Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Interview: Joseph Garraty, author of VOICE

Joseph Garraty is an author of dark fantasy, horror, and science fiction. He has worked as a construction worker, rocket test engineer, environmental consultant, technical writer, and deadbeat musician. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

His latest book is the horror novel, Voice.

You can visit his website at www.josephgarraty.com.

Connect with Joseph at Twitter at www.twitter.com/JosephGarraty.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Joseph. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Voice?

Thanks for inviting me!

I’ve been writing in some form or other most of my life, ranging from short stories to song lyrics, but I only really started to tackle the novel form about six years ago. At the time, I didn’t really intend to write a novel, but the story I had in mind simply wouldn’t fit well in anything smaller, and before I knew it I had 70,000 words, and I was hooked on the form. So much potential for telling good stories!

I started writing science fiction novels, but I wasn’t happy with how those came out, probably because I tried to jam every idea under the sun into each one, when really I wanted to be focusing on characters. Meanwhile, I’d been mulling over writing a book about a rock band, since I’ve played guitar in various rock bands for years and I’ve developed a fascination with the extreme personalities you find in serious musicians. The idea for the story came together just as I finished up the previous novel I’d been writing, and I jumped right on it.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

I believe the best titles have a couple of meanings. In the case of Voice, there’s the obvious one—Johnny’s voice, and the strange changes it undergoes—but there are others. It also refers to the idea of creative voice as well as the concept of voice as will or impetus. Having a voice in something means having some control over it, and that’s an important theme in the book.

For once, this was a title I didn’t have to struggle with—it was right there when I reached out for it.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

Mark Twain once said something like, “I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.” I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but I do know that when I write a book, it’s because it’s kind of books I’d want to read and I haven’t found one that quite scratches a particular itch. Voice satisfied me in that department, and I think it might do the same for others.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

I went with a very small indie press, so I do most of the publicity. The publisher foots the bill for some paid advertising, but I do the legwork for contacting reviewers and guest bloggers and that kind of thing. Overall, that’s been a really great experience, and I’ve met some fantastic people!

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I think in the “rock band horror” category, a similar book might be George R. R. Martin’s book, The Armageddon Rag. Both tell the stories of rock bands caught up in something way larger than themselves, but Martin’s book is focused on the mindset of the sixties and how that was reflected in popular culture. Voice is more focused on the idea of sacrifice and what it takes for an artist to succeed at his or her art. How much sacrifice is worth it?

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

Case, Johnny, and the band are having a confrontation with their manager, who is extremely upset about how unnerving things have gotten around the band. Johnny’s making excuses, but Case gets it—things have gotten weird, and she’s not terribly comfortable herself.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

I have several books in the works, but none that is specifically a follow-up to Voice. It stands very well on its own, and it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself well to a sequel in the usual sense.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Joseph. Do you have any final words?

Thanks for the interview!

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Blackness - Author Interview with U.L. Harper

U.L. Harper is an after-school program Site Director in Long Beach, California. Over one hundred students attend his program. He previously worked as a corporate manager, and a journalist for a now defunct news agency in Los Alamitos, California. Newspapers are part of his writing background but he also dabbled in poetry. His poetry is published in The Body Politic chapbooks. He is the author of In Blackness, The Flesh Statue and the short story book Guidelines for Rejects. You can visit U.L. at http://ulharper.com/  and http://ulharper.com/blog/

Welcome to The Writer's Life, U.L.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I was Born and raised in the southern part of California: Long Beach, San Pedro, Los Angeles, places like that so I’m used to a bit of grime. I’ve been writing since forever. Writing didn’t always run my life like it does now, but I’ve been doing it actively since I was a pre-teen. I started writing and skateboarding at about the same time. Over twenty years later and I still do both.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: I wrote In Blackness because I had to. We’re talking about a story that had developed for years. On one had it’s about Dustin, Lenny, and Saline, young adults trying to find their place in the world. On the other hand, it’s about Lenny and Saline traveling back to their childhood home for reasons they’re not one hundred percent sure about, a mysterious calling in a way. They were told they moved to San Pedro from Washington State for monetary reasons, and their situation, living with a family friend, sure points to that. But on their journey, well, other issues pop up. The world doesn’t just suddenly change around them; it changes, in part, because of them. Come to find out it’s very close to a conspiracy. Dustin stays behind and is the first of the three main characters to see the alien ships.

What kind of research was involved in writing In Blackness?

A: I threw out a lot of research. There was supposed to be a disease that starts to wipe out civilization. I researched the perfect disease for years. After I finally settled on a mutated airborne version of Mad Cow Disease, I kind of thought that scenario was a bit clichĂ©, so I scrapped it. The research I kept was about Nephilim in the bible. I did a lot of bible reading to get inside Saline’s head, because she’s a Born Again Christian. I also did interviews with one particular Christian friend of mine. However, I did not go to church. It seems that Christians don’t go there nearly as much as one might think. Back to Nephilim. Their description was perfect for the aliens. It just kind of worked out that way. Originally, I said to myself, what if there was a fifteen foot tall cannibal that ate people? Then I find these fifteen foot tall people for Saline’s story arc in The Bible, and I’m like, I’m in. And oh yeah. I did plenty of research on aliens. The good stuff.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

A: My opinion is that the publishing industry is broken. Bumpy isn’t the word I would use. Torcher is more like it and here’s why. Because you do everything willingly, happily, but everything you do is not going to lead to real progress; you always make small gains but nothing that puts you over the top, as far as popularity. You learn that even if you succeed, most of the time it’s fleeting success, something temporary. All of that is fine, but you want to be read and read a lot. A writer’s mind frame works like this: There are billions of people on the planet. A few hundred have read my book. And then you hang your head, wipe a tear from your eye and get to tweeting some more. Is it tough? I know authors who’ve sold thousands of books and think it’s torcher. I mean, thousands have read it, but millions didn’t even look. So try harder.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

A: About seven years. There’s no contract. Just a long road flooded with blood sweat and tears leading to publication.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is?  If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: I do not have an agent and have never had an agent. And, yes, I think an agent would be great. But an agent is not necessary. Necessary meaning an author can’t succeed without one. Realistically, I’m quite certain you can have an agent and never sell your manuscript. Then again you can strike fire and blow up world-wide by using your skills at luck. The other reason you might not need an agent is because it is quite clear that getting published does not always rely on the skills of the author or strength of the story. Sometimes it’s just plain old, “Wow, how did this happen at the right place and time. I’ll have to write this down.” Can an agent get you there? Sure. Will they get you there? Not for most authors. Can it work without an agent? Yes. Is it hard? No matter what.

Do you plan subsequent books?

A: There will be two more installments to In Blackness, each of them released first as an ebook and then in print later.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

A: Right here at my screen in my office. I’ll lay it out for you. There is a dim yellow light glowing from the lamp on the left of me, keeping me calm and collected no matter the alcohol intake. In front of me is a 32 inch television monitor that I use for my desk top computer screen. Flanking the screen are 5.1 stereo surround speakers. I want you to picture the laser printer to the left, the one with the static blue light. In back of me is a futon with my favorite comforter covering a place I nap, at two in the morning, three in the morning, four in the morning, when the sun rises, then I write some more. Deep down I fear the ceiling fan above me, as it squeaks and clatters and pushes air around the room, will fall on my head and end my writing career before it starts. My dog licks my arm as I type.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A: Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

A: Self-promotion is basically all you got, depending on how you look at it. Everything you do comes from you first. That’s how I see things. I see the book cover as self-promotion. I see the content as self-promotion. You have to be close to both of those to even get started. These are two things you have to know how to talk about. People debate me about the cover but they’re still wrong no matter how much they stutter over their own words. Offline you have to be a complete go getter, passing off good vibes about yourself whenever the subject of your book arises. Added to that, well, by the time this is read I should have done my book release that was streamed live via the internet. Also whenever I have a reading I invite other artists, so my signings are art shows and small music events, something that looks fun on a flyer. I also believe in stopping by open mics and reading my poetry there and setting up shop with some books. There are open mics everywhere. Online it’s all the usual: virtual book tours, twitter, tumblr, a little facebook, author interviews on my blog and exposure with book reviews also at my blog, and again at my blog I have my own opinion area. I post this content in as many places online as possible. To stay relevant, I put together my own twitterzine. From this I tweet out interesting news articles about the industry or about books or just some fascinating subjects, whatever it may be. You can’t just talk about yourself all day. Eventually people don’t listen, not that they’re listening anyway. Smashwords.com. Goodreads.com. I can go on and on.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

A: I never almost gave up. New writers give up because they don’t have thick skin and don’t think they can achieve fame and fortune. They see that they can’t be successful on a global scale. Those who stick around know it’s not about that. The industry doesn’t need those losers anyway.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

A: Yeah. You’re not amazing, no matter how many great reviews you get; you must always be hungry, never feel entitled. You’re not the great American writer and never will be. That person will never exist. It’s a myth fabricated by a media run by Stephen King and James Patterson. You must always earn your keep. It’s never on autopilot, and your confidence has nothing to do with your story, unless your confidence is nothing but your story.

Thank you for your interview, U.L.  I wish you much success!

A: I wish you only continued success.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Excerpt: The Human Spirit by Carole Eglash-Kosoff

THE HUMAN SPIRIT, by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, Author House, 240 pp., $14.95.

Apartheid in South Africa has now been gone more than fifteen years but the heroes of their struggle to achieve a Black majority-run democracy are still being revealed. Some individuals toiled publicly, but most worked tirelessly in the shadows to improve the welfare of the Black and Coloured populations that had been so neglected. Nelson Mandela was still in prison; clean water and sanitation barely existed; AIDS was beginning to orphan an entire generation.

Meanwhile a white, Jewish, middle class woman, joined with Tutu, Millie, Ivy, Zora and other concerned Black women, respectfully called Mamas, to help those most in need, often being beaten and arrested by white security police.

This book tells the story of these women and others who have spent their adult lives making South Africa a better place for those who were the country’s most disadvantaged.

Book Excerpt:
Thoughts of a mother living in a Black township during apartheid:

When we awaken each morning with nothing, the smallest most insignificant something can bring a smile. A larger plastic jug in which to carry clean water and make fewer trips to the distant fresh water tap, a little sun to dry the damp floor beneath us, even a warm body to snuggle with at night can help get us through another day. Food is expensive; jobs are scarce and pay provides us barely enough to survive. We are less than nothing to the Whites we meet. Drugs, alcohol, and sex, readily available, provide brief escapes from hopelessness. There has to be something better.


A Changing World

The human spirit is that essence of mind and body that allows each of us to exert all of our energies to overcome the worst difficulties of life that we might encounter. One such travail faced by a wide swath of mankind is the denigration of one group of people by another. It is one of the uglier parts of the human personality that has evolved. Children bully those who are smaller or shyer than others. Adults openly abuse those of a different color, a different ethnicity, or those who have a different belief system.

The founders of our country proclaimed that ‘all men are created equal,’ but it was only partially true. In truth, it only pertained to white Christian males. Slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person and Jews and Asians were excluded as less than desirable.

America fought a bloody Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century to end the practice of men being allowed to own other men as property. But it would take another entire century for our nation to acknowledge the disparity of opportunity between Black and White. A forty-two year old Negro woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a White man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Five years later four Black college students tried to get served at a Woolworth’s lunch counter reserved for Whites in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were refused.

They and others had begun to oppose a system that was morally corrupt. They believed they had an inherent right to be treated fairly…no better, and no worse. Flames spread across the country as many Whites joined Blacks in a peaceful Civil Rights movement that changed the landscape of our country.

Other countries around the globe faced similar injustices and struggled to overthrow their own national yoke of oppression. On the continent of Africa colonies that had been controlled by European countries for hundreds of years sought their independence, occasionally in peaceful transition, more often through bloodshed. Ethiopia fought to free itself from Italy. Angola and Mozambique fought off their Portuguese masters. British-controlled Rhodesia was unwillingly divided into Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Congo gained independence from Belgium, and there were others.

At the southern tip of that continent, however, a prosperous, White dominated government, and an integral member of the British Commonwealth, stood resolute. The Union of South Africa, the continent’s largest and most developed country, would not be intimidated. Wealthy and exploited by White settlers for nearly two centuries, its four million Afrikaans and British descendents would not sanction any form of equality with the fourteen million Xhosa, Zulu, Bantu and Coloureds whose ancestors often dated back millennia. Whites controlled 98% of the nation’s wealth and they were not eager to share it.

In 1948 a newly elected government, controlled by a coalition of ultra right wing parties established a formal policy of ‘apartheid,’ a separation of the races…a complete political and economic subjugation of the country’s majority. During the forty-five years that followed, the White entrenched minority would become more strident…more violent. And the non-white majority would suffer!

Slowly a few individuals began to rise from the ooze of their existence and object to their treatment. They convinced others and a movement began.

But the Union of South Africa did not magically shake off the yoke of oppression imposed by the policies of apartheid. The government did not gracefully cede its White domination over the country’s Black majority because of Nelson Mandela. Nor were its newfound freedoms the singular result of the efforts of Bishop Desmond Tutu or the sudden magnanimity of the country’s elected President, F.W. De Klerk. These were among the many leaders whose wise judgment and desire to have a bloodless transition we all remember.

What allowed the Union of South Africa to become the independent, majority led and democratic Republic of South Africa were the cumulative energies and pressures of its people, those who were imprisoned, those who were killed, and those in the townships and informal settlements who worked without fanfare to improve their lives and the well-being of their children.

These men and women saw the squalor around them …children wandering the dirt streets while their parents looked for food…seniors without heat or a hot meal, the blind, crippled and sick, dying of neglect. And a new scourge, HIV, inflicting large numbers of the population with AIDS, leaving hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by parents dead from the disease.

Old and young, Black and Coloured, economically disadvantaged….these were the most vulnerable!

Caring individuals struggled to organize their communities but their resources were negligible. Government and businesses ignored them but these few weren’t entirely alone. Despite severe prohibitions, a few White liberals connected with these caring persons to bring small measures of justice, fairness, and opportunity to better the lives of those who had so little. Together Black, White, and Coloured men and women worked to set up the basic services that have evolved today as recognized social support networks.

All that can be said at the end of an individual’s life is that he, or she, made a difference and that their family, their community, and those they touched, were better for them having lived and given of themselves.

This, then, is a story of important people; individuals who helped bring equality to the land. People who made a difference …men and women you probably have never heard of.

-- Excerpted from THE HUMAN SPIRIT

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview with Phyllis Schieber, author of 'The Manicurist'

The first great irony of Phyllis Schieber’s life was that she was born in a Catholic hospital. Her parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. In the mid-fifties, her family moved to Washington Heights, an enclave for German Jews on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, known as “Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.”

She graduated from high school at sixteen, earned a B.A. in English from Herbert H. Lehman College, an M.A. in Literature from New York University, and later an M.S. as a Developmental Specialist from Yeshiva University.

She lives in Westchester County where she spends her days creating new stories and teaching writing. She is married and the mother of a grown son, an aspiring opera singer.

The Manicurist was a finalist in the 2011 Inaugural Indie Publishing Contest sponsored by the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.

Phyllis Schieber is the author of three other novels, The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, Willing Spirits, and Strictly Personal.

You can visit her website at www.phyllisschieberauthor.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Phyllis. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, THE MANICURIST?

I’ve been writing all my life, but I began to write with genuine intent when I was twenty-six.

THE MANICURIST is my fourth published novel. I began to work on it over ten years ago, but I couldn’t seem to bring it to the place I wanted it to be. At the advice of my agent, I left it and wrote another novel, THE SINNER’S GUIDE TO CONFESSION. After I finished that novel and sold it, I returned to my work on THE MANICURIST with greater focus.

Q: I love your title. Can you tell us why you chose it?

I must confess that the title is my agent’s invention, and it’s perfect.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

This is a very different story with lots of twists and turns. I think it is well written and compelling. And I worked very hard to bring it to this place. Actually, I think all my work should be published. What writer doesn’t?

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Bell Bridge has just initiated an Internet campaign to promote THE MANICURIST. Bell Bride actually has several things planned. They are doing more to promote this book than any of my previous publishers have done.

In addition, I am on a “virtual tour” with the novel. I post everything on Facebook and Tweet. I am speaking at several book clubs, and I go from independent bookstore to independent bookstore hawking my wares, so to speak.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I don’t know of any book offhand that I could use as a basis for comparison. However, I think THE MANICURIST is “special” in that it is written with great care. The story is original and compelling, and the characters are distinct. One of the goals of THE MANICURIST is to suggest a sort of fatalism. And I mean that in a positive way. Some aspects of life are simply beyond our control, and we need to embrace that rather than resist it.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

Tessa recalls an encounter with a homeless woman. The woman’s outfit reminds Tessa of her mother Ursula’s flair for elegance even when she was at her very worst. The homeless woman presses a piece of folded paper with the following words written on it: Esperanza carida. Angel. Angel. Angel. Tessa understands enough Spanish to know the words mean “Anticipate hope.” It makes her wonder how one can do that, and it evokes how Ursula had called her, “My little Angel.” The memory brings to mind how Tessa is grappling with the possibility that Ursula could be near. Nevertheless, the hope this revives makes Tessa want to flee rather than run towards it (78).

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, of course. I’m currently working on a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Phyllis. Do you have any final words?

I just read a wonderful quote by John Lennon: “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

I’d add, thank goodness for that!

Guest Interview: T.M. Wallace, author of UNDER A FAIRY MOON

T. M. Wallace lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and four children. At eight years old, she won a short story contest and was published in a local newspaper. She wrote her first book at ten years old called “The Adventures of Pinkstar,” about a stuffed rabbit who magically comes to life. T. M. Wallace received her Master’s degree in English Literature from Carleton University and a degree in Education from the University of Ottawa. In 2010 her latest book, Under A Fairy Moon, was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel awards. Under A Fairy Moon will be published by Brownridge Publishing in June, 2011.

You can visit her website at www.tmwallace.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Theresa. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Under A Fairy Moon?

I have been writing since I was about six years old. At eight years old I wrote my first book about a pink stuffed bunny who came to life. I even sent it into a publisher, who wrote me a very kind letter back encouraging me to keep writing. Well, I did keep writing! My latest novel, Under a Fairy Moon is a book inspired by my childhood love of forests and gardens. It is about a girl, Addy, who is compelled to explore her neighbor's beautiful garden … only to find it is an enchanted garden, from which she can only escape by winning a game of Fairy Chess against magical creatures.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

I wrote another book as a child, called Under an Orange Moon. I always liked that title. It seemed fitting to borrow part of it for this book - since Addy reminds me of myself as a child, exploring imaginary fairylands in the countryside.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

I wanted to remind people (and perhaps myself) that there is still beauty and goodness in the world. Especially in the hearts of young people.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Brownridge Publishing has sent out library mailings to advertise the book, both to schools and public libraries. I have signed up for this book tour, and have started to do school visits which I am enjoying immensely.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

The book has been compared to C. S. Lewis's Narnia series to my great delight. The Narnia books were great favorites of mine when I was growing up. It is different, I think, because it draws on elements of traditional fairy tales and has a darker, more Alice-in-Wonderland kind of feel to it.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

Addy and Connor are being whisked away to the Fairy Queen's palace which is unlike anything they've ever seen before. The mischievous pixie, Enitua, is their very untrustworthy guide and they don't know what to expect. Is she leading them into a trap? Is the Fairy Queen someone they can trust, someone who can help them win the game of Fairy Chess and return home? Only time will tell ...

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, I have two finished manuscripts already which are in the editing stages. Also, I have been toying with the idea of writing a prequel to Under A Fairy Moon, which would tell about the history of the enchanted garden and how Addy's eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Tavish, came to own it.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Theresa. Do you have any final words?

I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pump Up Your Book Announces Mary Carter's 'The Pub Across the Pond Virtual Book Publicity Tour'

The Pub Across the Pond

Join Mary Carter, author of the women's fiction novel, The Pub Across the Pond (Kensington), as she virtually tours the blogosphere September 20 - November 11, 2011, on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

About Mary Carter

Mary Carter 4

MARY CARTER is a freelance writer and novelist. The Pub Across the Pond is her fifth novel with Kensington. Her other works include: My Sister’s Voice, Sunnyside Blues, She’ll Take It, and Accidentally Engaged. In addition to her novels she has written two novellas: A Very Maui Christmas in the best selling anthology Holiday Magic, and The Honeymoon House in the best selling anthology Almost Home. She is currently working on a new novel for Kensington.

Readers are welcome to visit her at www.marycarterbooks.com.

Visit her at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Carter-Books/248226365259.

About The Pub Across the Pond

The Pub Across the Pond
"Sometimes leaving home is the only way to find where you belong…."

Carlene Rivers is many things. Dutiful, reliable, kind. Lucky? Not so much. At thirty, she's living a stifling existence in Cleveland, Ohio. Then one day, Carlene buys a raffle ticket. The prize: a pub on the west coast of Ireland. Carlene is stunned when she wins. Everyone else is stunned when she actually goes.

As soon as she arrives in Ballybeog, Carlene is smitten, not just by the town's beguiling mix of ancient and modern but by the welcome she receives. In this small town near Galway Bay, strife is no stranger, strangers are family, and no one is ever too busy for a cup of tea or a pint. And though her new job presents challenges--from a meddling neighbor to the pub's colorful regulars--there are compensations galore. Like the freedom to sing, joke, and tell stories and, in doing so, find her own voice. And in her flirtation with Ronan McBride, the pub's charming, reckless former owner, she just may find the freedom to follow where impulse leads and trust her heart--and her luck--for the very first time.

Visit her official tour page here! If you would like to ask Mary a question, be sure to stop by Pump Up Your Book's September Authors on Tour Chat/Book Giveaway starting at 8 p.m. eastern on Friday, September 30. She would love to meet you!

Pump Up Your Book is an innovative public relations agency specializing in online book publicity for authors looking for maximum online promotion to sell their books. Visit our website at www.pumpupyourbook.com to find out how we can take your book to the virtual level! Don't forget to check out our December special!


Dorothy Thompson, CEO/Founder Pump Up Your Book

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Spotlight: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market inspires her to question what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Read an Excerpt!

For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and would never be again.

But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out.

It was my eighteenth birthday.

In the living room, a row of fidgeting girls sat on the sagging couch. Their eyes scanned my body and settled on my bare, unburned feet. One girl looked relieved; another disappointed. If I’d been staying another week, I would have remembered each expression. I would have retaliated with rusty nails in the soles of shoes or small pebbles in bowls of chili. Once, I’d held the end of a glowing metal clothes hanger to a sleeping roommate’s shoulder, for an offense less severe than arson.

But in an hour, I’d be gone. The girls knew this, every one.

From the center of the couch, a girl stood up. She looked young—?fifteen, sixteen at most—and was pretty in a way I didn’t see much of: good posture, clear skin, new clothes. I didn’t immediately recognize her, but when she crossed the room there was something familiar about the way she walked, arms bent and aggressive. Though she’d just moved in, she was not a stranger; it struck me that I’d lived with her before, in the years after Elizabeth, when I was at my most angry and violent.

Inches from my body, she stopped, her chin jutting into the space between us.

“The fire,” she said evenly, “was from all of us. Happy birthday.”

Behind her, the row of girls on the couch squirmed. A hood was pulled up, a blanket wrapped tighter. Morning light flickered across a line of lowered eyes, and the girls looked suddenly young, trapped. The only ways out of a group home like this one were to run away, age out, or be institutionalized. Level 14 kids weren’t adopted; they rarely, if ever, went home. These girls knew their prospects. In their eyes was nothing but fear: of me, of their housemates, of the life they had earned or been given. I felt an unexpected rush of pity. I was leaving; they had no choice but to stay.
I tried to push my way toward the door, but the girl stepped to the side, blocking my path.
“Move,” I said.
A young woman working the night shift poked her head out of the kitchen. She was probably not yet twenty, and more terrified of me than any of the girls in the room.

“Please,” she said, her voice begging. “This is her last morning. Just let her go.”

I waited, ready, as the girl before me pulled her stomach in, fists clenched tight. But after a moment, she shook her head and turned away. I walked around her.

I had an hour before Meredith would come for me. Opening the front door, I stepped outside. It was a foggy San Francisco morning, the concrete porch cool on my bare feet. I paused, thinking. I’d planned to gather a response for the girls, something biting and hateful, but I felt strangely forgiving. Maybe it was because I was eighteen, because, all at once, it was over for me, that I was able to feel tenderness toward their crime. Before I left, I wanted to say something to combat the fear in their eyes.

Walking down Fell, I turned onto Market. My steps slowed as I reached a busy intersection, unsure of where to go. Any other day I would have plucked annuals from Duboce Park, scoured the overgrown lot at Page and Buchanan, or stolen herbs from the neighborhood market. For most of a decade I’d spent every spare moment memorizing the meanings and scientific descriptions of individual flowers, but the knowledge went mostly unutilized. I used the same flowers again and again: a bouquet of marigold, grief; a bucket of thistle, misanthropy; a pinch of dried basil, hate. Only occasionally did my communication vary: a pocketful of red carnations for the judge when I realized I would never go back to the vineyard, and peony for Meredith, as often as I could find it. Now, searching Market Street for a florist, I scoured my mental dictionary.

After three blocks I came to a liquor store, where paper-wrapped bouquets wilted in buckets under the barred windows. I paused in front of the store. They were mostly mixed arrangements, their messages conflicting. The selection of solid bouquets was small: standard roses in red and pink, a wilting bunch of striped carnations, and, bursting from its paper cone, a cluster of purple dahlias. Dignity. Immediately, I knew it was the message I wanted to give. Turning my back to the angled mirror above the door, I tucked the flowers inside my coat and ran.

I was out of breath by the time I returned to the house. The living room was empty, and I stepped inside to unwrap the dahlias. The flowers were perfect starbursts, layers of white-tipped purple petals unfurling from tight buds of a center. Biting off an elastic band, I detangled the stems. The girls would never understand the meaning of the dahlias (the meaning itself an ambiguous statement of encouragement); even so, I felt an unfamiliar lightness as I paced the long hall, slipping a stem under each closed bedroom door.

The remaining flowers I gave to the young woman who’d worked the night shift. She was standing by the kitchen window, waiting for her replacement.

“Thank you,” she said when I handed her the bouquet, confusion in her voice. She twirled the stiff stems between her palms.

Meredith arrived at ten o’clock, as she’d told me she would. I waited on the front porch, a cardboard box balanced on my thighs. In eighteen years I’d collected mostly books: the Dictionary of Flowers and Peterson Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers, both sent to me by Elizabeth a month after I left her home; botany textbooks from libraries all over the East Bay; thin paperback volumes of Victorian poetry stolen from quiet bookstores. Stacks of folded clothes covered the books, a collection of found and stolen items, some that fit, many that did not. Meredith was taking me to The Gathering House, a transitional home in the Outer Sunset. I’d been on the waiting list since I was ten.

“Happy birthday,” Meredith said as I put my box on the backseat of her county car. I didn’t say anything. We both knew that it might or might not have been my birthday. My first court report listed my age as approximately three weeks; my birth date and location were unknown, as were my biological parents. August 1 had been chosen for purposes of emancipation, not celebration.

I slunk into the front seat next to Meredith and closed the door, waiting for her to pull away from the curb. Her acrylic fingernails tapped against the steering wheel. I buckled my seat belt. Still, the car did not move. I turned to face Meredith. I had not changed out of my pajamas, and I pulled my flannel-covered knees up to my chest and wrapped my jacket around my legs. My eyes scanned the roof of Meredith’s car as I waited for her to speak.

“Well, are you ready?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“This is it, you know,” she said. “Your life starts here. No one to blame but yourself from here on out.”

Meredith Combs, the social worker responsible for selecting the stream of adoptive families that gave me back, wanted to talk to me about blame.

Read the reviews!

“A deftly powerful story of finding your way home, even after you’ve burned every bridge behind you, The Language of Flowers took my heart apart, chapter by chapter, then reassembled the broken pieces in better working condition. I loved this book.”

—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"The Language of Flowers is the first book by this author and it’s hitting the Internet by storm. Exceptionally well-written, it’s a book that should definitely be shared with others. Complex and romantic, it’s sure to be on the list of this year’s best reads."

--Reading Frenzy

"The Language of Flowers is an excellent book, full of emotion, characters that have dimension, and a fresh premise in a world of tired story lines."

--Backseat Writer
"...5 out 5 stars."

--Reviews from the Heart

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children: Tre’von, eighteen; Chela, four; and Miles, three. Tre’von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Diffenbaugh and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.

You can visit Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s website at www.VanessaDiffenbaugh.com.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Conversation with 'Fresh Heir' Michael Reilly

Michael Reilly is a writer and entrepreneur. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. His first published novel, Fresh Heir, was released in May 2011. He is also founder and chief executive officer of FitDivs Inc, a company that promotes and rewards healthy living. Michael resides with his wife and four children in Charlottesville, VA.

You can visit his website at www.freshheirnovel.com or connect with him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Fresh-Heir/168240473246308.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Michael. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Fresh Heir?

Thank you for the opportunity. I have been writing most of my adult life. I was a journalist for many years and attempted several novels before publishing my first one, Fresh Heir. My earlier attempts were historical fiction, mostly because I love history; but the books admittedly lacked spark. As a parent of four young children, I began to live through and observe so many of the pressures and challenges of raising kids in such a hyper-competitive, instant-information world. I knew that was exactly what I wanted to write about. All the elements just fell into place.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

The title has three separate connotations. First, it’s derived from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be...” soliloquy. “...and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to...” Jamie Shoop, the main character in the book, is a 12-year-old genius with a photographic memory. His obsessive father, Doug, believes his son is his ticket to salvation, compensating for all the other failures in his life. So he’ll do anything to launch his kid into stardom, and he is never hesitant to “show him off” to others. This includes making Jamie recite Shakespeare...like a dog doing tricks.

Doug is portrayed as a rather unworldly man, burdened by his past and his misplaced values, which feed his obsession over his son’s success. So the name Fresh Heir also implies a new beginning for the family, born from Jamie’s ability to rise above rather than succumb to the pressures his father places on him. Which sadly is not always the case in life.

Lastly, Fresh Heir is derived in a humorous way from the traditions of the family car ride. Fresh Heir takes place during a four week period in which Doug is driving his family from New York to California, where Jamie is scheduled to attend a program for gifted youth. Anyone who has been packed in a car on a long trip with family - either as a kid, or a parent, or both - knows there is a long list of ubiquitous complaints, among a few of which are: I’m hungry; I need to pee; I’m not feeling so good; I need fresh air...

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

Fresh Heir is actually self-published through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace unit. I never even attempted to publish Fresh Heir through traditional channels. Previous books I had written had been rejected by dozens of publishers and agents. So with Fresh Heir, I decided to forgo the aggravation. I believed the book deserved to be in print, because I think it delivers an important message, while at the same time just being a quick and enjoyable read. Hopefully most busy parents can appreciate this.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Once again, being self-published, I have not had the benefit of the marketing provided through an established publisher. CreateSpace did distribute press releases when my book came out, but the onus has pretty much fallen on me. I have been using social media to get the word out and am currently doing a virtual book tour through PumpUpYourBook.com.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

Fresh Heir is very similar to a book named Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. It’s by Andrew Ferguson, and it was released last March, just about the time my book was about ready to go to print. Crazy U, as the full title suggests, is a non-fictional account of Mr. Ferguson’s journey toward sending his oldest child off to college. It’s a hilarious, and sometimes frightening, depiction of the pressures and stress that make the college application process today so overwhelming for kids and for parents, who so passionately want the best outcome for their child.

Crazy U and Fresh Heir are similar in the way they treat a very serious theme, the pressures of parenthood in a hyper-competitive world, with a good dose of humor and light-heartedness. The books are different primarily due to the fact that Fresh Heir is fictional and Crazy U is not. Mr. Ferguson’s work is packed with entertaining narrative, but there are also the statistics and factual information that you would expect in a non-fiction work.

I think what makes Fresh Heir so special is that it fundamentally achieves the same message in Crazy U and other non-fiction portrayals of modern day parenting, but it does so within the framework of a story that hopefully the reader finds just plain fun.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

I opened to page 176. Close to the top it reads: “That’s where he’s gifted,” she said. “Not like all this other crap you always blabber on about. Being a genius.”

The person talking is Doug Shoop’s ex-wife, Corrine. Through a series of unforeseen events, Doug has somehow been forced to divert his family trip to Aspen, Colorado, where Corrine has a vacation home with her new rich husband. Their divorce was brought on by Corrine’s infidelity and this leaves nothing but a severe bitter taste in Doug’s mouth. On this page is a scene between Doug and Corrine in the kitchen early one morning. Here is an excerpt from the remainder of the page:

“He is,” Doug cut in. “All the testing says so.”

“Testing” she said. “So he reads a lot. Pfff.” As she made this noise, she quaked her body in an exaggerated fashion, like she’d just taken too big a bite of ice cream on a hot day. She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. He took it reluctantly. It was the cup she had shaken out earlier. He looked at it, wondering if he’d see the uncooperative dead bug floating on top.

“I suppose it’s part of the reason why I’ve not made an issue of your keeping the kids,” she continued. “I know I don’t deserve them, but I’d simply be too scared to take that boy from you. He loves you too much. Despite all your flaws.”

My flaws!” He took a deep breath, but never had time to discharge his lode of accusations.

She cut him off, not to be derailed, and said, “I mean, let’s face it, it’s the one gift all kids are universally born with—an instinctive love for their parents. Not all parents want their kids right from the start, but all kids want their parents. Right?” He didn’t answer. She took a sip of her coffee, the annoying, slurpy kind of sip you use when it’s still too hot to drink. He looked again at his cup and just placed it on the counter, rebuffing the dead bug.

“His love definitely goes deeper.” She paused, and as if to emphasize the validity of her theory, said, “Definitely deeper. I don’t know why. Maybe it does have something to do with all that crap you’re always boasting about. Maybe he can see things other kids can’t. Or maybe it is all that reading he does. Books sometimes do put romantic notions into your head, don’t they?” Again, no answer. He put his hands in his jeans pockets to affirm his pledge of silence to her onslaught of rhetorical questions. “But that doesn’t mean his adoration can’t be broken, Doug.” As she spoke, she looked him straight in the eye and then paused, turned wistfully out the window one last time, and said, “Don’t break the gift…not the way lots of us other parents somehow find a way to.”

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, I am working on a follow-up to Fresh Heir, with a similar theme. I have not started writing it yet, but I have essentially laid out the plot and the characters.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Michael. Do you have any final words?

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity. I am grateful to anyone who takes time to read my book and hope they will pass the word on to other people.