Friday, December 16, 2016

Authors to Watch: Mark Connelly, author of 'Wanna-be's'

Mark Connelly was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey.  He received a BA in English from Carroll College in Wisconsin and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets:  The Fiction of Charles Jackson, and The IRA on Film and Television.  His fiction has appeared in The Ledge, Indiana Review, Cream City Review, Milwaukee Magazine, and Home Planet News.  In 2014 he received an Editor’s Choice Award in The Carve’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest; in 2015 he received Third Place in Red Savina Review’s Albert Camus Prize for Short Fiction. His novella Fifteen Minutes received the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2005. 

Mark’s latest book is the literary fiction/humor/satire, Wanna-be’s.

Connect with Mark on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Book:

With his new girlfriend – a soccer mom with a taste for bondage – urging him to “go condo,” failed screenwriter Winfield Payton needs cash. Accepting a job offer from a college friend, he becomes the
lone white employee of a black S&L. As the firm’s token white, he poses as a Mafioso to intimidate skittish investors and woos a wealthy cougar to keep the firm afloat. Figure-skating between the worlds of white and black, gay and straight, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Yuppie and militant, Payton flies higher and higher until the inevitable crash. . .

Wanna-be’s is available at Amazon.

Tell us a little about yourself.

       I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey but have lived in Milwaukee since high school.  I received a masters in creative writing and a doctorate in English and teach literature at Milwaukee Area Technical College.  I have published over a dozen books, but this novel Wanna-be’s is my first independent book.
When did you begin writing?

            I started writing short stories in high school and began getting items published in college.  I won several short story contests sponsored by literary magazines like Indiana Review, The Ledge, and Milwaukee Magazine.  Although fiction is my first love, I have published mostly non-fiction books about George Orwell, Saul Bellow, and the IRA.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

            I usually start with a premise and write the opening.  Then I might write scenes out of context as they come to me.  I then cut and paste the completed scenes to put them in order and then revise, revise, revise.  I usually get up at 4.30 am to write while I am fresh.  In the evening I might and edit and make plans for the next day’s writing.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

            Wanna-be’s is a satiric novel featuring Winfield Payton, a college instructor and failed screenwriter.  Urged by a married girlfriend to “go condo,” he accepts a job offer from a college friend and becomes the lone white employee of a black savings and loan.  As the firm’s token white, Payton poses as a Mafioso to intimidate skittish investors and woos a wealthy cougar to keep the firm afloat.  Payton bumbles through a series of politically-incorrect misadventures, soaring higher and higher until the inevitable crash.

How did you get the idea for the book?

            I wrote a comic story featuring Winfield Payton called “Insignificant Others” that was published in The Great American Literary Magazine in the fall of 2014.  I added additional adventures, creating a chain of stories.  I realized if I put them in chronological order, the stories would form chapters in a book.  Each chapter has a title and relates a self-contained plot like episodes in a TV show.  The first reviewer spotted that and suggested it belongs on HBO or Showtime.  I’m glad she recognized what I was trying to accomplish

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?

            My lead character Winfield Payton is the ultimate wanna-be – charming, na├»ve, smart, idealistic, honest, deceptive – whatever the moment calls for.  He is self-involved and lacking self-awareness, like most of us.  He dreams and schemes and stumbles and bumbles through one misadventure after another.  He’s a mashup of Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

            Making the characters funny but believable.  Satire requires balance so it does not lapse into absurdity.

Which authors have inspired your writing?

            Saul Bellow and Larry David were the voices in my head while writing Wanna-be’s.

What projects are you currently working on?

             I am currently working on a reference book George Orwell:  A Literary Companion for McFaland and a novel called Newman’s Choice.  Robert Newman was a rising young attorney until he destroyed his life, career, and reputation in a single night.  After celebrating a big win for his firm, he drove drunk and slammed into a car, killing two college girls.  After eight years in prison, he is on parole, living in a halfway house.  Making ten dollars an hour teaching GED classes, he has no car, no cell phone, no computer.  He is resigned to a life of self-denial and self-imposed poverty when another incident, captured on video, goes viral and thrusts him into a new series of choices.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

            Read your sentences aloud.  Listen to the words.  It will help you smooth rough syntax and make your dialogue more believable.

Authors To Watch: Malia Zaidi, author of A DARKER SHORE

Malia Zaidi is the author of A POISONOUS JOURNEY. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, and studied at English at Oxford University. Having grown up in Germany, she currently lives in Washington DC, though through her love of reading, she resides, vicariously in countries throughout the world. A POISONOUS JOURNEY is her first book in the Lady Evelyn mysteries series. The sequel, A DARKER SHORE, is her latest novel.


Title: A Darker Shore
Author: Malia Zaidi
Publisher: Bookbaby
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Mystery

1926: A year has passed since the events of "A Poisonous Journey" and Lady Evelyn has made a home for herself in Greece, living with her cousin, Briony, her husband, Jeffrey and Daniel Harper. Disturbing this island idyll is a letter, which arrives from France with troubling information about the Daniel’s long-believed-dead brother, Henry. A new journey awaits! With the shadows of the Great War reaching out, Lady Evelyn and Daniel voyage to Amiens in Northern France with the aim of discovering the truth behind the ominous letter. Upon their arrival, they are met not with clarity but rather with crime. Murder, to be precise. Is it linked to their presence in France, or even worse, to Henry himself?  Evelyn and Daniel must confront their history as they try to make sense of the present before the killer can strike again, and the secrets of the past are lost forever.



Welcome, Malia! When did you begin writing?

It is difficult to remember exactly when I started writing more seriously. When I was 18, I wrote my first full manuscript. It was a YA story, and I promise you, it will never see the light of day! I began to work on the first Lady Evelyn mystery in 2012. I had wanted to write a more focused, researched novel for a long time, and I made it my New Year’s resolution to write every day until the first draft was completed, and shockingly, I did.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

I do create a plot outline, though elements of that are bound to shift in the process of my writing, or veer entirely into a different direction. Apart from that, I really focus on the characters of the novel, before I start writing. Some are recurring, and feel familiar to me, but I create little bios for almost all my characters. It makes me feel I know them, and how they would behave, which really helps in how I write them. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and I either like them a lot more than I thought I would, or find them less interesting than I initially planned. I love it when that happens, when, to me, these characters feel so real, they influence how I think the story needs to flow, even if it breaks with my initial plans.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

“A Darker Shore” is the second book in the Lady Evelyn Mysteries series. It takes Lady Evelyn on a new adventure from her beloved island of Crete to Northern France, where, to her horror, murder awaits. The book brings back some characters from “A Poisonous Journey”, while the story centers around the way in which certain events of the past and the First World War collide with the present (that being 1926). I hope that fans of “A Poisonous Journey” will enjoy the continuation of Evelyn’s story! 

How did you get the idea for the book?

The shadows of the First World War touch the first book in this series, A Poisonous Journey, and I wanted to bring these historical elements back with greater focus in the sequel. Past intertwining with present is a theme integral to my books, and I hope that comes across. In the first book, readers are introduced to Daniel and part of his story, and I wanted to take that further in A Darker Shore. I also knew I wanted to change the setting, in part, because I love to travel and have injected Lady Evelyn with that same enthusiasm, and in part because the new setting in Northern France played a significant role in the First World War.

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?

Don’t make be choose! But if I had to, it would probably be Evelyn herself. I write the books in the first person, which allows readers and myself insight into her thoughts, fears, joys, and makes me feel I know her so well.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

For me, the most difficult parts come after the first draft is written. The rewriting, editing, then the process of publication are often challenging aspects of creating a book. In the end it is worth it, though, and I just hope that readers will enjoy the books and get a few hours of happiness, entertainment or just distraction from them.

Which authors have inspired your writing?

Oh, the list is too long! Some of my favorite authors who definitely inspired my reading probably also significantly inspired my writing. At the very least their wisdom and talent inspire me to press on and try to improve and learn. They are Jane Austen for her wit, JK Rowling for her creativity, Elly Griffiths for her realistic characters, Charles Finch for his eloquence and Neil Gaiman for his imagination.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently participating in Nanowrimo, working of a contemporary psychological thriller. It is very different from the A Poisonous Journey and A Darker Shore, but sometimes it is fun to challenge yourselves in these ways. Then I plan to continue working on the next book in the Lady Evelyn Mysteries.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

I will echo the advice I have taken myself, and which I truly believe is essential: read, read read and write every day.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Blast! Paradise Series by Deborah Brown

We're happy to host Deborah Brown's PARADISE SERIES Book Blast today! Please leave a comment to let her know you stopped by!

Title: Paradise Series
Author: Deborah Brown
Publisher: Paradise Books
Pages: 626 (total in series)
Genre: Mystery/Humor

Crazy in Paradise: Dying in the middle of the summer in the Florida Keys is sweaty business. Welcome to Tarpon Cove. Madison Westin has inherited her aunt's beachfront motel in the Florida Keys. Trouble is she’s also inherited a slew of colorful tenant's - drunks, ex-cons, and fugitives. Only one problem: First, she has to wrestle control from a conniving lawyer and shady motel manager. With the help of her new best friend, whose motto is never leave home without your Glock, they dive into a world of blackmail, murder, and drugs.

Deception in Paradise: Madison Westin is back!! The Florida Keys are hotter than ever.
With Madison's never-say-no style she's smarter and packing an attitude not to mention her Glock. This time, trouble rolls into Tarpon Cove in the form of Madison's ex-husband, Jackson Devereaux, whom she hoped to never see again. His arrival brings unparalleled chaos and an uninvited corpse. Teaming up with her hot friend, Fabiana, the two women go from chasing the usual cast of misfits and weirdos to hunting down a murderer. The action turns deadly serious when they stir up a nasty enemy as they try to stay one-step ahead in a game of cat and mouse that threatens their lives.

Trouble in Paradise: What is big news in small town Tarpon Cove? An accidental drowning or perhaps a ruthless murder? When a dead fisherman rolls up on shore, Madison cannot resist jumping into her new role as Private Investigator. But she soon discovers the people in The Cove who normally gossip about everybody's business are unusually tight-lipped. The bad tenant radar still not working, the cottages continue to be full of riffraff. Madison gets arrested, shot at, and outsmarted. She teams up with her best friend – the Glock carrying Fabiana. Together they take on cases no other investigators would ever touch!



Book Excerpt:
There should be a law in South Florida that a person can’t die during the summer. The death of a loved one was hard enough without the added humiliation of sweat. I felt it rolling down my back, like a stream trapped by the belt of my dress with nowhere to go.
My name is Madison Elizabeth Westin, and I’m seated at the funeral of my favorite aunt, people watching, of all things. Most of the mourners looked ready for a pool party, some of them in shorts and bathing suit cover-ups. I was the only one dressed in black; even my brother wore khaki shorts.
The minister began, “We are gathered here today to give thanks for the life of Elizabeth Ruth Hart, who shared herself with us. It is in her memory we come together and, for all she meant to us, we are thankful.”
My mother had named me after her older sister. Elizabeth was like a second mother to my brother Brad and me. We spent summers with her in Florida, running and playing on the beach, building sandcastles, and she was a regular visitor to our home in South Carolina.
After five years of not seeing her, I had packed for a several-month stay and planned to spend the summer with her. That’s when I got a phone call from her lawyer telling me she had died. I still found it difficult to believe it had happened so suddenly.When I walked into the funeral home earlier, the heat had smothered me; this main room was suffocating. The air conditioning wasn’t working and it felt as though it was more than one hundred degrees. The director, Dickie Vanderbilt, had apologized for that, telling me that the central unit had gone out earlier in the day. He informed me he had all of the ceiling fans on high, which, in my opinion, were only circulating hot air.
Dickie Vanderbilt gave me the creeps. He had a slight build, pasty white skin, and long skinny fingers. When he reached out to touch my arm, I tried hard not to squirm.
I’m not a big fan of shaking hands. I find people only want to shake your hand when they can see you’re not interested. A friend suggested I perfect the dog paw shake for those who insist. I extend my hand like a paw and let it hang loose. Often times, they jerk their hand away and give me an odd stare, which makes me want to laugh every time.
The minister rambled on. I found him to be uninteresting, his speech dry. He talked about Elizabeth as though she were a stranger to him and everyone here. Apparently, Elizabeth’s jerk attorney, Tucker Davis, hadn’t given the minister any information about her. I didn’t understand why my aunt left all of the details of her funeral to Tucker. Why would she exclude the people who loved her and knew her best from having input? I wished I had one more day to walk along the beach to laugh, talk, and collect shells with her.
On Sunday, Tucker called to inform me that Elizabeth had died in her sleep from a heart attack. “The funeral is Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. at Tropical Slumber Funeral Home on Highway 1 in Tarpon Cove,” he told me.
“I want to help plan the funeral.”
“All of the arrangements have been made.” He sounded impatient, emphasizing his words. “If you want to, you can call anyone else you think should be informed.”
“My aunt would’ve wanted her family to be involved in the decision-making for her funeral. After all, my mother, brother, and I are the only family she had.”
“Elizabeth appointed me executor. She left me written instructions for everything she wanted done after her death, including her funeral.”
I didn’t believe him. Elizabeth loved us. She never would’ve excluded her family in this way, knowing how important it would be to us.
“I oversaw all of the arrangements myself. I’m sure you’ll be satisfied. If you have any other questions you can call my assistant, Ann.” He hung up the phone.
My aunt never once mentioned Tucker Davis to me or anyone else in the family. Here he was, a stranger, handling her estate.
The next day, I called the lawyer back to tell him that Elizabeth’s sister Madeline, her nephew Brad, and I, would attend. He refused to take my phone call, and I was frustrated.
“This is Madison Westin. May I speak with Tucker Davis?”
“I’m Ann, Mr. Davis’s assistant. He’s not accepting calls at this time. Can I help you with something?”
“I wanted to ask again if there was anything I could do in preparation for Elizabeth Hart’s funeral? Surely, you can understand how her family would want to be involved in any final decisions.”
“Mrs. Hart wanted Mr. Davis to make those arrangements, and he has. She didn’t indicate that she wanted anyone else involved in the planning. I can assure you he’s seen to all of the details. He worked directly with Mr. Vanderbilt at the funeral home.”
“I’ll be arriving later today. Would you tell Mr. Davis I’m available to help with anything that needs to be done? He can reach me at Elizabeth’s house.”
“Does Mr. Davis know you plan to stay in Mrs. Hart’s house?”
“I don’t need Mr. Davis’ permission. I’ve never stayed anywhere but the Cove Road house, and this trip won’t be any different. If Mr. Davis has a problem with my staying there, he can call me,” I said.
“Any more messages?” Ann sniffed and, without waiting for a response, hung up on me.

About the Author

Redhead. Long legs. There's nothing like a strawberry-lemonade in summer. Favorite activity: Filling my pockets with seashells. An avid rule follower when eating Animal Cookies: Broken ones get eaten first, match up the rest, duplicates next, line them up favorite to not, least favorite go first. South Florida is my home, with my ungrateful rescue cats, and where Mother Nature takes out her bad attitude in the form of hurricanes.


Monday, December 12, 2016

An Interview with Jane Jordan, Author of 'The Beekeeper's Daughter'

Jane was born in England, and grew up exploring the history and culture of London and surrounding counties.  After some time spent in Germany in the 1990’s she immigrated to Detroit, USA, eventually settling in South West Florida. She returned to England after a fifteen-year absence, to spend six years in the South West of England living on Exmoor.  Here, inspired by the atmosphere, beautiful scenery and the ancient history of the place, she began writing.
Jane is a trained horticulturist, and also spent time working and volunteering for Britain's National Trust at Exmoor's 1000-year-old Dunster Castle.  Gaining more insight into the history and mysteries surrounding these ancient places, and having always been intrigued by the supernatural, inspiration came for her fourth novel, The Beekeeper's Daughter, a supernatural thriller. 
Jane Returned to Florida in 2013, and lives in Sarasota.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about The Beekeeper’s Daughter, and what compelled you to write it.
Your Name:  Jane Jordan - The Beekeeper’s Daughter is my fourth novel.  My other books are primarily set in modern day, so I liked the idea of writing in a different time period, especially the Victorian era. A time when vast estates where owned and run by aristocrats and society’s elite, and when there was such emphasis on class hierarchy.
I liked the idea of a romance between the higher and lower class. Knowing that in Victorian times any such affair would have been taboo.  Although, Exmoor was so far from the big cities of Bath and London, consequently, far away from the rules of polite society.  This gave me some creative license to play around with.  Even so, the story had to ring true and I needed to address the issues that any such liaison would have presented.
As the story developed I knew exactly how it could work, and why Alex would be drawn to Annabel in the first place.  Her beauty was not enough.  There had to be another, a more powerful connection, and this becomes startlingly clear as the story concludes.
M.C.: What is your book About?
J.J.:  The Beekeeper’s Daughter is a historical romance set in the Victorian period. The location is on Exmoor, in the South West of England.  The story explores the relationship between Annabel, ‘The Beekeeper’s Daughter’, and Jevan, the blacksmith’s son.  Their relationship is sensual and dangerous, and Annabel’s ability to charm bees is the dark undercurrent in the story.  
When Jevan shatters her world by leaving Exmoor, Annabel forms a friendship with Alex, a wealthy landowner and heir to the foreboding Gothelstone mansion. But all is not as it seems.  Evil intentions ensnare her into a dark legacy, which will ultimately threaten the lives of those she loves most.
A devastating love triangle, an ultimate betrayal and a diabolical intention lead Annabel to uncover a disturbing truth. Then, she is forced to embrace her inherent power and destroy a powerful witch.
M.C.:  What themes do you explore in The Beekeeper’s Daughter?
J.J.:  I explore the lore regarding bee charming, life on Exmoor in the Victorian era, especially the lives of the cottagers, blacksmiths and wealthy landowners. 
The city of Bath features as well as a Victorian asylum.
The most fascinating aspect for me was the witchcraft element, setting the perfect scene for a witch burning when the book begins, and later, writing the transcript of an actual witch trial, from the 15th century, which is uncovered towards the end of the book. 
M.C.:  Why do you write?
J.J.: I love to write. It’s a form of escapism from the real world and from the stress of life. It transports me to another place and into the minds of the characters I write about.  Writing keeps me sane when real life is difficult or too stressful.
M.C.:  When do you feel the most creative?
J.J.:  When I am alone and it is quiet, sometimes in the middle of the night is when I feel most creative.
M.C.:  How picky are you with language?
J.J.:  I like wording to be accurate for the time period.  The witch trial transcript is in old English. This was important as it gives an authentic feel to this chapter and ultimately the book. Using old fashioned spellings and grammar, helps create the mood of the scene.
M.C.:  When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
J.J.:  No.  The stories and ideas come from me. I draw on experiences, old stories that have been handed down, or old legends and folklore indicative to the places I write about.
M.C.:  What is your worst time as a writer?
J.J.:  When I am roughly half way through a book, by that time I have the beginning and the end, and know what the story entails, but because my books tend to be complex in detail, I have to make certain they completely make sense. Bringing every aspect together is my biggest challenge.  I do not like to leave any question unanswered.  
M.C.:  Your best?
J.J.:  The moment the book is finished is an amazing feeling of achievement, and knowing that all the hours of writing researching and editing have been completely worthwhile. 
M.C.:  Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
J.J.:  No.  As long as I had a piece of paper and a pen, I would write.  In fact, sometimes when I feel I have sat in front of a computer too long, I grab a notebook and write long hand.  It allows a different level of creativity to emerge.  With a computer everything happens fast, whereas longhand allows your thought process to slow down.  Some of the best story lines I have written started off in a notebook. 
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
J.J.:  My first three books were self-published so the best day for me as an author was finally getting a traditional publishing contract for The Beekeeper’s Daughter.
M.C.:  Is writing an obsession to you?
J.J.:  It can’t be an obsession because I have too many other responsibilities at the moment.  But I would say that I need to write. 
M.C.:  Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
J.J.: I draw on personal experiences and my character’s traits are often based on aspects of my personality, or from people I have known. 
M.C.:  Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
J.J.  Yes.  Every aspect of life can bring a story out of an author.  I have written many short stories just based on a significant moment in time, or a brief encounter with a stranger.  Stories are everywhere. Even in the most mundane circumstances you can create an interesting point of view, which can often develop into a whole plot.
M.C.:  Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
J.J.:  My website: