Friday, November 10, 2017

Does fiction make you think?

I like books that make me think. I'm rather fond of serious tomes on my favorite topics - Bible, science, history, math, how to write better, etc. But I'm totally addicted to fiction. I'm the sort of person who walks around the house with a book in her hand, while other books reside beside the bed, on the dining-room table, in the newly refurbished library (aka son's bedroom, but he's moved out)... and I'll be reading them all. But what I like most is fiction that makes me think. I'll usually only read one "thinking" book at once - a factual book that fills my mind with knowledge, or a fictional novel that makes me ask questions and ponder ... hmmm ... Is informed pondering the beginning of wisdom? If so, I'm somewhere near the beginning and loving it.

22: the biography of a gun by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson certainly made me think when I read it this week. I like the novel's unique construction, like a series of short stories linked by the travels of a gun - so I suppose I spend some time thinking on and appreciating the idea. But most of all, I love the way the stories take me into very real lives in a future not very far from here. Guns are controlled. People... maybe not so. But is it guns or people who kill? What would happen if the gun in question didn't "happen" to be there? Definitely a book to make you think. A must-read in any world with guns and people, and a thoroughly fascinating, absorbing tale, to be enjoyed with a suitably complex four-star cup of coffee.

Defending Jacob by William Landay is another thought-provoking tale, as a father well-versed in the law finds his son accused of murder. Balancing details of social awkwardness, bullying, the online lives of children, and the genetic inheritance of violence, together with believable investigation and haunting family drama, it's a novel that haunts the reader long after the final page. Enjoy with another complex four-star cup of coffee.

Chris Knopf's eight Sam Acquillo Hampton's Mystery, Tango Down, is another thought-provoking tale, filled with action, adventure, great characters, very different kinds of terror, and a real sense for the real world's complications. Exploring the place of illegal immigrants in society, American interference in foreign politcs, and medical intervention in human ailments, it's a gorgeously constructed tale to be enjoyed with another four-star complex coffee.

With a very different focus, Isaiah’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews recreates a historical Biblical world and invites the reader to think about the meaning and implications of prophecy. Where does prophecy end and intuition begin? And how far does God's faithfulness go when a leader loses faith? Looking at history and faith through very human, female eyes, and revisiting familiar quotes through ears that heard the words when new... this is a truly enticing historical romance, honestly faithful, and faithfully thought-provoking. Enjoy with some more four-star complex coffee.

Finally, Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts, while being a much more cozy and comfortable read, has its own thought-provoking message in the redeeming of an ugly Christmas tree. Just possibly, ugly relationships can also be healed, and ugly misunderstandings made clear in brighter light. Enjoy this lighter read with some lighter easy-drinking two-star coffee.

So... what will you think about as you read.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Can you look through different eyes?

Part of the fun of reading is to see the world through other people's eyes. It's part of the fun of writing too. Books let us travel to times and places we might never see, and show the thoughts behind attitudes and beliefs we might never share. They keep us from passing judgement till we've walked in someone else's shoes. And if they succeed, we might just keep ourselves from passing judgement in our daily lives too. No one can really see through someone else's eyes. And other people's shoes will rarely fit. But books... we might learn facts from non-fiction books, but from fiction we learn other people's feelings too. I love to read!

The Leaf Queen by Janet Roberts takes readers to Catholic Ireland and the tortuous consequences of wounded family ties. Blending Maeve Binchey's Ireland with modern-day America, it invites readers to see through the eyes of a mother filled with heartbreak, a sister wounded by unintended condemnation, and a woman who gives her heart to freely to those who might not deserve it. It's a haunting, hopeful tale. Enjoy with some complex four-star coffee.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes tackles misunderstandings too, as a young woman in England learns to care for an abrasive, wounded man -- and to agree with the sort of decision that causes serious religious and political arguments. I love how the author introduces such seriously big questions, viewed so consistently through the eyes of real people that the reader's own interpretations have to wait. Definitely a book to make you think... and care more. This is another one to read with some complex four-star coffee.

Forgotten Reflections: A War Story by Young-Im Lee, while set in the past of the Korean War, has much to tell of the present. Truths aren't always what they seem. Life's necessities aren't predictable. And life's secrets aren't all as they're assumed. Forgotten Reflections allows readers to visit Korea, to learn the value of rice, and to enjoy the mysteries of relationship, all with a pleasingly complex four-star coffee.

Moving to the US, Neespaugot: Legend of the Indian’s Coin by John Mugglebee tells a story that begins with Massachusetts tribes and broken covenants, then progresses through tales of runaway slaves, Chinese immigrants, betrayals, promises and more to the present day, typing people to land and hope. It's a haunting tale, filled with fascinating substories, and tied together in family and mixed heritage. Enjoy its complexities with some more complex four-star coffee.

And finally, in a world where Christian and Muslim are almost assumed to be bosom enemies, it's good to read a novel like The Merchant’s Pearl by Amie O’Brien. Beautifully researched and convincingly told, it's the story of a Christian missionary girl, abducted into a prince's harem in the time of Napoleon and Suez (not so long ago!), and learning to stay true to her faith while falling in love with someone just as true to his own. Yes, more four-star coffee.

I loved all these books, and loved visiting all these different people with different backgrounds to my own. Reading is FUN!


Friday, November 3, 2017

Are you writing yet?

It's November. It NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. So... are you writing yet? I wish I was. I'm not sure I want to try writing a whole novel in November - it being the month of Thanksgiving means lots of time spent shopping and cooking for example, therefore less time to write. But I'd love to finish work on Imaginary Numbers, the next one in my Mathemafiction series. So... am I writing yet? Not really, I must confess. But I wrote a Kitkit story (related to Tails of Mystery) and a poem for our latest Writers' Mill contest. I released two books for the Writers' Mill (our sixth Writers' Mill Journal, and Carl and June: Tales of Two). And I'm on the cusp of posting tons of book reviews. Does writing book reviews count? Does reading count? (Can't write without reading surely!)

Am I writing yet? I'm writing a blogpost.
Am I writing yet? I've just finished reading about how to get published.
Am I writing yet? I'll certainly need to finish the book(s) before they get published. But for now, here's a couple of non-fiction book reviews.

Yeah, that getting published thing. The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submission is an easy read, written in a pleasant conversational style with well-organized chapters. If you've got something written but not yet worth submitting (e.g. if you wrote it in a month a la NaNoWriMo) there's some good advice on polishing it up. And if you're wondering how or if to submit to a publisher, there's fairly simple advice, even with a glossary for those unfamiliar words. Not taxing, it's a good place to start and the links are invaluable. And, since all book reviews should be accompanied by coffee, enjoy with some one-star light crisp coffee.

I think I prefer reading fiction (no, I know I prefer it). But I was given a copy of Rock Trivia Madness 60s-90s volume 1 by Bill O’Neill and Ray Connor and, since I did indeed listen to pop music (in England) in those days, I certainly found it interesting. If you listened, or listen now to the stars of those not-too-long-ago days while you write your NaNoWriMo work of staggering genius, you'll find it interesting too. Best enjoyed with some more crisp one-star coffee.

Are you writing yet?


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Past, present or future? Which do you prefer?

Can a novel set in the past have a message for the present? Can one set in the future hold a mirror up to today? And can a novel of today hold warnings for the future born in the past?

I read because I love reading. I love to lose myself in a book. I love to walk around the house, pages in hand, dreaming another life, another time. But I also read because I love to think. I love that feeling when fictional characters become so real I want to discuss the present with them. And I love the sense that characters born in the past and the future have enough to say that I can stay in long conversation, even when the pages have ceased to turn.

So my answer to the question, which do I prefer of novels set in the past, present or future, is probably all three. I love novels that make me reexamine what I think I know--novels that don't just offer a mirror or wall, reflecting back my own ideas, but ones that offer a friend by the fireside feeding their thoughts into mine.

A Family of Strangers by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins is set in the past and filled with wonderfully flawed human characters. Using a quietly unobtrusive and intriguing spirituality, the author recreates a convincing prehistoric world and gives each stranger in this ill-matched group a chance to step forward from the mistakes of the past. Nothing can be changed. What's broken is gone. But there's always tomorrow--a very wise message for today! Enjoy this truly rich and elegant novel with a rich elegant four-star cup of coffee.

Set in the present day, No Direction Rome by Kaushik Barua is a very different novel, it's spirituality (or rather lack thereof) vibrantly in-your-face, its personal immediacy enhanced by addressing the reader as "you," and its recently-wounded past carefully disguised in an awkwardly careless present. The protagonist might be hard to get to know, but he's hard to forget and his world is alternately ridiculous, real, and poignant. It's a dark tale best enjoyed with some five-star darkly brewed coffee.

And then there's Red Rising by Pierce Brown, first in a trilogy (and I can't wait to read the rest). Set in a dystopian future with some great future history woven into a well-timed backstory, and characters that are convincingly different from their present day equivalents, it holds a complex mirror to the present, inviting but never demanding analogy. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee--the story's dark and compelling.

I really enjoyed all three of these books, past, present and future. And I really enjoy reading in all three times.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Feathers?

November is National Epilepsy awareness month, and I'm delighted to welcome McCall Hoyle to my blog, author of The Thing With Feathers. We're going to enjoy some coffee together, so please find a cup and join us. But first...

Some info bout the book.

Sixteen-year-old Emilie Day is not like the other girls from her town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She has epilepsy, is homeschooled, and would rather be reading classic literature than be the center of attention.
 Ever since her father’s death and her diagnosis, risk has not been in Emilie’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, all the safety she’s built for herself is about to be stripped away when, on her doctor’s recommendation, Emilie is sentenced to spend her junior year at North Ridge High School. Fueled by frustration, Emilie doesn’t plan to stay…or tell anyone about her epilepsy. 

But Emilie isn’t banking on meeting new friends or getting to know the handsome and charming Chatham York. And she definitely isn’t counting on falling for him. Chatham challenges Emilie to face her fears—but he doesn’t know what she dreads most is a public grand mal seizure.






So, may I ask you some questions...

What inspired you to write The Thing with Feathers ?

As a teacher and mom, I observe so many teenage girls hiding their true selves from their peers. So I wanted to write a hopeful story about a girl learning to a accept herself for who she was. I taught a student whose family was greatly impacted by her sister’s epilepsy and learned about the unique challenges of living with a covert disability that isn’t immediately visible to strangers and acquaintances.

I also love dogs. By chance, my family inherited a golden retriever who was bred to do service work. The dog was more human than many humans.

Oh, they so often are! I love dogs!

I began working with this amazing dog training him for agility and obedience. I became fascinated by golden retrievers and assistant dogs and did a tremendous amount of research and reading about service dogs and the people they love. I was especially intrigued by seizure alert dogs as seizure alerting cannot truly be taught and is greatly affected by the bond between the owner and dog. I knew I had to write a story about a girl with epilepsy learning to love herself unconditionally the way her golden retriever did.

What is behind the title? Dogs don't have feathers...

The title is a line from a well-known Emily Dickinson poem. She writes: “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul; “ When the title came to me, I knew it was perfect. Everything about this book and about Emilie, the main character, is about learning to find hope even in the most difficult circumstances. And reading poetry and studying Emily Dickinson have a major impact on Emilie’s emotional arc in this story. Thankfully, my agent, editor, and publisher also agreed the title was perfect. I don’t personally think a title is going to make or break a book, but I love a nice title—especially one that’s somehow connected to the theme of the book and that readers have to uncover the meaning of for themselves. And I think this title does just that.

As a writer, was it difficult to combine romantic elements with the exploration of Emilie’s condition?

This is an excellent question. First, I wanted this to be Emilie’s story. I wanted it to be a story of strength and resilience and hope. I did not want the romance to overshadow Emilie’s emotional growth. But in my experience, relationships are a central part of who we are. We’re constantly starting, developing, and ending relationships. Emilie’s story is about opening up, taking risks, and learning to hope. Taking a risk on friendship and first love were a natural part of her growth as a human being. I feel like it worked. Epilepsy is a big part of Emilie’s life, but it’s not her entire life. She’s a perfectly average teenage girl. Yes, she has epilepsy, but she’s also dealing with all the things teenage girls deal with including boys.

Do you feel like your book depicts a pretty realistic view of what life is like for a teen with an illness or a disability?

I’ve taught middle school and high school for twelve years. I’ve raised a teenage daughter, and I was a teenage girl. On an average day, I spend more time with teenagers than with adults. Also, I experienced some of the greatest trials of my life during my teenage years. It’s actually frighteningly easy for me to put myself in the mindset of teenage girls. So I feel really confident about the teenage girl part.

As far as living with epilepsy is concerned, I interviewed several students who either have epilepsy or love someone with epilepsy. I also did lots and lots of research and had several parents of children with epilepsy read the book. Because there are so many types of epilepsy and types of seizures, almost everyone who has epilepsy has a unique story.

Emilie struggles with managing the challenges of her epilepsy and her seizures, but in my experience, most teenage girls are struggling. When I write, whether it’s about a girl with epilepsy, or a girl struggling with grief, or a girl struggling with body image issues, I try to tap into the emotions I’ve experienced in similar situations and write from those emotions. And above all, I aim for honesty. I want teenage girls to know that no matter how flawed they feel, there is a place for all of us. And there is always room to hope.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing, or in researching Emilie’s story? Any interesting facts that you found out?

As I said, I’ve been fascinated with service dogs for years and have worked with students with epilepsy and their families for years. I also mentioned Emily Dickinson’s poetry plays a central role in the book and in my main character’s emotional development.

Emilie, the protagonist of The Thing with Feathers , must complete a research project on Emily Dickinson for her English class. I’m an American Literature teacher and thought I knew a lot of the basics about Dickinson as a reclusive poet, but I still needed to verify things like when she died, where she went to school, etc. In the process, I came across a biography published in 2011 that hypothesized based on several poetry references that she suffered from a disability of her own and went on to explain that the disability could very possibly have been epilepsy or some type of seizure disorder.

I don’t think anyone will ever be able to confirm this one way or another, but it certainly added to the already growing connection between Emily the poet and Emilie my main character.

How you do think this book will open dialogue among teens about mental health and disability awareness?

I hope that The Thing with Feathers will open dialogue concerning the invisible and covert nature of mental health issues and a wide variety of other illnesses. Mostly, I want teenagers to realize that growing up can be really painful but really beautiful as well. I want all of us to remember that just because someone doesn’t wear an illness, or disability, or emotional wound on the outside doesn’t mean she isn’t carrying one on the inside. Mostly, I wish we would all learn to be a little gentler and kinder with one another and with ourselves.

Do you have plans for more YA books? If so, can you share what you have coming up? 

I love the Outer Banks setting of THE THING WITH FEATHERS and am working on another book that takes place on the ruggedly beautiful barrier islands of North Carolina. In this story, two teenagers with very different outlooks on life, and death, and love are trapped on the islands, cut off from the rest of the world in the face of an oncoming hurricane and have to learn to put their differences aside in order to survive.

Find Mcall Hoyle on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/McCallHoyle
on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mccall.hoyle
or on her website at: http://mccallhoyle.com/index.html

and find her novel at https://www.amazon.com/Thing-Feathers-Blink-McCall-Hoyle/dp/0310758513/

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Which comes first, the pictures or the words?

I've done it! I've just pushed the "approve proof" button on Amazon and released the latest book from the Writers' Mill, a local writers group that I belong to. It's a children's book, with stories about a small boy called Carl and his rather superior older sister June. We wanted pictures for the book, so I and several other members of the group tried to come up with some. Of course, words are our creative medium of choice, but, though I say it myself, the result looks pretty good. You can find it at https://www.createspace.com/7691295, and maybe soon on Amazon!

All of which got me wondering about authors and illustrators of children's picture books. Of course, Carl and June is not a picture book. But looking at our various illustrating styles, and the various styles of books I was reading recently, I pondered which comes first - the words or the pictures; and who comes first - the author or the illustrator.

For example, Harry The Happy Mouse by n.g.k. illustrated by Janelle Dimmett seems to have an invisible (or scarcely named) author and a very visible (named) illustrator. It's the first in a very cool series of animal stories for children, with smooth rhymes, whimsical text, and illustrations filled with detail and delightful color - almost old-fashioned, but brightly new, if that makes sense. A nicely whimsical font adds to the fun - not so easy to teach reading from, but seriously good for enjoying it. I've really enjoyed the three books I've read so far (Harry the Christmas Mouse and Harry's Spooky Surprise are books two and three). I suppose I should recommend some coffee to go with the read, so I'll suggest a lively easy-drinking two-star brew.

Theodore Down Under by Ashlee and Trent Harding sends a happy teddy bear (Theodore) on a trip to Australia. It's a flying tour, hitting all the highlights with bright simple illustrations and easy text, plus just enough facts to keep an older child interested. The facts probably came before the images but the storyline - I'm guessing author and illustrator worked together to create this one. Maybe they even enjoyed some light crisp one-star coffee.

Moshe Comes to Visit by Tehila Sade Moyal introduces readers to a small human narrator who finds an even tinier friend and learns to overcome fear. It's a very sweet story, nicely entertaining, with a wise lesson. Rhythm and Rhyme are a little awkward at the start but soon feel natural and the pages fly. So which came first? I'm guessing the rhyme. Enjoy with some bright lively two-star coffee.

Muffy & Valor by Karl Beckstrand illustrated by Brandon Rodriguez allows humans and dogs to share the stage in a story about a pet that doesn't get on well with other dogs. But dogs can empathize and dogs can learn. The result is a sweet true story, with pleasingly realistic illustrations, inviting readers to see how they too can learn. I'm pretty sure the story came first with this one, but I love the well-painted feel of the illustrations. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth three-star coffee.

The animals in Dinosaur and Monster and the Magic Carpet by Suzanne Pollen are a small child's toys, and it's easy to imagine a child listening to the story and trying to act it out. I'm guessing the images/characters of the protagonists came first, and maybe a real child even played the story before it was written. But of course I'll never know. I do wish it was a little longer though - just as I often wished the stories my children played had endings as well as middles. Enjoy with some light crisp one-star coffee.

And there are stars. Someone must at least have imagined the pictures before writing this one. Brightley and Glow by Sophie Carmen. The blue and yellow stars on the cover are certainly enticing, and the idea of sibling stars is fun. The storyline revolves around the granting of impossible wishes - an interesting fairytale thought for a modern fairytale story perhaps. Enjoy with some more light crisp one-star coffee.






Friday, October 27, 2017

What do you Know?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Leonora Meriel to my blog. I've just started reading her novels, Woman Behind the Waterfall and The Unity Game, and I find myself wondering, if we're supposed to write what we know and use our imaginations, how does what the author knows feed into imagining the stories she tells? Since she's here as a guest on my blog, I get to ask:


To what extent do you draw on your own life in her writing, 
and to what extent does what you "know" feed into what you imagine?

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Leonora, and I'm eager to learn your answer. Over to you Leonora.


There are different ways of knowing things.

I have been to New York and Kyiv and Shanghai I know what these cities are like.

I have also been in love, and I know how that feels.

I have known things with my body – fear, mistrust, attraction.

And I have had experiences when I have known things with my soul – known them so deeply and entirely and without any prior knowledge – and they have turned out to be absolutely true.

In my writing, I use every level of knowing and I also make sure my characters use these levels of knowing as well.

My first novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” was set in Ukraine, a country I had got to

know and love from living there for 10 years and learning the language. I was painstakingly careful to get every detail of Ukrainian life accurate and I had several research trips to different areas and had Ukrainian speakers check my language.

However, the novel is magical realism, and so I also had one of my characters merge into birds and air and storms and plants. I feel that this is part of my knowing, as I have experienced this unity in occasional moments of my life, and I combined these personal moments with the imagination of a child in order to achieve a character who could transform from a girl into other spirits.

My second novel was set in New York, another city where I had lived and knew intimately. Once again, I was incredibly careful with every detail, and re-visited the city and walked the streets to check the colour of the rain on flashlights and streetlights; to check the menu items in the diners and how far the river jogging paths stretched.

However, this second novel “The Unity Game” was also set on a distant planet, and in an after-life dimension. So…… where does knowledge fit into this scenario?

Well, I had researched after-life / near-death experiences widely and also reported alien experiences. So I had a strong body of knowledge from an Earth perspective. And when I came to write the novel, my characters created worlds and took me to places they wanted to inhabit and discover. I would not strictly call this knowledge, but I would say that I was very open to the possibilities of a far wider-reality, and the realities that I wrote about became extremely vivid for me in their creation. In a way, these other realities have now become a part of my own knowledge. I suspect other writers have experience this as well – other worlds opening up to them from delving into novels.

Every one of my books contains parts of my life, from my experiences as a mother, to a young professional in New York, to drinking home-brewed vodka (“horilka”) in Ukraine – and each of them also contains many layers of knowledge gathered through my mind, through my heart, through my body and through my soul.

But the most special knowledge - is that which I have gained through the writing of my books – the new worlds that have been born. I cannot believe that they don’t exist somewhere, somehow – or how else did they flow through my pen with such insistency?

This is something I will ponder for all my life.


The Woman Behind the Waterfall
Heartbreak and transformation in the beauty of a Ukrainian village.
For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.
All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother's fateful choices.
Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?
Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.


Reviewers say
“Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world” ~~ Kirkus Reviews
“The language is lyrical and poetic and, in places, begs to be read repeatedly for the sheer joy of it… A literary work of art.” ~~ Fiona Adams, The Richmond Magazine
“Rich and poetic in detail, it is an often dreamy, oneiric narrative rooted in an exaltation of nature… A lovely novel.” ~~ IndieReader


The Unity Game
WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?
A New York banker is descending into madness.
A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.
From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.
Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a 'complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel' from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.

Find it on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B072DWZBYC/


Reviewers say
 “A complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel.” ~~ Kirkus Reviews
“Elegantly written, expertly crafted and a moving message. I found this book very hard to put down. Moving and poignant.” ~~ Lilly, Amazon US reviewer
“An engrossing, unique, and totally bizarre tale! I could not stop reading it once I started. Such a beautiful take on the afterlife, and its connection to those still living. A unity game, indeed!”~~ Brenna, Goodreads reviewer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen’s University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.
In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.
During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development.
In 2008, she decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel The Unity Game, set in New York City and on a distant planet.

What do you know?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Leonora Meriel to my blog. I've just started reading her novels, Woman Behind the Waterfall and The Unity Game, and I find myself wondering, if we're supposed to write what we know and use our imaginations, how does what the author knows feed into imagining the stories she tells? Since she's here as a guest on my blog, I get to ask:


To what extent do you draw on your own life in her writing, 
and to what extent does what you "know" feed into what you imagine?

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Leonora, and I'm eager to learn your answer. Ove


There are different ways of knowing things.

I have been to New York and Kyiv and Shanghai I know what these cities are like.

I have also been in love, and I know how that feels.

I have known things with my body – fear, mistrust, attraction.

And I have had experiences when I have known things with my soul – known them so deeply and entirely and without any prior knowledge – and they have turned out to be absolutely true.

In my writing, I use every level of knowing and I also make sure my characters use these levels of knowing as well.

My first novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” was set in Ukraine, a country I had got to know and love from living there for 10 years and learning the language. I was painstakingly careful to get every detail of Ukrainian life accurate and I had several research trips to different areas and had Ukrainian speakers check my language.

However, the novel is magical realism, and so I also had one of my characters merge into birds and air and storms and plants. I feel that this is part of my knowing, as I have experienced this unity in occasional moments of my life, and I combined these personal moments with the imagination of a child in order to achieve a character who could transform from a girl into other spirits.

My second novel was set in New York, another city where I had lived and knew intimately. Once again, I was incredibly careful with every detail, and re-visited the city and walked the streets to check the colour of the rain on flashlights and streetlights; to check the menu items in the diners and how far the river jogging paths stretched.

However, this second novel “The Unity Game” was also set on a distant planet, and in an after-life dimension. So…… where does knowledge fit into this scenario?

Well, I had researched after-life / near-death experiences widely and also reported alien experiences. So I had a strong body of knowledge from an Earth perspective. And when I came to write the novel, my characters created worlds and took me to places they wanted to inhabit and discover. I would not strictly call this knowledge, but I would say that I was very open to the possibilities of a far wider-reality, and the realities that I wrote about became extremely vivid for me in their creation. In a way, these other realities have now become a part of my own knowledge. I suspect other writers have experience this as well – other worlds opening up to them from delving into novels.

Every one of my books contains parts of my life, from my experiences as a mother, to a young professional in New York, to drinking home-brewed vodka (“horilka”) in Ukraine – and each of them also contains many layers of knowledge gathered through my mind, through my heart, through my body and through my soul.

But the most special knowledge - is that which I have gained through the writing of my books – the new worlds that have been born. I cannot believe that they don’t exist somewhere, somehow – or how else did they flow through my pen with such insistency?

This is something I will ponder for all my life.



About the Author



Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen’s University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.
In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.

During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development.

In 2008, she decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel The Unity Game, set in New York City and on a distant planet.

Leonora currently lives in Barcelona and London and has two children. She is working on her third novel. And you can find her online at...




"The Woman Behind the Waterfall" is literary fiction and magical realism

Heartbreak and transformation in the beauty of a Ukrainian village.

For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.

All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother's fateful choices.

Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?

Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.


The Unity Game" is science fiction with philosophy

WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?
A New York banker is descending into madness.

A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.

A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.

From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.

Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a 'complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel' from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Does dark matter matter?

With the world growing darker (politically and in season), fires burning, waters flooding... I ought to look for something light to read, but I end up haunted by dark matter and enjoying the sense that perhaps we can learn, if not directly from the past then possibly from its fictional recreation. So here I am enjoying Alice in Sinland, Killing the Devil, following Stainer through a collegetown summer of drugs, watching Ruined Wings try to fly, Missing Presumed and Accountable to None. Dark matter indeed, but some of it's hauntingly evocative, literarily beautiful, and gripping to read. And some of it's just dark. Here are some book reviews anyway. Enjoy complex four-star coffee with the more complex reads, and dark five-stars for the darkest ones.

Alice in Sinland by Antara Mann is an oddly surprising dark read. An up-and-coming lawyer is asked, "What do you want?" and realizes she always wanted to be a star. Down the rabbit-hole of modern-day stardom she goes, where dog eats dog, creativity is compromised in the cause of getting known, success is illusion, and everything's evocatively real. Except there's a message here too, part parable, part life, and it's really rather a cool, compelling read. Enjoy with some complex four-star coffee and reserve judgment till you see where it's going.

Killing the Devil by Paul Michael Peters winds a short story collection around the fate of a man who decides to, quite literally, kill the devil. Freewill, temptation, right and wrong... all are explored in a collection that cleverly illustrate that philosophical debate on the necessity of evil. Thought-provoking, blending parable and reality... enjoy some four-star coffee while you read and think.

Stainer: a novel of the “Me Decade” by Iolanthe Woulff is brutally real in its depiction of a young man falling for the temptations of drink, drugs and sex. But a thread of light runs through the novel, keeping reader convinced the ending will be worthwhile (which it is). So... dark, but positive. Literary I think. And a haunting, enthralling and complex read. Enjoy with some complex four-star coffee.

Ruined Wings by Ashley Fontainne explores the drug scene too as a runner with a brilliant future falls to the temptation and solace of addiction. Bad things happen to good people, and actions have consequences. But some actions can save, with the aid of faith, and Ruined Wings is a novel where faith, while prominent, doesn't overwhelm the story or the message. A good read to go with some complex four-star coffee.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner might be a mystery or a police procedural, it might be literary (I think it is), but most of all it's a dark look at the divides between rich and poor, powerful and weak, educated and unlearned. Set in Cambridgeshire, blending politics, police procedural and social commentary, it's filled with hauntingly real characters, desperate situations, and a thread of odd hope that lifts it and keeps the reader engaged. Drink some complex four-star coffee and expect a long, slow, rewarding read.

Accountable to none, also by Ashley Fontainne, is a very different read. Slow, short, dark, and angry, it's the first in a collection, but the story's sufficiently complete at the end for it to stand alone. This is one to read with a strong small cup of dark five-star coffee. A truly bumpy ride.

For young adults, there's A Life of Death by Weston Kincade, a dark tale of a young boy abused by his stepfather and learning he has a truly remarkable skill, if only he can live long enough to use it. The story is heavy and dark, but the paranormal aspects draw the reader in--at least, they draw me in; maybe the dark heavy descriptions draw in reluctant readers at school. Enjoy with a dark five-star coffee and share with your reluctant reader guy.

Finally, one more dark tale, The Warrior by Ty Patterson. It's a short, exciting thrill ride about a man with a mission, to avenge deaths in the Congo, to kill those responsible, to live out his rage... so definitely dark, and a strange introduction to a series. It's a fast exciting read, from jungle to marble halls, best enjoyed with a short five-star dark coffee.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What makes it literary?

What makes a novel literary? I know when I was sending those eager submissions to less than eager publishers, I was advised not to call my writing literary - let the publisher decide if they think that's what it is, or so they said.

I decided one publisher, for whom I was reviewing lots of books, was definitely a publisher of literary fiction, only to be told by someone else that they specialized in mysteries. A case of letting the reviewer decide perhaps? Or the reader?

But what would make a mystery literary? Is it just that the story's character-driven, or is it something more--something in the background, the writing style, use of symbols, or perhaps a deeper message between the lines? What makes any story literary?

My own first novel, Divide by Zero, had an experimental style, with lots of characters and lots of points of view. Maybe that just made it hard to read but I wanted to call it literary--I even used symbols in the title! My novel had a message too, about the link between forgiveness and moving on. So would you call it drama or literary? Would you read it?

Infinite Sum is written in a pretty standard first-person style, but its flashbacks are all driven by the protagonist's art. Does that make it literary? The message is forgiveness again--and the hardest person to forgive is always yourself--a topic that's often covered in literary works.

Subtraction came out in August and is a pretty straight-forward third-person story... well, except for interleaved flashbacks as the man who can't forgive himself has to learn to forgive the world. Forgiveness again? One of my friends asked if maybe I've got it out of my system now. But there's a symbol in the title again. Literary? Perhaps.

And then there's Imaginary Numbers, still being critiqued by friends before it goes to the publisher. Technically it's still being (re)written too, and I'm not entirely sure how it gets from A to B. It will go there forwards, mostly. So maybe I'm getting the literary out of my system. But there's still some forgiveness involved, and plenty of mayhem. There again, perhaps there's forgiveness in all relationships.

Anyway, here are some book reviews of novels I kind of think are literary. Put some coffee on and enjoy.

The Running War by E. L. Carter has symbolism--a butterfly trying to escape its cocoon, and a woman running. It has a small cast of great characters. It contrasts cultures convincingly, with haunting images and events. And there's a very cool message--your gift is what you give. Enjoy with some seriously elegant 4-star coffee.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood offers reflections on the present through an almost plausible near-future where the social contract has possibly been betrayed. It's not quite dystopia, and it invites some surprising questions about the prices we pay for something we like to call freedom. A  literary novel--everyone says so--and a darkly fascinating read filled with great characters and dark mystery. Enjoy with some more elegant 4-star coffee.

In the City of Falling Stars by Chris Tusa is a different kind of literary. Starkly told, darkly humorous, and disturbingly plausible, it's set in New Orleans just after Katrina, and it depicts a family as storm-tossed as the city itself. Mental illness stands in for societal ills, inviting readers to wonder just who has lost touch with reality in our modern world. Great dialog. Haunting images. Enjoy with some dark 5-star coffee.

Is The Pool Boy’s Beatitude by D J Swykert literary fiction? It has intriguing symbolism--intriguing for me, since it involves black holes and the speed of light. It's filled with seriously odd characters. It draws the reader in to the unbelievable while making it believable. There's social commentary hidden between the lines... But maybe it's a thinking man's romance... or maybe... It's a very odd, deeply intriguing read anyway, best served with a dark 5-star coffee. Enjoy.

Then there's The Kill Circle by David Freed, a mystery from the publisher of literary fiction. I reckon it's literary mystery--it's definitely character driven; the plots always have more than just solving clues going for them; and the real mystery is always something different from what it seems. The novel stands alone, even though it's the latest in a series. It's got politics, romance, a mostly distant cat and... well, it's a really good read and it makes you feel like you've read something literary. How's that for a definition? Enjoy with some elegant, complex 4-star coffee.

Friday, October 20, 2017

If you write a book and nobody reads it...?

If a tree falls down and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
If you write a book and nobody reads it, are you still an author?

One friend loaned me her copy of The Story of With by Allen Arnold. It's a Christian allegory (an annotated allegory perhaps) which reminds creative weirdos like me that it's the creation that counts--the act of creating "with" others and with God--not the marketing and selling and human success.

Another loaned me To Sell is Human by Daniel H Pink, borrowed from the library. And now we're all salespeople, trying to persuade others to give something up (time, energy, money) for promised gain (information, wisdom, a book). I'm trying to persuade you to give up time and read my blog. Maybe I hope you'll give up money and read my books as well, but Pink's point is I'm still selling something, either way. He offers intriguing arguments in the first half of the book (forget used cars), and lots of practical advice in the second. So I worked on the practical and tried to come up with sales pitches for my novels: http://indigoseapressblog.com/2017/10/13/whats-your-pitch-by-sheila-deeth/ But I'm still not sure...

I write a book and nobody reads it, can I still call myself an author?

Please click on the links for my book reviews, and enjoy some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee if you read either of these books (because my book review posts always come with coffee ratings).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What's in a genre?

The speaker at our local writers' group writes historical fiction, but his characters have traveled in time so it's science fiction, and there's lots of action, maybe even war, so military fiction perhaps, aimed at adults, but some of the characters are teens so adult and young adult, but...

But what's in a genre?

I'm so behind with posting book reviews I'm wondering if I'll ever succeed in collecting them together by genre. Perhaps I should just post and click and post and click again. But let's see how it goes. I'll try for mystery. What's in the mystery genre? And what coffee will you drink with it?

Murder at the Manor by C. T. Mitchell is a pretty short mystery. It's got a murder and the suspects are a very limited group. I think that makes it a cozy mystery. It makes for a fun novella though, and a nice introduction to characters who continue through an Australian detective series. Lady Maggie might be an Australian Miss Marple--I'd have to read more to find out. Enjoy this easy read with some lively 2-star easy-drinking coffee.

Then there's murder & mayhem in goose pimple junction by amy metz, set in a place as alien as Australia to me--the southern US. I don't speak Southern, but the author renders accents and phrases eminently readable, even making the reader believe they've heard those voices in their heads. Plus there's threat to life and limb, maybe some romance, recent history impinging on the present... Perhaps this one's more than one genre too, but cozy mystery is probably top of the list. Enjoy with some more lively 2-star coffee. Cozies are enjoyable easy-reading for vacation (which is why I've spent lots of time reading and very little time posting reviews recently).

Mother’s Day by Frankie Bow combines gritty realism in the misery of university fundraising with cozy mystery and a pregnant protagonist whose mother rules the roost from far away. The protagonist has problems with smells, and the story's full of olfactory pitfalls, providing pleasing humor in a Machiavellian world. It's another short enjoyable read to enjoy with some lively 2-star coffee.

And finally, The Best of Café Stories by Jerry Guarino is a short story collection thar certainly includes some elements of mystery, from twisted police procedural to twisted humor and romance. Heavily dialog driven, weighted down with detail, they're a much slower read than those first two books, and this volume's more aimed at readers who might pick it up and down, in a cafe for example as the title suggests. Enjoy in small doses with intense 5-star coffee served in small cups.