A Day In The Life Of An Author

James Fouché lives in the Garden Route area of South Africa with his wife and their two Jack Russell terriers.

While researching characters James spends a lot of his time in the fresh produce departments of local supermarkets, or frequenting coffee shops and other retail outlets, where he takes pleasure in examining housewives and businessmen alike to document their behavioural patterns.

When he is not writing, James also works as a financial adviser.

You can contact the author on jackhangerbook@yahoo.com

Another brilliant day for writing. The clouds are full and hanging low. There is something electric in the air. The intoxicating smell of coffee drifts across my laptop screen. Patrons are coming and going, stopping and walking, carrying on. This is fantastic because people, everyday people being as mundane as they can be, supplies an author with ample characteristics and mannerisms and body language.

This is what it’s all about. I take a deep breath and time myself, initiating what most would describe as the writing process. I’ve been waiting to finish this scene for weeks. It’s vital to be in the right mood to write, especially when you are a 55 year-old farm worker waking up in a pool of blood, looking at a panga lying next to your head without a single clue as to what had happened or who had attacked you. I envision myself lying on the ground, opening my eyes and seeing what my character is seeing, feeling what he is feeling, doing what he would be doing. I’m ready.

Then, at the peak of my concentration, my phone suddenly starts to vibrate. I take the call and sigh as I listen to the voice on the other side. One of my clients has had a heart attack and I need to file the paperwork at the office. I finish the call and sit for a few seconds looking at the empty screen in despair. The blinking marker is begging me to start typing, but I can’t. There goes another brilliant opportunity.

Since my first novel has been published, I’ve been doing this unbearable balancing act between careers – flipping between the one I have to do and the one I want to do. Unfortunately there is no middle ground or one correct option for now. Sales of the first novel has not justified the shift in careers yet. I have to follow up with another novel or else I’ll be stuck in quicksand for the next five years.

An average day might see me going to my office and making appointments, doing paperwork, mailing publishers or reviewers or other authors, eating lunch while completing an interview for a fellow author’s blog, seeing clients, doing more paperwork, taking the dogs for a walk, and preparing for the next day. When I sit down at the laptop it’s almost eleven o’ clock and my eyes are falling shut.

As an author you want the world to know that you are an inspired voice with something useful to say, something of value to those who care to listen or read. Keeping that in mind, there is only one effective way of promoting yourself: constantly. This is difficult when all you really want to do is write. I have four books in my mind and no time to pen them down. So many things keep getting in the way.

Here are the three most prominent hazards for a new author attempting to complete his second novel, while still trying to promote his first one.

Firstly, location: We relocated to George where very little occurs from a literary point of view. I’m out of touch with the writing community.

Secondly, vocation: Generally first-time authors don’t step into the position of full-time author overnight. Chances are you have to work elsewhere, or manage a number of jobs at the same time, in order to keep food on the table. Sadly, this eats into your writing time, not to mention the loads of research time that precedes the actual writing.

Lastly, inspiration: Here lies the snag, the ever-present thorn in the side, the ultimate counter-weight that always tips the way you don’t want it to tip. Inspiration drives the creativity of what we do. As long as there is no drive, there will be an empty Word document on the screen.

If writing is not all you do, then the world quickly gets in the way and steals away your time and your inspiration. Luckily I have a very supportive and understanding wife, because let’s face it, authors are no day at the beach. At times we can be our own worst enemy.

So how to overcome these terrible pitfalls that face an aspiring writer every day? How can a first-time author complete that next novel and get his or her book into the world. There are only three possible solutions, and here they are: determination, determination, determination.

Book Reviews: So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison, So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, When the Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley, and Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron

So Close the Hand of Death
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2943-5
Mass Market Paperback

This is the newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series, and picks up several threads of earlier books.  At the end of the prior book, The Immortals, Dr. John Baldwin, Supervisory Special Agent and Taylor’s fiancé, was about to attend a hearing into a case from his past, held at FBI headquarters at Quantico.   The aftermath of that hearing resulted in his [hopefully temporary] suspension.  But the tentacles of that prior case extend well beyond that, to threaten Taylor’s career and, indeed, her life and that of those nearest and dearest to her.  As the book opens, one of those is immediately apparent as Pete (“Fitz”) Fitzgerald, Taylor’s dear friend who has been nothing less than a father figure to her, has seen the love of his life, Sue, murdered, and now lies in a hospital bed, grievously wounded [something apparently called “enucleation,” but you’ll have to look that one up yourself].  Taylor, a six-foot tall Metro Homicide Lieutenant in Nashville, Tennessee, vows to prevent further fallout.

A serial killer, the self-styled “Pretender,” learned his deadly craft at the feet of another character from past books, the Snow White killer, is responsible for 26 known deaths as the tale begins, and has in turn amassed several acolytes of his own, who at his behest have now begun killing sprees across the US mimicking famous, or infamous, serial killers of years past: the Boston Strangler, the NY killer known as the Son of Sam, and the Zodiac Killer.  This is all part of a deadly cat-and-mouse game on his part, the ultimate prize being Taylor Jackson.  His identity, and the motive behind all this, is the biggest mystery, beyond the fact that it is very, very personal.

In this novel the reader discovers that Baldwin has unsuspected baggage that is about to complicate his and Taylor’s lives, but the emphasis is, of course, on identifying and stopping the serial killer who has targeted Taylor and those she loves, with the suspense increasing as the inevitable confrontation comes closer.  I felt that the book could have benefited from some judicious editing, but nonetheless found it a very enjoyable summer read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2011.

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So Much Pretty
Cara Hoffman
Simon & Schuster, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-45161675-0
Hardcover

What at first blush appears to be a bucolic setting is soon discovered to be much less innocent than it first seems.  Gene and Claire Piper have moved from their lives in New York City to the small western NY town of Haeden, an isolated, hardscrabble place close to Appalachia whose residents have a median income of less than $14,000 a year. Young and idealistic doctors, they have both put in their time [at 70 hours a week] in a Free Clinic in Manhattan and had planned on seeking assignments from Doctors Without Borders.

This debut novel from Cara Hoffman is different from almost anything I’ve read recently.  It moves at almost a leisurely pace – until it doesn’t, of course – and in non-linear fashion.  [Even the last portion of the book, when all has been made clear, jumps a bit back and forth by a few or several days at a time.]  And until I looked back at the brief prologue, I hadn’t remembered that had I not lost track of that single page, it had provided a foreshadowing of what is to follow.  But no further hint of those events is found until many, many pages later.  In the meantime, character studies and backstory is provided, in wonderful prose.  But at a point when and shortly after Wendy’s fate becomes known, suddenly time seemed to stop as I kept reading and was then unable to –- keep reading, that is — and I nearly stopped breathing for a minute or two.

The major characters include Wendy White, a local 20-year-old woman, who disappeared one night over five months ago, the presumption being that she had simply run away from her boring life; Alice Piper [Gene and Claire’s daughter], a preternaturally bright and athletic high school student; and Stacy Flynn, a 29-year-old reporter for the local paper who had left a job working as a journalist in Cleveland, Ohio searching for a big, important story on environmental issues she hoped to find in Haeden.  As the old saw goes, ‘be careful what you wish for.’   What she finds are indeed those issues, as well as others dealing with the systemic and almost casual brutalization of women and the indifference of those who live in its midst.  The watchword here presented is, as I believe was said by George Orwell, that “the responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious,” even, or especially, when doing so “becomes a horror.”  A powerful book, one that will stay with me, and one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2011.

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When the Thrill is Gone
Walter Mosley
Riverhead, March  2011
ISBN: 978-1-59448-781-1
Hardcover

Leonid Trotter McGill is a 55-year-old African-American man, an amateur boxer trying to turn his life around working as a private detective after having committed many dishonest acts in the past for which he is trying to atone.  His marriage is troubled, with both he and his wife having been unfaithful, and his girlfriend has ended their relationship because she envisions him coming to a violent end and doesn’t want to have to endure that.  Prominent in the novel are memories of his radical father, who apparently “was killed in some South American revolution,” not longer after which his mother “died of a broken heart” when he was twelve.  His father’s Communist sympathies are evident in the fact that he called himself Tolstoy, and named his sons Leonid and Nikita; McGill in turn named his sons Twilliam and Dmitri.

The friends the author created for this troubled man in Known to Evil, the first book in the series, are back, and “LT,” as he is known to one and all, relies on them heavily:  “Bug,” a computer genius; “Hush,” an assassin who can be counted on in difficult situations; and most importantly Gordo, his trainer in the ring and his surrogate father, now fighting cancer and ensconced in LT’s home.

The writing is pure pleasure.  Each character is meticulously described in a very distinctive and inimitable style.  As well, the author [and his creation] have a philosophical bent, e.g., “The greatest natural disaster in the history of the world has been the human brain.  Get rid of us and Eden will return unaided,” and “Life is nothing without its challenges and only the dead are truly peaceful.”

There are two major story lines.  The first begins when a woman comes into LT’s office stating that the first two wives of her billionaire husband came to untimely ends, and she fears her life is in danger. [This becomes more complicated when McGill becomes convinced that most of what the woman has told him is a lie.]  But she pays him with a large amount of much-needed cash, and he agrees to take on the case.

The next investigation is at the behest of a man who was a close aide of his father, known as the Diplomat of Crime,  who asks LT to find a former associate, giving him almost no information other than the man’s name, telling him that he doesn’t expect to pay him for this job, but that he will be in his debt if he is successful.

This is not a book to be read quickly; one must take enough time to appreciate the journey en route to what at first seemed to be an abrupt ending, which I hasten to add an instant later felt absolutely right.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

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Come and Find Me
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-185752-2
Hardcover

In her first foray into fiction since the wonderful Never Tell a Lie, Hallie Ephron has come up with another winner.

Diana Highsmith has become reclusive, if not actually agoraphobic, in the aftermath of the accident in the Swiss mountains in which her fiancé, Daniel, fell to his death over a year ago.  It was his recklessness that had intrigued her about him, but his loss has devastated her.  Her two anchors to the world outside, which she has been attempting to re-enter step by agonizing step, are her sister, Ashley, and Daniel’s best friend, Jake.  But her home in the Boston suburbs has become her shelter from the world after the panic attacks took over that world, and those two are nearly the only ones to be allowed in.

Diana, Jake and Daniel had created an Internet-based platform called OtherWorld, a virtual universe where their avatars live, as they also created a consultancy firm resolving security issues for health care clients [a far cry from the lives the three of them had led as hackers, just as successful in that endeavor as the new business has become now, outwitting those who did as they once had, “a trio of rehabilitated black hats”]. But Diana has recently become concerned that someone out there is specifically targeting their clients, that OtherWorld “has become infested with griefers” [a new-to-me term], and the clients are pulling back just as she and Jake start to get a lead on who is responsible, telling them that their job is done.  But when Ashley suddenly disappears, her focus narrows to that above all else.

Ashley could be difficult at times.  As Diana says: “My sister’s annoying.  But truly, she’s totally there for me.  Except when there’s a man in the picture or when she’s convinced that she’s deathly ill.” [She tends to be a hypochondriac.]  However, the bond between the sisters couldn’t be stronger, and Diana is obsessed with finding her. But she has no idea where that path will take her.  Neither does the reader, as the tale takes a completely unforeseen turn.

The details of hacking and then tracking down the hackers are fascinating, a whole other world, literally and figuratively.  But aside from that, Ms. Ephron has written another page-turning novel that is thoroughly enjoyable, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

Coincidence and Character

As a journalist, Betty Webb interviewed U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, and Nobel Prize-winners, as well as the homeless, the dying, and polygamy runaways. The dark Lena Jones mysteries, based on stories she covered as a reporter, include this year’s Desert Wind, given a starred review by Publishers Weekly; Desert Lost (“One of the Top Five Mysteries of 2009”, Library Journal); Desert Noir (“A mystery with a social conscience,” Publishers Weekly); and Desert Wives, (“Eye-popping,” New York Times). Betty’s humorous Gunn Zoo series debuted with the prize-winning The Anteater of Death, followed by The Koala of Death. A long-time book reviewer at Mystery Scene Magazine, Betty is a member of National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and the National Organization of Zoo Keepers.

www.bettywebb-mystery.com

Follow me on Twitter @bettywebb

A mystery writer is warned against using too much coincidence in a plot, and I’ve always been on guard against that dangerous form of deus ex machina. Not so in life. There, I embrace coincidence, and accept it as the Universe’s way of telling me something. For instance…

During the first stop on my recent book tour, I arrived almost an hour early at the strip mall where Clues Unlimited, in Tucson AZ, is located. Instead of waiting in my car, I decided to visit The Egg Connection at the other end of the mall and have an early lunch.

Some background. My new book is Desert Wind, a Lena Jones mystery which – among other things – discusses uranium mining at the Grand Canyon, and draws a parallel to the 1952 through 1992 testing of A-bombs in Nevada and the many deaths connected to the subsequent nuclear fallout. The ghost of John Wayne, who once filmed a movie in one of the contaminated areas, plays a recurring character in Desert Wind, but rather than being his standard rough-and-tough-cowboy character, Wayne serves as the book’s Greek chorus.

Now back to the Egg Connection. When I walked into the restaurant, I received a happy shock. Instead of the usual eggery décor (ferns, etc.), I found myself surrounded by John Wayne memorabilia. Dozens of Wayne film posters. Saddle blankets. Bridles. Spurs. A replica of the Oscar which Wayne won for “True Grit.” Grinning, I took a seat at a table beneath a street sign bearing the name, “John Wayne Boulevard.”

An omen? If so, not the obvious one.

I asked my waiter – a young man of around 20 – who the John Wayne fan was, and he replied that his father had seen every film Wayne ever made. After giving the waiter my order for what turned to be the best Eggs Hollandaise I’ve ever eaten, I told him I was an author doing a signing nearby, and handed him a Desert Wind bookmark and flyer. “Give these to your dad,” I said, “He might enjoy the book.”  The waiter murmured something about maybe getting his father a birthday present, then went off to turn in my order.

And that was that, I thought.

But an hour later, at Clues Unlimited, while I was discussing the research I’d done for Desert Wind, the young waiter from the John Wayne eggery walked in. He listened for a while, then bought a copy of my book. After my talk was over, he asked if I’d personalize it for his father. I was happy to. The rest of the crowd left as soon as their books were signed, but not this kid. He stayed, and in a shy voice, said, “Would you mind telling me how you became a writer? I’ve been thinking, well, that maybe I could be one, too.”

As it turned out, he was a voracious reader who had read everything from Agee to Zola, and had been writing in secret for years. But even though a well-known bookstore sat in the same strip mall as his parents’ restaurant, for some reason he’d never been in there. Not only that, he confessed he’d never met a “real live writer” before.

So we talked. For the next half hour we discussed formal creative writing programs (the University of Arizona has an excellent one), workshops, retreats, and various methods of publishing. I told him everything I could think of at the time, then gave him my email address, saying he could email me whenever he had a question.

“But I have a million questions!” he said.

“No problem,” I answered. “When I first started out, I had a million questions, too, but I didn’t know any writers. Now you do. And by the way, lots of other ‘real live writers’ give talks at Clues Unlimited. We writers tend to be a friendly bunch, and most of them will be happy to help you, too.”

After shaking hands and promising to keep in touch, I left Clues Unlimited and continued on my tour.

Coincidence?  Maybe.

But John Wayne – who was a great believer in Fate — wouldn’t have thought so.

# # #

To read the first chapter of Desert Wind – which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly — log onto www.bettywebb-mystery.com

Book Review: Dead Wood by Dani Amore

Dead Wood
Dani Amore
February, 2012
Kindle
Ebook
Also available in Nook and other ebook formats

The dead wood of this book refers to both old wood salvaging from Michigan’s Lake St. Clair and the incredibly gifted guitars made of them by Jesse Barre, the young, talented, beautiful and recently murdered daughter of an elderly retired country western crooner/songwriter who is asking John Rockne, P.I. for help finding her killer.

The author gives us a wonderfully complex character in John Rockne, a P.I. who is not, as his wife says, Russell Crowe. He’s saddled with a sister who is the Grosse Pointe’s Chief of Police and whose biting remarks about his sleuthing abilities would discourage a lesser mortal. And though John covers the barbs with clownish humor, he’s also a guy that isn’t easily discouraged. After all, as the author shows us, he’s successful at what he does since has a back-log of business waiting for him, that is if he can solve this murder case. And, John will get to the end of the case or die trying, because people keep trying to kill him. From a retired CIA spook, to the low life characters who traffic in stolen property, it seems like everyone is trying to cut off bits and pieces. He doesn’t quit, which is after all, what I’d want if I were were to ask a P.I. to help me find the killer of my daughter. And, because he doesn’t quit, the end has a very special and satisfying twist in it for John.

I very much admire an original story and the ability of the author to make me turn the page again and again. So, for me, never mind that the book is only $.99, I’d happily pay a lot more for another John Rockne mystery.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, January 2012.

My Journey With Books

Cynthia Price is Director of Communications for the nonprofit organization

ChildFund International.She is past President of the National Federation of Press Women

and of Virginia Press Women. Cynthia is an avid reader, who also occasionally

blogs about authors at http://cynthiapricecommunique.wordpress.com

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The Book Thief is a big book. Big in size, big in subject matter.

Its 500+ pages transported me to Germany during World War II where I met Death, who narrated the story. It’s a lot to take in. But the story line is so riveting that all I did for a few days was read. It was a short, but intense visit.  And then the terrible happened: I came to the final pages, and the end of the story and my journey.

Already, I’m in search of other books by the author, Markus Zusak.

In the meantime, I’m now lost in a world of murder and deception as I read James Patterson’s Private Suspect #1. It’s a completely different genre. It’s not weighty, and it will take me less than eight hours to read. But for those few shorts hours I will be lost in a world that has nothing to do with my life.

A year ago I was in Chicago and learned of a book called The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It tells the story of the Chicago World’s Fair intertwined with that of a serial killer who uses the fair to lure his victims to their death. Reading the book enabled me to learn more about a city I had come to love, particularly its architecture. I also learned about its dark side.

Interestingly, some of the good characters in that book also appeared in another book that I was lost in only weeks earlier. In David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, he tells the story of American artists and scientists in Paris, who changed America through what they learned. Several of the architects in this book were present in Larson’s book.

And for me that’s what reading is all about. It’s both an escape and an intellectual journey into worlds I wish to learn more about.

It’s time to book another journey, which means a trip to my library or my bookstore. I’m not sure where I’ll travel to this time. It might be to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or into the world of introverts in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

It won’t matter. As with all travel, often it’s simply nice to get away.

Book Review: The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
Chris Moriarty
Harcourt Children’s Books, October 2011
ISBN 978-0-547-58135-4
Hardcover
Set in an alternate America, one in which magic is rife and closely policed, tests reveal a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy who “sees” magic as it’s happening. The leaders of New York City, in an effort to put the kibosh on all magics enacted by the various ethnic groups, believe his talent will be valuable in helping the Police Department’s main Inquisitor, Maximilian Wolf, whose job is to stop magical crime. Thus, Sacha Kessler finds himself apprenticed to Wolf, and the hunt is on to prevent inventor Thomas Edison from being magically murdered. The trouble is, the investigation seems to lead directly to Sacha’s own family!

The author has plucked several real people’s names from history–sometimes using a bit of alteration, such as the Astrals, for the Astors. Included within the plot are Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, for instance. In the course of the story we are treated to a look at Coney Island at the cusp of the twentieth century, and the life and entertainments of the time.

For the non-Jewish reader, this book is an excellent glimpse into another culture. The magic is well-defined, the characters are interesting and sympathetic, and the tension holds up well. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2011.

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
Chris Moriarty
Harcourt Children’s Books, October 2011
ISBN 978-0-547-58135-4
Hardcover
Set in an alternate America, one in which magic is rife and closely policed, tests reveal a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy who “sees” magic as it’s happening. The leaders of New York City, in an effort to put the kibosh on all magics enacted by the various ethnic groups, believe his talent will be valuable in helping the Police Department’s main Inquisitor, Maximilian Wolf, whose job is to stop magical crime. Thus, Sacha Kessler finds himself apprenticed to Wolf, and the hunt is on to prevent inventor Thomas Edison from being magically murdered. The trouble is, the investigation seems to lead directly to Sacha’s own family!

The author has plucked several real people’s names from history–sometimes using a bit of alteration, such as the Astrals, for the Astors. Included within the plot are Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, for instance. In the course of the story we are treated to a look at Coney Island at the cusp of the twentieth century, and the life and entertainments of the time.

For the non-Jewish reader, this book is an excellent glimpse into another culture. The magic is well-defined, the characters are interesting and sympathetic, and the tension holds up well. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2011.