to see.
As he stepped out from behind the rocks, he called, “from all the smoke, it looks like you got out at the last possible moment.” He raised his nose and added, “smells like tar.”
The older man stopped a few feet away and unslung his pack. “You were right, Ahkos. They burned the docks and the fleet that didn’t leave port ahead of them. I don’t know how the library faired. How did your night go out here?”
The second caravan driver brought up the line of camels, holding the leather traces looped around his wrist. As he stopped, one by one, the camels turned their backs on the wind and on the men. He called out, “No feather beds out here. No wine either, right Ahkos?”
Ahkos nodded. “It was cold and very quiet. No fire, but we didn’t attract any attention. Oh, except that Demetrius here had to throw rocks all night to keep the jackals off.”
Harkhebi asked him, “How did you accomplish your passage with the Gate Centurion?”
Ahkos replied, looking directly at Demetrius, “that’s where the wine went. He asked what we were peddling and we told him rags, but we had a wineskin we could offer him. You know those bastards are always reaching into your purse.”
Harkhebi smiled and patted his own, slung below his belt, saying, “so he took the wine and let you right through without a second thought. Did he even inspect the camels’ loads?”
“Not at all. The wineskin was hoisted so fast we were through the gate before he gave us another glance. How was your passage?”
Harkhebi said, “Simon had an idea that no one would be watching the sheep gate, and we rolled right through without stopping. I don’t think there was anyone posted to guard it.”
Simon joined them and soon, they had re-packed the cloth-wrapped bundles into the existing “goods” atop the backs of two of the camels, amid much muttered complaint and spitting. Simon hid the cart behind a huge thorn bush under some overhanging rocks, just in case they ever returned.
“How is the hand mending, Simon?” asked Harkhebi. There hadn’t been proper time to clean and anoint the wound before leaving. The young man had just celebrated his twentieth year. Harkhebi thought of his own twentieth year and wondered how someone of those few years could be ready to commit their entire life to a single effort. He added, “this isn’t going to be easy. Are you sure you’re with us to the end?”
Simon looked at the ground and nodded resolutely, replying, “Completely sure. It will be my gift to my father’s memory and to the rest of the world, eventually.” He waved his bandaged fist and added, “I’m ready for anything that comes.” Simon believed that once he’d made a decision, he had to follow it through to the end, even if his partners in crime were still mostly a mystery. It was another of his father’s lasting lessons, to always move forward with purpose, once a direction was found.
Harkhebi said little of his own background or family and always let the gathered accolades of his scholarship make explanations as needed. He had never yet led either his apprentice Simon or his scribe Demetrius astray and his counsel, while usually circumspect, was always to the point and correct as far as they were concerned.
In some ways, they were the least likely of conspirators: An Egyptian astronomer, a scholarly Jew and a Hellene. Simon found Demetrius’ intelligence and quick wit kept even the most repetitious task engaging. Their friendship had grown slowly at first, neither ready to let their defenses down completely. But now, as comrades in a higher calling, Simon found his companionship most agreeable and his often unexpected opinions, very useful. Demetrius also had a facility with several languages that came in handy at times. Yes, Simon was sure that joining this company was going to be the right decision.
Once they’d returned to the camels, Harkhebi took a few moments to review the condition and appearance of his ‘trade caravan’, then said, “we must be off now,” even as the wind shook the sleeves of his robe and pushed its hood up around his face. Ahkos gave each a scarf to wrap around their mouths and noses leaving a narrow slit for their eyes against the sand and dust as well as a personal water flask on a neck cord. Mounting the sure-footed, desert-bred ponies, they plodded off with the wind gusting fitfully behind them, filling their nostrils with the dust and stench of the burning they’d escaped. The camels followed, squawking in complaint from time to time.
You’ll comment on this story, but you probably won’t read it…
I recently found Shelly Palmer’s very timely article on Linked In. He’s discussing a side of tech communication which has grown to global importance. None of us can afford not to consider the points he’s making. Re-posted with the author’s permission.
If you’d like to leave a comment, do so below…
By Shelly Palmer, CEO Palmer Advanced Media
Here’s what’s going to happen. You are going to read this post up to the point where you agree with me or you don’t. Then, either you will find something else to do or, if I have your attention, you will write a comment or an email that espouses your world view.
This sounds great. Except it isn’t. Because whether you agree with me or not, a huge percentage of you will not read past the point where your personal bias is confirmed. If my writing is inside your comfort zone, you will stop reading because we see eye to eye. If my writing is outside your comfort zone, you will stop reading because your time to engage with content is limited and you don’t want to be uncomfortable while doing it. Sadly, staying in our ideological comfort zones has put us on a path to world destruction.
I write an article every Sunday about emerging trends and the impact they may have on media, entertainment and marketing. If you know my work, you know I don’t write about politics or religion, just tech trends and what I think they mean. So comments from readers should be professional, should be on topic and should further the discourse with related criticism and opposing points of view. But that’s not what’s happening.
Have a look at a few recent posts: “The Video Selfie That Changed the World” or “Russian Email Hackers: Are You Next?” or “Facebook Is Killing Clickbait and The Results Will Surprise You.” Then scroll down to the comments for an object lesson in the dangers of confirmation bias and the latest craze: spewing opinion as fact. If this were on some random site or a mainstream media site, I would not be surprised at all. But these posts are on LinkedIn, a site where (for obvious reasons) one would expect a certainly level of decorum, civility and professionalism.
Social Media–Empowered Echo Chambers
In the physical world, an echo chamber is a room where sound reflects off the walls. The early reflections are perceived as echoes and the later reflections are perceived as reverberation. In social discourse, an echo chamber is a place where like-minded people keep reinforcing each other’s world views. MSNBC is a left-leaning echo chamber. Fox News is a right-leaning echo chamber. You can name hundreds of examples yourself.
But echo chambers do not challenge our world views, they do not expand our minds, and they do not promote Socratic debate. They just blanket us in the comfort of what we like to hear. Importantly, it doesn’t matter how much moral high ground you believe your echo chamber represents – an echo chamber is a closed-loop system that constantly feeds back on itself. Living in an echo chamber is not an evolutionarily stable strategy.
The Quick, but Painful, Death of Truth
Journalism has been on life support since the advent of social media, but this past year we have witnessed the quick, painful death of truth, and it may be gone forever. Put a comfortable lie in an echo chamber, and nobody will challenge it. It will reverberate until it is accepted as actually true. Then, the willfully ignorant will shout it as loudly as they can. It may be their truth, but that does not make it true.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
While we may not post really stupid stuff online or make outrageous comments to inspire others to do violence, we are all guilty of enjoying the pleasures of our respective comfort zones. We live in a world with extraordinary filters. They can easily be programmed to only send us notifications of things we want to hear. There are websites and news feeds across the entire spectrum of belief systems, and it is super easy to find your comfort zone and stay there. Don’t.
The best way to get the world on track is to do our best to understand each other. We need to relearn how to respect other points of view. We don’t need to agree with them, but we need to read far enough down the page to understand what is really being said. We must listen when we converse. We must see when we look.
The alternative is a cacophony of isolated echo chambers, each believing that they have the moral high ground, and each sure that their respective deity is on their side. It’s clearly where we are headed, and in practice, we may already be there. You may not think that your comfort zone could destroy the world, but your comfort zone is a place where you accept the things you cannot change. To make the world a better place, it’s time for all of us to change the things we cannot accept.
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About Shelly Palmer
Named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Technology, Shelly Palmer is President & CEO of Palmer Advanced Media, a strategic advisory and business development practice focused at the nexus of technology, media and marketing with a special emphasis on data science and data-driven decision making. He is Fox 5 New York’s on-air tech and digital media expert and a regular commentator on CNBC and CNN. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com or subscribe to our daily email http://ow.ly/WsHcb
Today, August 16th, M.K. Tod, an historic fiction writer I admire a great deal, launches her third novel, Time and Regret through her publisher, Lake Union. Here’s a quick descriptive paragraph:
A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her.
From her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a many very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harbouring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.
Her first book, Unravelled, debuted in 2013. From the very first chapter, it contains some of the most eerily beautiful and yet brutal depictions of the Great War (WWI) as her character is forced to remember his days of action in France. The reminiscences become frequent and troubling for both he and his wife. The secrets spawned in that desperate time continue to infect the lives of her characters in deeply intimate, nuanced ways. The book eventually won an Editor’s Choice award from the Historical Novel Society and won scores of loyal readers for its author. I’m very pleased today, to have the opportunity of discussing how a novel this powerful comes together with Mary Tod, its author.
Richard: Mary, I understand you lived as an expat in Hong Kong of all places. The amazing blend of cultures must have been thrilling to navigate!
Mary: Thanks you for the very kind introduction, Richard. And yes, my husband and I spent three years living in Hong Kong. Beyond the opportunities that city gave us to see a different part of the world was the chance to live as a visible minority. Definitely a life-altering experience. Best of all, while there I found a new career as an author. A totally unexpected outcome for this math and science grad!
Richard: So you are a converted geek then. Excellent! When did you truly begin to think you’d be adept at writing fiction? Was it your travels, the words themselves, your characters’ unfolding lives or the research that was your primary muse?
Mary: Before moving to Hong Kong, I had a career in business. So, being in a foreign place with no job, few friends, and a husband who travelled almost every week was both challenging and, to be honest, lonely. I had to find something meaningful to do. You’re an author, Richard, so you know that many people feel they have a story to share. I was no exception. In my case, I had a story ending based on my grandmother who died on the way to the church for her second wedding. I didn’t know what else was going to be in the story, but I was sure I had a great ending.
Armed with several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and the Internet, I began researching the times of my grandparents’ lives, a journey that involved World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. After a few weeks, I was hooked. After a few months, I was obsessed with WWI and the notion that my grandfather had been there. Every detail I read became personal.
By the way, in Unravelled, the ultimate novel I wrote, the woman modeled on my grandmother does not die on the way to her second wedding!
Richard: Was there a specific moment when the idea for the new novel flashed into your brain, or was it a more subtle, accumulation of inspired stories?
Mary: I love telling this story! A few years ago, my husband Ian and I travelled to northern France to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One. That trip was an amazing opportunity to see firsthand the areas where hundreds of thousands of soldiers experienced such wrenching horror and devastating losses. One night we were at a small café in the seaside town of Honfleur. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.
“What are you writing?” Ian said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favourite genre. In fact, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?”
And that was the birth of Time & Regret. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty
Richard: Time and Regret also explores remembrance of wartime. The Great War, which my own grandfather also served in, was the most terrible destruction and loss of life in known history, to that point. It became the “War to end all wars”, in the public psyche, yet it wasn’t quite twenty years later that Europe began to feel catastrophe looming again. We’ve known wars on smaller scales ceaselessly, in my own lifetime. Do you think mankind will ever find a way to stop?
Mary: The optimist in me would love to say yes, however, I believe the answer is no. There’s something in mankind’s psyche, mankind’s basic DNA if you will, that spawns a desire for power and influence. In the wrong hands, those desires often result in corruption and greed, manipulation of those who are weaker or less educated, dynastic ambitions, territorial threats. When confronted with tyranny of this nature, leaders from other countries are drawn in to defend the world order—some would say status quo—and another conflict unfolds.
Richard: I suppose we can always hope for a break in the cycles, someday. With regard to your readers, who are M.K. Tod’s most loyal followers? Do they correspond or make connection?
Mary: I don’t yet have a group of what I would call my most loyal followers. However, I do know that many of my readers are women and a large portion live in the United States. What delights me most is readers who take the time to send an email with their thoughts about one of my novels. And, I’m truly grateful to those who take the time to post a review on one or more of the book review sites. I respond to every one. Not long ago, an 86-year-old man sent me an email saying how grateful he was for the memories Unravelled had prompted. Interactions like these are the lifeblood of writing.
Richard: I agree wholeheartedly. I just wish they occurred more frequently. I think I’ve only had three of them over the last seven years, so here’s a shout out to readers to let your writers know how their books make you feel! When you’re immersed in a first draft, do you think about your eventual readers? Do you make any particular effort to guide a novel in the works, towards them, or is that reserved, in your process, for after the draft has been completed?
Mary: I suppose like many authors I write stories that are like the ones I enjoy reading. Which means a bit of romance, a woman who is either already strong or becomes strong, and a significant dose of conflict. What surprises me even now is the war component. I’ve worked hard to bring war scenes to life without alienating female readers and to help readers understand the causes of conflicts like WWI and appreciate the way ordinary men and women were affected. I definitely tweak the story during the editing process to align with some of the insights gleaned from my reader surveys.
Richard: A common thread running through all your work seems to be the extremes human beings endure and the secrets and lies that permeate our ability to cope. Can you elaborate on your thinking about how this affects us?
Mary: We all lie and we all keep secrets. My first three novels deal with the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of such secrets and lies. One never knows when a secret will emerge to wreak havoc – a circumstance that makes for good stories. I suppose there’s a moral angle to consider, however, I didn’t set out to moralize!
In terms of the extremes people are willing to endure, this was the theme that struck me the most when I began to research World War I. I wanted to honor soldiers like my grandfather who served their countries under conditions that no one should be forced to endure. Every time I think of it, I become angry all over again.
Richard: With the cover for Time and Regret, I see similarity in subject and color to the cover of your first novel. Is this a branding concept, or just based upon similarities in the books? How much involvement do you have with the designs of your book covers?
Mary: The cover for Time and Regret was designed by the team at Lake Union. They asked me for input on covers I like and for my thoughts on what the cover should convey—in this case a sense of past and present given the dual timeline involved in the story. I don’t think they set out to create a consistent look and feel with my previous novels, however, I’m very pleased with the result. The covers for Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence were a collaboration between me and my cover designer, Jenny Quinlan.
Richard: They all seem very effective, to me at least. Most writers I know tend to juggle a few works in progress at a time, eventually succumbing to the one with the most immediate clout. I’m right now trying to dodge two myself! What are you working on right now, and have you fallen prey to a timeframe or deadline?
Mary: I’m working on a new novel set in 1870s Paris. Why Paris? Because I love the city and it has such an aura of elegance, style and romance. Why 1870s? After three novels set during WWI, I knew I had to change time periods. I’ve taken two characters from Lies Told in Silence and gone back to a period when they would have been young women. Happily, this is also a period of great turmoil in French history!
Many thanks for your great questions, Richard. I’m so delighted to be on your blog today.
Richard: The pleasure is all mine, Mary. I hope we’ve brought your work to new readers, today. I’m sure your existing readers will be very anxious to read Time and Regret as well as your Paris novel, when that breaks. I hope we’ll discuss that one when the time comes, as well. If anyone has a comment or question for this author, please post it below. Here is some advance praise for Time and Regret…
“Hugely satisfying – impossible to put down.” — Elizabeth St. John author of The Lady of the Tower
“Time and Regret is something as rare as a treasure hunt with heart. Between the gritty trenches of World War I, the romantic allure of present-day France, and the cut-throat New York arts scene, M.K. Tod has spun a gripping family drama that delves deeply into the effects of war on the human soul and takes us on an intriguing journey of self-discovery. It is a book rich in hard-won wisdom and crucial historical insights, and Tod’s perceptive voice leads us unfalteringly through some of the darkest chapters in human history to a very satisfying conclusion.” — Anne Fortier author of The Lost Sisterhood
Amazon Canada http://www.amazon.ca/Time-Regret-M-K-Tod/dp/1503938409/
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET is available August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.
A favorite comic book cartoon from my college days was illustrator and philosopher R. Crumb’s Shuman the Human. He was a regular everyman character in Zap, Mr. Natural and several other underground comix (period spelling) which I devoured greedily. My most memorable strip shows Schuman in a gathering of friends where he announces, “Let’s all stop playing games… for Five Minutes!”
The strip moves through several frames where the friends and Schuman look thoughtfully at each other, making no sound or comment until the last frame, where with a huge grin, Schuman says, “There! Now wasn’t that a great idea?”
That summed up my view of the leadership of movements in general. It has stayed with me since then. I’ve been a confirmed non-joiner with a possibly more than healthy skepticism applied across the board. On those few occasions when something became so important to me that I became involved, even to the point of heading up a local business leaders group, making public speeches, etc., I could hear Schuman, quietly calling from the edges of my awareness, reminding me. Inevitably, the tide turns, and those who don’t slide with it end up high and dry. Been there. Done that.
This Presidential campaign year has certainly brought back most of my skepticism. The Nation is polarized as the established two-party system seems to be failing. Alternative candidates are beginning to be given press coverage but I’m worried that the coming election may yield the most splintered results we’ve seen in generations. There are many good ideas out there, but Schuman again reminds me that they might be pushed out in front for the wrong reasons. Or not. I have to decide which. I will vote in the coming election, not because I’m part of any team. Not because I’m emotionally compelled, but simply because it is a duty that citizenship carries. I’m not going to vote according to any spoon-fed ideology, either.
Political parties are opportunist animals. Living things that respond and exploit the prevailing conditions in the same way all living things do. They survive and evolve and plot their agendas, often independently of the actual needs of their adherents. They paint their illustrations six stories high, with Hollywood lighting and a swelling soundtrack. But, I don’t have to buy a ticket, do I? If I get an email from “Barack Obama”, or from “Jeb Bush” (I’ve gotten both regularly for more than a year now), both go into the trash heap unread. I’ve been around long enough that I can smell a pitch when one comes calling.
I’ll use my own brain to answer my own questions the best way I can, and when the day comes to go to the polls, I’ll be voting with Schuman standing right next to me, reminding me that I’m not voting to feel good about earning the “doing the right thing” badge. Not to feel like I’m a member of some exclusive club that “gets it”. Not to deny anything to someone I disagree with or get even for perceived slights; but rather, to vote in support of the candidates I feel will be the best choices in office for the Nation’s well-being. I’ll let the self-congratulatory back patting remain on Schuman’s agenda. Still, I’m glad he’s my friend. I hope that we can find our way out of this terrible spot we’re in. It might require us to lay down our bright banners and roll up our sleeves. Together. Jus’ sayin’.
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R. Crumb has released an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis which is worth a visit!
Actual thoughtful comments left by readers are encouraged and will be posted here. Discussion is a good thing, but robot spam pitches will be deleted unread, as always.
Another prolific writer I’ve known for some time is Christopher D. Abbott, whose UK-set, drawing-room mysteries (“Dies” series) gathered a sizeable reader base almost as soon as they were released. His writing style has always been immediate; pulling the reader right into the scene, deftly manipulating the recognizable and the unexpected to enlighten and delight. When I heard he was focusing upon the beginnings of a new fantasy novel between his guitar gigs, I was sure it would be a great hit and score him many new readers. I was also fortunate enough to be brought into the project to design the covers and collateral graphics.
Richard: We’re glad you could spend a few moments with us, Chris. Your schedule is so jammed, it’s a surprise you even have time left to eat! Today, let’s talk about your inspiration for your new novel, Songs of the Osirian, available now in Kindle eBook format and in print. What led you to combine all these ancient, mystical threads and weave them into a rousing story of discovery and redemption?
Christopher: Hi, Richard. It’s a pleasure to talk with you again. These last few months have flown by, I can’t quite believe we’re in July already! The inspiration for Songs of the Osirian came from a few factors. Dr. Keith Chawgo of Media Bitch Literary Agency in the UK asked me to write a short story for (Beast: Genesis – A Dark Ethology) a themed collection he was putting together, and the only scope I was given was it must be animal related. I thought long and hard about it and started to sketch out ideas, but nothing really grabbed me until he sent me the cover of a lion sitting in the foreground of a ruined city. My animal–Beast–was born.
But who was Beast? What was his motivation? Why had he destroyed the world? And how had he done it? The aspect of the picture made him seem larger than a normal Lion, so I began to research pre-historic cats. The South American species Smilodon populator dwarfed the largest lions on Earth, weighing 300kgs (661lbs) on average and reaching up to 500kgs (1102lbs) when fully grown! I considered this as a template but I wanted him larger – and a Lion. It was obvious at this point he had to be alien and once this was certain, I began to create the mysterious all powerful Ardunadine race. A group so far evolved they no longer had physical form, and their means of communication through phonological chorus–song. These beings gave birth to our universe and through mystical songs, sowed the seeds of all life–an element woven into the traditions of the greatest mythologies and cosmologies of our time–and so a concept of gods was born that led into the Ancient Egyptian mythology and directly to the Osirian pantheon, which has fascinated me for as long as I could remember.
Richard: I like the idea of a really big kitty. We both know they are all-knowing and all-powerful, at least when dinnertime approaches…
At the beginning, one of your main characters seems to be caught in a catastrophe. Can you describe your main human character and what she is facing? In your other work, you make the setting as much of a character as the actors. It seems to be even more active a consideration in Songs.
Christopher: When I made this allegorical world, I wanted it to begin on Earth, as we understand it. I felt strongly from the beginning the world of Beast, not of man, should be born from our world, and not just a new one. It had to be a place we knew, and therefore, something to mourn once gone. The shape of this world would then develop through this malevolent entity with seemingly godlike powers, leaving it devastated and partially destroyed with unrecognizable continents filled with strange, hideous creatures unlike anything ever seen. But there would be survivors … so we find Mary Wilson, former archaeologist.
Mary is one of the survivors who unwittingly helps bring about this devastation. Her story starts with a curiosity leading her to make decisions that further her human desires to become famous above any other consideration. And in a way, the entire story follows this notion that man sees himself as supreme, taking advantage of those weakest to further his own desire to become rich, or famous, or to be a king, or president, or any other number of things we see around us every day. Where growing material things and destroying our world in the process is justified as a necessary evil … In the words of Beast:
“Son of man, for thousands of years I’ve watched as you’ve fought your own brothers and sisters for lands upon which you’ve laid specious claim. You have slain one another over primitive paradigms, over Delphic abstruse beliefs and spiritless objects, valueless things … for what is life’s worth when compared to gold, or land, or anything else? You wrap yourself in abstract blankets of values and deceitful well-meaning principle, engorging in cornucopia as your own kin writhe and die in wretched penury, and you do nothing but fatten in response. You are fleshed in falsehoods, men of dishonored mendacity and corruption … you dare preach to me about morality?”
But what if this greed was planted in our genome with a purpose? Mary is one of those characters who sees what has become of her world, and later, as the years roll by, finds herself lost. Those born after the destruction, protected by the Osirian, live in peace with each other. Their needs are met by the land and each other, they adapt technology to benefit everyone, and each of the protected countries trade commodities for commodities. In essence, man has found peace and prosperity, with none of the things left from the old world. And these new people do not understand the desires of people like Mary Wilson, who despite the inequality and injustice of her time, would give anything to set things back as they were.
You’re right about my settings being characters, too. I write to bring life into them or make them seem larger than life, but this book became something different. I found myself lost in the imagery of the world I’d created, and I really enjoyed the depth to which my imagination would allow me to see it–allow it to take shape. Take this scene for example:
With only a few hours of what passed for daylight in the heart of the blackest lands, they rested. The dark chased away light, bringing with it heavy, unnatural noise. At length they set out on horseback over the eastward arm of a hardened slag covering a once fertile terrain. They were always more comfortable at night, their hearts lighter for the dark enveloping them. For many miles the white-blue eye of the moon seemed to gaze upon them as they continued onwards. The craft of men from previous times could be seen embedded in mounds of metallic-like rock, jutting out from murky pools of water. Here and there, they observed grotesque twisted crumbling masonry in nondescript stonework, along with vast heaps of barely distinguishable misshapen metal carcasses, unnatural and artificial by design. The immense towers of scrap could only have been gathered and erected by Faulgoth. Possible shrines to their devastation of the land, the king mused as they passed by.
And a little further on …
For many miles they rode. Horses steaming, their bits covered with foam. They traversed roads cloven through felled cities, deeper and deeper into territory that was unknown and undiscovered, except to the Faulgoth who henceforth strode. In the deepest part of Blackenridge, two-hundred miles east of the port, the land was plagued with lurking unnatural things. They were aware of hideous monstrous animals, tortured and disfigured, mutilated by foulness and filth choking the land, hateful viscous ooze they named Shadow-Venom or Faulgoth-Blood. It followed alongside terrors unseen emerging from pits under the earth. Its slow, progressing touch tainted everything as it leached and crept through ruptures in the membrane of the earth. They avoided contact with it, which often meant long detours.
Richard: Truly nasty and onerous. I’ll bet it smells to high heaven. Not a country for old… or any men, or women.
Are there any well-established fantasy authors who have inspired you? I know I can probably trace all my own work back to Papa Tolkien or Robert Heinlein.
Christopher: As far as inspiration goes, there’s obviously a huge Tolkien influence here, especially around the creation of my universe. H G Wells’ War of the Worlds has been another huge influence on me throughout my life, ever since I heard the Jeff Wayne musical adaptation my uncle, Barry Richardson, played on an old record player in the early eighties. You cannot imagine the effect this had on a boy of 7 or 8.
Other fantasy / sci-fi authors I’ve been influenced by: Paul S Kemp, Troy Denning, Kevin J Anderson, Mary Stewart, Peter David, Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett, R. A. Salvatore… the list is endless.
Richard: It sure is a sizeable list! But together, it reveals a broad base of unique circumstances that force normal humans to find ingenious ways of coping and succeeding. Our species has taken many wrong turns over the ages, but we’re here because they could always find ways to think out of the box. I hope we can keep that ability alive.
Another topic we spoke about during the conceptual phase of the book cover design was your connection to well-known actress Chase Masterson of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame. She’s written an outstanding foreword for Songs which should help bring your book to the readers who would most appreciate it. How did you meet?
Christopher: Chase and I met at TerrifiCon in 2015. Let me tell you. I have been a Star Trek fan all my life, but I’d never really met any of the cast or crew and so here I was with a friend, Carol Ann, going to a convention with no knowledge of what to expect, and we turn the corner and I see Chase. I froze. My friend was concerned, but she soon recognized what was happening.
I mean, look, I was 41 and suddenly confronted by a cast member from a series I have been repeatedly watching for the best part of 30 years –and there she is– sitting behind a desk like a normal person! So, I had to go and see her. I did not know the protocol. What do you say? “Hi, erm, Leeta? … no wait, Chase? Erm … Ms Masterson? … Oh, get a grip … gee umm, can I have your autograph, please …” It was ridiculous. Me, the man with an iron jaw, who, if they entered talking in the Olympics, would win gold, couldn’t string a sentence together. I regressed back to a child. And you know what, as soon as she spoke, I was instantly aware that she wasn’t just a “character”, she was intelligent and empathic, and of course, she recognized in like so many before and after, that I was a little star-struck. But I took my picture home–and this is hilarious because just minutes before I was saying with disdain, ‘I really don’t understand this need to buy a signed picture of someone who was in a TV show’–and found her on Twitter, sent her a message and she responded.
Later I went to Long Island Who (A Doctor Who convention) and met Chase there again, and she recognised me. I was in a VIP event for actor Paul McGann’s birthday, and Chase and I ended up talking about her charity the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, and that’s when we really started to talk normally, and by that I mean, I was no longer the star-struck gibbering teenager–I admit to being a little star-struck in her presence, even now. I helped in a small way with some charity stuff. When I approached Chase with the concepts of the book, and asked if she would be willing to write a foreword for me, she was on-board from day one.
Let me tell you something about Chase, something that perhaps a lot of people who know her from her acting career may not realize. This woman never stops working. In the past six months, she has been all over Europe for conventions, and other acting work, flown back to America and gone straight into the circuit here and still finds time to catch up with me by email, or by conference call. We are currently working on a concept for joint venture between us for her charity that … no … I can’t give you any details as we are just hashing out ideas, but I can tell you, that it is an exciting idea.
Richard: Your upcoming project with Ms. Masterson is exciting news! I hope you’ll share when the time is right for it to be revealed. I suppose we’ll have to add the late, Gene Roddenberry to that list of influential writers. Now, without giving away any twists or climaxes, is there one resounding theme or lesson that Songs expresses best? How does it connect with our currently unstable world?
Christopher: Actually … I’ll let Chase answer that, from her foreword…
“The story deals with real world problems such as greed, hate, and domination of the weak –- but the message it delivers is of triumph through empathy, cooperation, and understanding. The story builds on the mythological concepts of Osirian Gods, and Chris deftly weaves a Science-Fiction element into their Pantheon. He gives vision to the idea that these beings have extraordinary abilities and are so far evolved; they are considered Gods by this understanding. Layered beneath a human tale of good vs evil are complex nuances of gray that delve into the desires and emotional conflicts each person faces on their respective quests; the story presents a dilemma, prompting deep introspection for characters and readers alike.”
Richard: Are there any ways that Songs connects with your earlier work? How does your well-established writing voice make room for such a genre sea-change?
Christopher: I think my earlier work helped me hone and develop my writing skill, but I have to be honest and say this book and its voice, are very different from anything else I’ve written. It really doesn’t connect–well, maybe in one way. My editor, Patti, laughed when she started working with me on the project. Her first question was, “What is this fixation of yours with Marys?” It seems I have a Mary in every book.
The primary connections establishing me as a brand are yourself and Patti Geesey–and that’s an important last point. Visually, my brand is born from the covers you generate that draw interest in my work–and this cover is inspirational. It might surprise you to learn that over 40k people have seen this latest cover and 700 people have liked it. Once the door is open, or the cover turned back, Patti takes over and through her my voice is heard.
Here’s an excerpt inspired by your cover design.
The great host parted leaving deep path into their ranks. The priest’s light fought to break the darkness, but failed, so it wasn’t possible for Pharaoh to see the fullness of his enemy or gauge their numbers. But the path revealed something of the depth of the legions of darkness and far worse; for at its heart amongst the fiery winged behemoths, a pair of luminous green eyes shone out of the gloom. As they moved closer, a colossal lion padded softly into view. When it reached the forward column the path closed and it roared. The sound so terrible all that heard it trembled.
Richard: Wow. That’s almost exactly what I envisioned during the early stages. Amazing telepathic connection… somehow…
Thank you, Christopher, for taking the time to share your insights and stories with us today. I’m so glad that my work on the project has helped to create something your readers will recognize, enjoy reading, and learn from, too. Of course, I’m sure that those who’ve read this interview will have comments and additional questions. Readers, please leave them below and Christopher will answer them, between gigs, restringings and the occasional Strat neck adjustments. flat pick searches… oh, and keyboard time: the necessary evil all writers must enslave themselves to.
You can purchase Songs of the Osirian at Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HX3V4O2
or Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HX3V4O2
The Author’s Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-D-Abbott/e/B001JPAG2W lists his other work as well
Visit the author’s website for the latest news and posts: http://www.cdanabbott.com/
Connect with him on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cdanabott
and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cdanabbott
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It’s always enjoyable for me when an author I’ve known and interviewed has a new book to release. Especially if the writer has a particularly compelling style and insightful ways of illustrating the human condition in their work.
I’ve known UK based author Rosy Thornton for some years now, having first made her acquaintance in a somewhat reserved writer’s forum some years ago, where her generous nature gave writers struggling to find their voice (like me…), more confidence and skill. I needed (and still do…) all the help I could get, and Ms. Thornton’s patience and knowledge came as a welcome surprise. My surprise grew out of my own insecurity and little or no real knowledge of the work of most of the other members or writers, in general. I had no idea that she was a respected fellow, lecturer and tutor in the subject of Law, at Cambridge, or that she had lots of readers who appreciated each new book as it came into the world.
My first reading of Ms. Thornton’s writing was her award-winning fifth novel Ninepins, set in the lonely fen country of Cambridgeshire. It was moving and very revealing of her characters’ internal struggles and the illusions we spin to protect our fragile hearts. My 2012 interview is posted here. Ninepins got under my skin and eventually helped inspire my own characters’ emotional development. I was very pleased to hear that a new book was due for a launching and even more pleased that the author had time to do the interview.
Richard: Rosy, I’m so glad you could join us to discuss your soon-to-be-launched Sandstone Press collection of short stories, Sandlands.
Rosie: Hello. Richard. It’s lovely to be here and so kind of you to invite me. And thank you, too, for that very generous introduction. You’ve made me feel quite nostalgic for our old co-critiquing days in the writers’ forum!
Richard: From my reading of Ninepins, I learned of your profound connection to the natural world and I’m glad to see that the stories in Sandlands will be expressing more of that connection. Were these tales conceived as parts of a larger whole, or did they spring to life independently?
Rosie: The very first story was just a story – an idea that came to me when walking in the woods near my Suffolk home and noticing one pure white doe among a group of roe deer. I found myself looking out for her every morning, whenever I glimpsed the deer, and she reminded me of an old French legend, about a young woman condemned to roam the woods at night in the shape of a white doe, until she is accidentally shot by her own huntsman brother. The legend made me think of bereavement and loss – especially of a sibling – and also of the guilt that comes with loss.
Anyway, I wrote that one, and it was so deeply rooted in the countryside of Suffolk, those woods and fields, and I thought, this place – this landscape and its wildlife – could be the subject and the setting for many different stories. So I wrote another one, and another…. and soon the idea of a collection was born.
Richard: If you were to choose another setting in the countryside you love, for another novel, what would seem the most evocative location?
Rosie: Hmm, that’s a tricky one. I have already set three books in areas that are close to my heart. This current collection in the sandlings of coastal Suffolk, Ninepins (as you’ve said) in the flat grey fens around Cambridge where I live in the working week, and an earlier novel, The Tapestry of Love, which used for its backdrop the remote Cévennes mountains of central France. Where is there left to write about? Well, one idea which has preoccupied me for some time is to write a book set by the sea. The village where the tales in Sandlands all unfold is just a few miles from the coast, and the nearby shingle beaches do feature in one or two stories. But to set an entire novel in some run down, half-forgotten seaside town, its salt-bleached paintwork gently peeling… That notion certainly appeals.
Richard: In Ninepins, you use the device of a single mother, her daughter and a girl who many would consider a “Charity Case” interacting in a very remote, work-intensive setting. The conflict seemed very immediate, yet somehow almost ethereal. It was quite trick to pull off. In Sandlands, can we expect similar sleight of hand?
Rosie: That’s a really interesting perspective on my writing, Richard. I think you’re right that I like to shift the ground from under my readers’ feet – to root my narratives in the everyday and comfortable, the daily round of cups of tea and talks around the breakfast table, but then to introduce some darker or more dangerous sense, of threat or loss, the unexpected, the ghostly or the magical. I think there can be power in that contrast – our cozy and familiar world, shot through by a current of something ‘other’.
In Sandlands, that ‘other’ is often the tug of the past – past lives and loves, past tragedies – breaking through into the present in various unanticipated ways.
Richard: The inescapable past permeates much of my own work, too, as does the Natural world. Wildlife of all kinds are especially close to my own heart. Our own home on Long Island resembles not the expected manicured landscape, but rather a deep woodlands forest, very welcoming to all animals. Can you describe your own interests regarding the Natural world and how they influence your work?
Rosie: You make me want to visit Long Island! My beloved Suffolk, evoked in Sandlands, is a landscape of great variety. British people tend to think of all the eastern counties as flat and unvarying, but within a five mile radius of the village where my book is set you’ll find rolling farmland bounded by ancient hedgerows, thick deciduous woodland and lowland heath purpled over with heather, salt marshes and shingle beaches. The fauna are varied too, and nine of the sixteen stories in the collection take one particular animal, bird, insect or flower for their central motif: from fox to barn owl, nightingale and curlew, from the dune-flowering sand catchfly to a rare species of butterfly called the silver-studded blue.
Richard: “God,” someone said, “is in the details.” There are so many unique and beautiful living things, it would be very hard hard not to be inspired by them, constantly. I see that kind of inspiration in Sandlands’ standout cover. I really love it. I would imagine that your academic career has also provided unique opportunities for your development as a fiction writer. Are there any mentors whose work influenced your need to write? How did you writing voice evolve?
Rosie: Well, I’m not sure that my university career (lecturing and writing about law) has exactly provided direct opportunities for the development of my fiction. Rather the opposite, I’m tempted to say – a full-time day job does tend to get in the way of having the time I’d like to write novels and stories! But of course, there are many, many people who have encouraged me with my fiction, including colleagues at the university and, perhaps most especially, my students. They are delighted to encounter a lecturer who doesn’t just live and breathe law, and writes books that people might actually enjoy reading!
More concretely, I do think that twenty-five years as an academic lawyer have helped me to develop a precision in my choice of words, and a forensic eye for context and meaning in the way words are employed. And those, I think, are ‘transferable skills’ (as they say), as useful for conjuring a fictional scene in exact detail as for framing a watertight legal argument.
Richard: I’ve had “what-ifs” and story interests circulating in my head since I was a boy. Making the commitment to write seriously and actually complete the longer forms has enabled me to finally engage in pursuits I’ve wanted to follow since childhood. It’s also provided me with rather less-expensive therapy and demon-exorcism as well. Has your own work provided unexpected benefits or psychic healing?
Rosie: Oh, absolutely! I think most writers secretly write as therapy, at least in part. It’s no coincidence that many of the stories in Sandlands deal in some way or another with bereavement or loss – and that my beloved dad died in 2014 when I was in the early stages of writing the book.
Richard: Sorry to hear that. Loss can be an incredible motivator though. One of my own recent books was written really as a conversation I’d always wished to have with my own Dad. I like to think he’d have really loved it. Finally, shifting gears, can you give us a short description of Sandlands that will whet our appetites and loosen our wallets?
Rosie: I really don’t think I could do a better job than my lovely editor, Moira, who wrote this blurb for the back cover of the book:
“From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr. Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr. Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.”
Richard: That does the trick, as does the excellent comment about the breadth of your work on the front cover by Jenn Ashworth. Thank you for spending your time with us today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Rosie: Thank you, Richard. The pleasure is all mine!
Rosie Thornton’s books to date, include:
More Than Love Letters (Headline, 2007)
Hearts and Minds (Headline Review, 2008)
Crossed Wires (Headline Review, 2009)
The Tapestry of Love (Headline Review, 2010)
Ninepins (Sandstone Press, 2012)
Sandlands (Sandstone Press, 2016)
Her author website is here: http://www.rosythornton.com
and she welcomes new readers to ‘friend’ her on Facebook here:
For review copies or press information, please contact Sandstone Press publicity officer, Keara Donnachie (email@example.com)
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Readers’ comments are always encouraged. If you’d like to ask or discuss anything pertaining to her work, leave your comment here…