Happy Monday! I’ve been busy resting, LOL! Me, my husband, our son, and several of our friends have all had health issues that have forced us to slow down. I guess those who are already taking care of themselves and not pushing themselves too much, have fared better during this Mars in retrograde period.
Speaking of Astrology, I just finished reading An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, and it’s now my favorite book. Here’s my review. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1548715711. In this historical mystery, the budding new field of medicine included consulting the stars before performing any medical procedures. While I find Astrology fun and sometimes remarkably helpful, I really don’t want my doctor relying upon it, so I guess I’m glad that they don’t. (Although perhaps some of the diagnoses would be more accurate…)
My second novel is coming out on Wednesday, woo hoo! Unlike An Instance of the Fingerpost, no animals get hurt in Third Strike’s the Charm.
Today’s images are from my treasure trove. I’m on for a photo outing on Friday. I can’t wait to get fresh shots for you.
As many of you know, I did the editing and formatting for my friend John Holland’s four novellas. Now there’s a collection of all four in one book and it’s on sale today. There is also a one month long giveaway of the paperback edition on Goodreads for USA residents (due to budget constraints with shipping).
If you read it and see the editor is Nia Simone, don’t worry, that’s me!
Here is the description:
Heartland is a collection of four novellas connected by the theme of life in the Australian outback.
Somewhere Far from Iris:
In this noir style tale, a depressed man seeking to heal himself by returning to his hometown walks into an explosive situation that threatens friends old and new and is somehow entangled with the secret of his origin.
The Light at the Bottom of the Garden:
In this light mystery, Senior Police Constable Mick Creedy faces his toughest case: a governess gone missing, perhaps because she followed the legendary Min-Min Lights. When the young woman’s mother, Eveling, arrives from England wanting a full investigation, including into the possibility of a paranormal event, Mick needs to balance his no-nonsense methods with a grieving parent’s needs. Eveling further complicates matters as she endangers herself and threatens to distract Mick.
In this noir-style story, a severely scarred reclusive man who moves to a small town after his wife’s death finds himself embroiled in a violent labour dispute that forces him to become involved with the community.
Left of the Rising Sun:
In this survival adventure, a boy who is the only one to walk away from a small plane crash in the remote outback of the Australian Northern Territory believes he won’t be found and decides to walk 300 kilometres home. His trek requires resolve, knowledge of the harsh wilderness, and ingenuity and leads to surprising friendship and maturity.
This book has the natural style I love so much about Brenda Novak’s work, and like Brenda’s Whiskey Creek series (see here for all my book reviews), Luke’s #1 Rule is part of a small-town series. The small town is Blue Lake, and when the main character ends up there, I could feel the relief of arriving in a community where people care about each other. But the relief doesn’t happen immediately for Chloe Richards. Oh no, she has a constant source of internal conflict: She’s moving with her kids to Seattle, very far away, and it’s ripping her apart, but she has no choice.
This book is about family and very difficult issues. It’s realistic, not at all forced, and utterly riveting as a result. Yet it is still a romance, and though I cried three times while reading it, they were good tears, and I knew it would somehow all end well. That’s a requirement for me. I dislike books that end sadly, even if I love the book, and I tend not to read those authors again, because let’s face it, who needs more bad news and sorrow when we have life, which has its share for everyone? (Although I do sometimes break this rule for literary work that makes me understand things more, like, for example, Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner, which I really need to review one of these days! And even The Hunger Games, the ending of which infuriated me, but which is still such a profound work of allegorical literature that it informs my thoughts about various things we humans are doing to each other and the way the world works at the moment.)
But back to this wonderful book. Luke’s #1 Rule is thought provoking literature that will leave you feeling happy and satisfied as well as thoughtful and more informed.
Here are some little details from the book that I jotted down as I was reading. After that, I am posting the interview that was included at the end of the book, with the author’s permission. Cynthia is on tap to answer comments, too, so fire away!
I love it when Tommy’s smile spreads over his face like butter on toast. (Tommy is one of Chloe’s children, whom I just adored. Cynthia really captured children realistically. I love the characterization of the children; I could see and feel their excitement over meeting Luke, and over everything fun.)
I love this line:
“Then I’d say you had quite a mess to clean up before your next child arrives, don’t you?”
This was a line by a therapist talking to the drug addict in this book who makes the people around him miserable. This line is just an example of how you feel this book is written by an artistically mature author.
Speaking of artistically mature, the book is so deeply written, I was inside the character’s minds.
I love details like this, feeling the calming effect of something homey when one is in the midst of a very real life crisis.
…and the meatloaf mixture minus eggs sat in a blue bowl. Her mom had used that same mixing bowl since Chloe was a little girl.
And little offhand comments like this that communicate a setting in so few words:
Good stones, she had learned this week, were the ones that made the biggest splash when you flung them into the water.
And I love the realism of this little gem tucked into a scene:
She mentioned the price of a year of college these days. One year for one student. Her mother had been shocked at how college costs had sky-rocketed just since Chloe had finished off her degree.
And finally this, at the crisis point in the book. I felt the emotion because I was living the story with the characters.
Now she knew the rip of kin from kin, and it hurt.
Now for the interview. I love that it was included in the book because I instantly had questions about the author’s own experiences. The book was so realistic that I thought maybe she had experiences along the lines of those of the book’s characters.
There are also excellent book group discussion questions provided.
An interview with Cynthia Harrison
1. You said that your husband gave you the idea for this book twenty-five years ago. Why didn’t you write your true love story?
I’m a fiction writer. I like making things up. I also wanted to protect the privacy of the real people involved in this story. Not just my husband and sons, but their father, their other mother, and their siblings.
Their other mother? Why not stepmom? Do you mean the character of Bettina?
I’ve always felt, from almost the first day, great respect for the woman who would help raise my children. I feel like I can talk to her about anything and she will understand. She’s very friendly and open and nonjudgmental. I love her. She took great care of my children; she is truly their other mother. Stepmom has such negative connotations in literature. She’s the opposite of that.
So the next obvious question is your ex-husband. Is he anything at all like Spence?
Not an iota. Not even close. Spence is the character I had the most trouble with, at first. I didn’t want to make the ex the bad guy. It’s such a cliché. So I did the opposite and that didn’t work. This is fiction, and I needed conflict. I’m a writer who teaches, and the first seven years of my teaching career, I taught at-risk high school children. I learned a lot about addictions and how they destroy families. Then there’s my addiction to chocolate and potato chips, which sounds funny but created serious consequences. I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. So no more sugar for me. I have an addictive personality. Fortunately, I can’t drink more than a few glasses of wine without getting dizzy and then sick. So food has been my primary addiction, but I am also a binge television watcher, huge movie fan, and constant reader of novels. Aside from the food, these are all soft addictions, but they all gave me insight into Spence.
What will happen to Spence? Will he be okay? How can the reader know?
As a reader, I sometimes have questions when a story ends, too. In the literature, the relapse number is very high, but Spence has a unique supportive system in Blue Lake. We will see Spence in other stories, but I don’t know if he will relapse because he hasn’t (yet). Still, it’s true what they say: addicts will always be in recovery.
How many books do you plan for the Blue Lake Series?
I still have a lot of stories to tell. I like telling two thematically related stories in every novel. So Fast Eddie’s will be about the reunion of Bob and Lily, who were going off to college in Blue Heaven. They’ve graduated, and Lily comes back to Blue Lake. So does Eddie’s first love. My favorite way to write is to have a new adult storyline and a more mature romance as well.
Blue Heaven was more of a traditional romance, but Luke’s #1 Rule had many more characters. There are the four adults and two children, plus the meddling mothers. Why the change?
They say every writer has a “book of her heart.” Luke’s Number #1 Rule was mine. It was not just a love story, although that’s the main plotline. Using the theme of blending a family was the book I’ve always wanted to write. It was a challenge. And it wasn’t a romance. I will always write love stories because I have a romantic soul, but the larger picture interests me, too. 7. You said you’re a reader. Who are some of your favorite authors? If you came to my house, you would look at my bookshelves and know. I use an e-reader these days, but still collect my favorites in hardback. First came Jane Austen and Erica Jong, then Alice Hoffman, Louise Erdrich, Sara Lewis, Elizabeth Berg. I also love poetry and short stories, so add Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Also Carol Shields.
Do you read male authors?
I do. Raymond Carver is a personal favorite. I also admire TC Boyle and Richard Ford. There is not a book by David Lodge I have not laughed through. Richard Russo is in there, too. I don’t collect any of them except Carver. I think taking two degrees in English literature filled me up with male authors. The classics. After college, I started my own education of contemporary female writers.
Do you read contemporary romance?
I do. I never miss a novel by Barbara Delinsky, Pamela Morsi, or Rachel Gibson. I’m also a fan of romantic suspense and several of my fellow TWRP authors write in that line. Mysteries! Sue Grafton and Anne Perry. Lee Childs. Every book.
How do you find the time to teach, read, and write? Are your little boys grown up now?
Yes, my boys are grown with families of their own. When they were young, I wrote less and read less. I enjoyed my time with them. More recently, I’ve been teaching less, which gives me time to read and write. I’ve found you can do it all, but you can’t do it all at the same time. I’m also dedicated (again, I could say addicted) to Twitter and my blog. My older son suggested I start a blog in 2002. He set it up for me, and I’m still there at http://www.cynthiaharrison.com. For ten years, I wrote about my efforts to publish my novels. Then it happened and I decided to write about other things, the concerns in my novels, but also the love and joy in everyday life.
Do you ever speak to book clubs?
I adore meeting people I’ve only known on the Internet. In real life, I’ve met friends from New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I live north of Detroit, but, time permitting, I’d be happy to Skype with a book group from anywhere.
Editing John Holland’s novellas was an honor and an achievement I’m very proud of this year. Today I’d like to share a review of Left of the Rising Sun, his latest novella, which is on sale in ebook format for .99, free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers and also available as a paperback for $7.99. This book is appropriate for children over the age of 10, and will appeal to adults as well.
Here is the latest Amazon review, by reader Mehreen Ahmed:
If any one knows the Northern Territory in Australia, the red continent, then they will know how hostile the landscape is here, If a plane is crashed in the middle of nowhere, it is anybody’s guess how the survivors will fare. Ten year old Buck Brown, one such unlucky person was once taking a ride in a mail plane to the outback where his family lived, until this plane had to make an emergency landing on a biillabong, a long way away from home.
Left of the Rising Sun is an extremely well written book, which extrapolates vivid outback images of the dry and hot Savannah to be precise. Each detail has been attended to and has been crafted superbly in accordance with all literary measure. The sun covered in the warmth of a blanket as the morning’s heat gradually rises through the day is only one such example. Minute descriptions throughout shapes the character of the outline in geographic perfection to give the feel of a place, vastly void and dangerous. One has to know the outback only too well to conjure the typical scenario of the anthills, the termites, honeycomb, sparse wild berries, and mussel meat. All too familiar bush tucker captured in gripping writing technique.
Portrayal of human behavior is exceptional as well. A ten year old boy having a crush with a girl similar to his age is also not unheard of. Passenger’s well founded fears and anxieties in the grips of a near fatal situation has been accounted for.
Reading will not stall even for a moment through each paragraph, as the ten year old grapples with his fate in this unfavorable situation. Buck’s adventures in the outback in search of food and water have reached a high point of romanticism, as the boy finds himself alone in a cave camping in the darkest of nights kindled by the fire he manages to light.
I definitely recommend this to all adventure loving people of various ages. Admittedly, getting lost or a plane crash in Buck’s case and surviving an Australian outback of the Northern Territory is not particularly congenial; more so, if the protagonist happens to be ten years of age.
My friend John Holland let me edit his Heartland novella series. I love his work! We released the first installment, Somewhere Far from Iris a couple days ago.
A man struggling with depression travels back to his Australian outback hometown to reconstruct himself and walks into an explosive situation that is somehow entangled with the secret of his origin.
Here is the longer blurb. I also included my editor’s note for some background on how this project started.
Clinically depressed Shane Morris is trying to learn how to cope with his condition and find balance within the turmoil of his mind. He embarks on a mission to reconstruct himself by going back to his roots in the Australian outback town of his childhood. In Iris, this man who thinks he is nothing discovers at its extreme, life has two poles, the tender and the brutal. In the fires of the worst and best expressions of man, Shane learns he’s far from nothing and just where he fits into humanity’s broad spectrum.
When I first opened this file, I was sitting in our friends’ house in Sydney. We had left Townsville just days before. My husband and I spent three weeks with John and his family so John and I could collaborate on a novel. John sent me an email saying this story idea had poured out of him after we flew out. But, he said, he didn’t know where it was going and wasn’t planning to finish! No fair. I was riveted. So I demanded he finish. And when I received the finished draft, I was thoroughly satisfied with the story.
I never know what John’s going to come up with next for his stories. I found Somewhere Far from Iris to be twisty and intense.
I am pleased and honored to be John’s editor and thrilled to help bring this book to you.
Your reviews will really help other people find John’s work, so please post your review at your favorite online book review forum. Your support is very much appreciated.
Having a book loaned to you by a friend is special. When a person loans you a book they think you will enjoy, they are matching the wealth of their own experience with their understanding of you. This was loaned from a critique partner who is a very special kind of friend. A critique partner knows what is closest to a writer’s heart, because she knows what the writer is writing about and therefore passionate about.
My friend and her husband worked hard to find the book in the shelves of their new home when we were visiting for dinner. Because they had just moved, their home is still settling, and it took some looking to find it, but they were determined I shouldn’t leave empty handed! He found the book and gave it to my friend and she held it to her heart as she told me a bit of what it was about.
I am co-authoring a novel with an Australian poet and my husband and I recently spent time in Townsville so that we could meet and work together in person. This novel mentions Townsville and goes into a lot of detail about Queensland, and some about the Northern Territory. The book starts with the remarkable survival of the main character of a death march she and many other prisoners took through Malaysia during World War II. Though a heavy topic, Shute handles this part of the story with a matter-of-fact tone devoid of emotional manipulation and it is based on a true story, though the actual march took place in Sumatra, not Malaysia. The way Mr. Shute handled the story, in this simple, straightforward manner, made this harrowing part of the tale interesting and not too horrific.
The rewards for reading this part of the story are great. The novel contains my favorite story line, the triumph of hard working people of strong character overcoming circumstances to create something of meaning and lasting value.
This book was copyrighted and first published in 1950 by William Heinemann, Ltd. I read the edition published in 2000 by House of Stratus, Ltd. The copyright is held by the Trustees of the Estate of Nevil Shute Norway. I mention this because the copyright page is a good reminder to authors to make sure you take special care to provide for your estate. There’s a lot to consider and prepare for if you want your chosen heirs to continue to benefit from your work. I attended a lecture on this topic recently at a Romance Writers of America (RWA) meeting and was regaled with tales of literary estates ranging from the good, the bad and the ugly. This recent re-release of this classic work looks like Shute Norway’s estate planning fell in the “good” category.
You need to designate who will be responsible for handling future publishing of your work as well as who will receive the royalties. They can be different people. Your work will live on long after you are gone and can be a source of pride and happiness, or pain and disappointment.
No, I have not set up estate planning for my published work yet, which at this time consists of my romantic short story! But I do plan to handle this if and when more work is published. But regardless of the size and significance of your work, you might want to think about how you want future royalties paid out, who will inherit the copyright and future royalties, who will be responsible for future releases and subsidiary products, and who will handle your online presence, like your websites and Facebook page or if you want those shut down.
A Town Like Alice is such a good example of how your book will continue on and influence more people than you can ever know. This book was a marvelous experience for me, I was moved, I learned a great deal, and it opened up my mind to new possibilities. And the author died 53 years ago!
Poor Man’s Orange is a touching and humanistic novel, the final installment of a family-saga trilogy published in 1949.
I avoided reading about the book ahead of time and experienced some surprises, such as discovering the book contained a hero and a heroine only deeply into the novel. I was also surprised and delighted to discover at the end I had just read an “Ugly Duckling” story.
Australian author Ruth Park uses vignettes to show life in the slums outside Sydney and through various character’s points of view. The biggest craft take-away for me was showing character through scene.
The environment rises to the level of character with its vibrant, detailed reality created through the reactions and coping mechanisms of the various characters. Park shows the absolute impossibility of keeping a clean house when impoverished. Mumma is burdened and defeated by filth, Roie destroyed by it. Dolour fights it, but of course she cannot defeat it. The most Dolour ever accomplishes is cleaning one small corner. Park manages to keep the heroine above the grip of the slum by showing us the unconquerable cleanliness of her spirit. But the inevitability of dirt reigns supreme in this book. The slum never gets cleaner, never improves, never changes, until the land owners, who have extracted every penny possible from these hardworking residents, cap their exploitation by knocking down their life-long homes for more profit.
Park shows Dolour through what and whom Dolour admires: The nuns who maintain inner tranquility and order amid chaos. In this tiny scene, Dolour and her friends wonder what the nuns take in the small travel valises that hold all their worldly possessions. Delour’s romantic sensibility is shown by contrasting her romantic guess with the cynical guesses of her friends.
Park also builds long character arcs like Charlie’s, whose story unfolds like a slow motion bungee jump. The reader wonders for pages and chapters about whether that rope is going to be the right length or will he slam headfirst into despair and ruin as do so many people in the slum.
I’ve talked about some craft technique here, but really this novel is a masterpiece of feelings. The feeling the author has for the characters and the feelings the reader has for them as well. Ruth Park made me understand and feel for these people who live in poverty as if they were my own family.
Welcome to the party! Why a party? Because I feel like celebrating:
An enjoyable and thought provoking book
the amazing author and
YOU, my fellow blogger/bloggees. Like Listening to Kerouac, you have opened up the world to me.
Commenters and “likers” to this post will be entered in a raffle for a copy of Mercedes’ fabulous new book and/or some Mrs. Fields cookies. I’ll leave the raffle open for a few days.
Here’s my review:
Reading Looking for Kerouac lets you take a challenging and interesting journey the easy way. The author’s voice is so engaging that you can read some before bed one night, put the book down (that is, turn off your Kindle or other device), open it the next day and pick up right where you left off, speeding by train through today’s America and via the author’s mind through an America of a different time.
The realism and honesty throughout the book are deeply engaging. You learn a lot about the Beat Poets and the history “goes down easy” interwoven with the author’s vivid portrayal of America and her life, now and then. Looking for Kerouac is a Must Read.
Mercedes, congratulations on the publication of your stunning “travelogue, memoir, quest,” LOOKING FOR KEROUAC. Thank you for letting me read an advance copy and for being here today to talk to us. Beautiful cover, by the way!
Looking for Kerouac feels very stream of consciousness in the way the prose flows between present day thoughts and observations, memories of the past and history. Did much of the prose style happen as you were jotting notes while you traveled or did you write notes and then compose the draft to have that effect?
MWP: Thank you for the invitation, Nia, and for helping me by reading and commenting on the advance copy. It is almost exactly two years since I took the trip, and I’ve worked on the book since then, to the extent that I couldn’t see it any more! Your notes helped me with revision, and regaining perspective.
I took notes all the way through my trip, and saved the oddest things; tickets, menus, timetables, hotel bills, the ephemera of travel. When I was ready to start writing I brought these all out, sorted them along with my photos, and sort of recreated the places, went back into them all.
The style of writing is very much a choice – I wanted to emulate Kerouac’s style, using his method of ‘spontaneous prose’.
NS: There is so much detail I marvel at how you collected it all. Did you use a voice recorder or pad and pen?
MWP: I took notes, notebook and pen. I could have taken film with my iPad but just took still shots. When I started writing though, the scenes in my memory came back to life prompted by the pictures and the collection of ephemera.
NS: I also marvel at and learn so much from your honesty. Sometimes I want to write something true and when I read this work it has that feel of truth to it. But there is no one Truth; everything is filtered. Can you comment on the travelogue as memoir technique, using travel as a filter on your own memories and also on using Kerouac’s On the Road as a template?
MWP: Veracity is very important in my writing – but as you note, there is no one Truth. In the end all I can do is call it as I see it! I think Travelogue is a wonderful vehicle for memoir – have thought so since I first read Paul Theroux’s books. Maybe I tried to accomplish too much with Kerouac, weaving his story in with my past and present, so we all floated together in book time. I just know that’s the way the story wanted to be told.
NS: I don’t think you tried to accomplish too much, Mercedes, because you really pulled it off. The way you wove the story threads completely worked and was marvelously seamless and intriguing. In fact, it’s difficult to make one’s own travelogue interesting to others, because a chronological sequence of events can read like a phone book. What you did is the most interesting one I’ve ever read, including Travels with Charley (Steinbeck). I also applaud your veracity and hope one day to dip a toe a bit more deeply in that pool as a writer. Your book caused me to reflect on my own life and thoughts about our society. I found myself in your shoes exploring what my reactions might be and learning from yours.
You mentioned several times that you were no longer interested in having possessions. Can you tell us a bit about what this choice makes available to you?
MWP: I’ve studied Zen Buddhism – or rather, tried to live as an aware person. I acknowledge that attachment and desire cause suffering, and I try to remind myself of this. On a more personal level, I had to leave my home and garden in another country to come back to New Zealand and help care for my mother. Along with this loss I think I have gained in compassion and have learned a little more about the world and my place in it.
NS: Thank you for sharing yet another experience and insight. I agree about learning more compassion and about learning our place in the world. My heart wrenches for you having to leave your home and garden. I can relate to taking care of your mom (a journey in itself) and learning to hold things in life with an open palm instead of a clenched fist. Your sensitivity, wisdom and writing ability allowed me to examine these lessons in a new light and resonated not just with my mind but with my heart. Bravo! And thank you!
Hammer & Anvil Books is the new imprint for coloratura fiction and international poetry from the creative team behind Danse Macabre. Comment on this post and be entered to win a book of your choice from this new list!
Recommend short story for writers and readers with an interest in noir and a taste for literature that makes you think. Some caveats to this recommendation are below.
This high-quality short story includes original linocuts by the author. In the noir genre, it explores how a convenient choice, one made to get oneself out of a bind, can destroy love, both romantic love and love of one’s favorite thing in life.
Not for the faint-of-heart, this story involves the murder of a horse. Keep going, though. See where the author takes it. Enjoy her spare, very deep point-of-view craftsmanship as well as her success in male POV.
The story is spot-on in its rendering of the impact a single bad choice can have on a person’s life. Like many literary works of fiction, while the reading of it challenges, the thoughts stick. This quiet, small situation affecting just a few not-famous people is a study in the same phenomena behind the catastrophic mistakes made by people who hit the news when their bad, short-term choices affect millions of people.
If you are a Romance genre reader, this story provides the yang to the yin of happily-ever-after outcomes. That is, in Romance, while the characters make seemingly irretrievable mistakes along the way, in the end, they are able to overcome their mistakes and achieve love. This story explores the opposite ending.
The big craft take-aways are: Set the stakes high and choose the pivotal experience in the character’s life.
The murder of the horse is softened at the end of the book. You’ll feel better.
The linocuts are beautiful and enhance the noir experience.