Archive for May, 2011

FireSong is the fifth instalment in the Gus LeGarde mystery series and talented author Aaron Paul Lazar doesn’t disappoint, hooking readers right from the beginning and keeping them turning pages with a series of unexpected twists and turns.

Our amateur sleuth, Gus LeGarde, lives in the small town of East Goodland in the heart of the beautiful Genesee Valley, and works as a music professor at the local college. Except for the occasional mystery, he lives a quiet, happy life, surrounding himself with the things he loves most: his family and friends, his dogs, classical music, and cooking and gardening. If you’re expecting Gus to be a former alcoholic, embittered man who chain smokes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Instead, he is a true family man with a kind heart. This quality sets him apart from other sleuths in mystery series.

The story begins when, one warm Sunday evening, as Gus is attending the local parish with his family, a tornado sweeps by and unearths a dead body that had been secretly buried in the grounds of the church years ago. On closer inspection, the body turns out to be that of Gus’ friend, a man who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Thus starts this winning mystery, one that takes Gus on a journey of danger, action and adventure. From historical Indian grounds, to stolen money, to the Underground Railroad, to a thunderous fire that nearly takes his life and that of his beloved grandson, Gus takes us on an exciting ride that will be enjoyed by most fans of the genre.

Though the story has a lot of action at times, this isn’t what you’d call a fast-paced book. In skilful detail, Lazar uses description and narration to bring to life the setting, characters, and Gus’ way of life. The dialogue is natural and engaging. The novel has a ‘quiet’ tone at times which contrasts with the faster, action segments, creating a relaxed balance for those readers who don’t like to rush it and prefer to take their time when reading a mystery. The climax is exciting and Lazar does a good job at tying all the loose ends in the conclusion. FireSong is a stand-alone book, so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the earlier novels in the series. This will make a fun addition to your summer reading list, so be sure to add it.

by Aaron Paul Lazar
Twilight Times Books
ISBN: 1-60619-164-4
July 15, 2011
Trade paperback, 230 pages, $16.95
FireSong is the fifth installment in the Gus LeGarde Mystery series
Chapter excerpt:
Author web site: http://www.legardemysteries.com/

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Christine Amsden’s second novel, The Immortality Virus, raises an intriguing question: Is it really all that wonderful to find the secret of immortality and live forever?

It’s the 21st century and the world is being ruled by The Establishment, a totalitarian government made of an elite few. People don’t age anymore. As a result, overpopulation has created poverty, hunger, violence, and chaos. People don’t even have empathy for their fellow human beings anymore and cruelty and murder abound. Only the elite few can afford to eat normal food; the rest feed on suspicious, high-protein nutri-bars believed to be made up of human flesh.

At the beginning of the story, our feisty 130-year old PI protagonist, Grace Harper, is hired to complete a mission: she must discover the whereabouts of Jordan Lacklin, the scientist responsible for the ‘virus’ that started The Change about 400 years ago while working on the cure for Alzheimer’s. The secret mission puts Grace’s life in danger. On one side, there are those who want to undo The Change to improve the quality of life and the world; on the other side, there are those who want to keep living forever because they have the means to live in luxury… and they’ll go to extremes to make sure Grace doesn’t complete her mission.

The Immortality Virus is an entertaining, dystopian/science fiction novel with an interesting premise. Grace Harper is a sympathetic, kick-ass heroine: strong, spirited and opinionated. She also has a kind heart that stands out in the cruel society she inhabits. I personally loved her witty comebacks and quirky sense of humor. Although the story gets a bit slow somewhere around the middle, Amsden offers enough action, twists and turns to keep most readers turning the pages. The dialogue is crisp and natural and helps to keep the pace moving. Amsden uses a lot of dialogue and action scenes, and keeps description and narration at a minimum. She also throws in a bit of romance for good measure. I also enjoyed the way she depicts the future, presenting us with a grim and realistic glimpse of what society could become as a result of greed and medical technology. If you love dystopian novels with strong heroines and you’re attracted to the subject of immortality, I recommend you give this one a try.

Title: The Immortality Virus
Author: Christine Amsden
Author web site: http://www.christineamsden.com
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
url: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/
ISBN: 978-1-60619-003-6
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: trade paperback & ebook
Chapter excerpt:

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“Where do characters come from?” You might as well ask, “Is there life on other planets?” This is a question to give a writer pause.

Lincoln was the first character to materialize, sometime around 1989. Yikes, 1989! I was writing an ensemble piece at the time with, I think, seven main characters in the one book. The characters all went back in time in twos and threes, to different times in history, and their stories were loosely related. At the time I thought I was writing adult science fiction but with teenage characters. I don’t think the concept of young adult literature was that differentiated at the time.

Then life got in the way. Sometime I had to put my writing aside for weeks and months, a few times for over a year. But I never lost the impulse, the need to create . . . to write.

I started taking writing classes and reading books on writing (don’t ask why I didn’t do this earlier). After many starts and stops, by the time I finished the first draft I had a tome of over 240,000 words, or about 800 pages. That’s when I realized I was trying to do what all first time writers do — write the perfect novel that include every scrap of detritus hanging about in my head. I cut the protagonists to three in 2005, and that’s when Hansum and Shamira showed up as composites from all the scrapped characters.

At first I wrote my characters with no specified intention. They just came out of my subconscious and foiled against each other in what I saw as interesting and “telling” ways. When the second draft was completed and reviewed, I saw how a character was contradictory to itself and in subsequent rewrites I would struggle to make changes to make them consistent. It was like sculpting a character out of plasticine. When pushing down to reshape something, a new lump would show up on the other side. I’d attempt to fix one plot hole and another one would take its place. At the beginning of 2008 I took some online classes through Writers Market and met Bonnie Hearn-Hill, a great mystery and young adult writer, and a very strict, but caring, teacher. Her first impressions were that the book is two and a half times too long and I must pick one character to be the central protagonist, having the other two support the other. My daughter, Jessica Suzanne Kaufman, who is a natural and talented editor, became my line editor and actually suggested a way to break the book in two and make two novels out of it. It took a year to accomplish this feat and, by this time, I was, more or less, retired, so I began writing every day.

Convinced I was ready to make my debut, but wanting to do it right, I decided to find the best science fiction editor I could and pay him whatever he asked to read and critique my work. That’s when I found Lou Aronica, a former publisher at Bantam and Avon books and the man who picked five Nebula winners in a row. I was very sure he would read what I had and pronounce it a masterpiece. What I got back was eight pages of general overview notes, ending with, “there’s a lot of work to be done, but I see that something could come out of this.”

Half elated, half disappointed and totally exhausted, I went on vacation for a week. Then I girded my lions for whatever it would take to bring this thing to the next level.

In the process of this next rewrite, I took a giant step back and wrote essays on each character including what their purpose was.

Lincoln was to become a support character. He represented my younger self, as a boy, someone who did very poorly in school and was very frustrated and depressed, but on the outside he was a wise guy. Lincoln’s purpose would be to be thrown into the big bad world and either sink or swim. His character would show that, although people must be able to stand on their own, they cannot succeed on their own. Where Lincoln’s name came from, I think it has to do with Abraham Lincoln, but I still don’t know how. I guess I just liked the sound of it.

I wanted Shamira to be a person who had scads of artistic talent and to show that people who front projects must use artistic people to bring their own visions to life. She is strong, though misguided and jaded at the beginning, and she represented the adolescents who rebel against everything for rebellions sake, but often that rebellion is a sign that people have a hidden spark in them. When real life and a crisis intervene, the life skills their parents and education has taught them come to the fore. As for Shamira’s name, I thought I made it up. When I researched it, after the fact, I found it is Hebrew for protector. Sometimes we hear things and they lie around in our brains for years, till they just pop out. I love that about brains.

Then there’s Hansum. As the main protagonist, I wanted a name that would stick out. Remember the female character in the movie, Dirty Dancing? Her name was Baby and I always remembered it. The character I was writing was physically good looking, tall and athletic, so Hansum just popped into my mind. I was worried it would be seen as cheesy, but nobody’s laughed yet . . . that I know of. Hansum’s talent is that of being a natural leader. Intelligent, but not necessarily an expert in any specialty, his burden becomes having expectations put on him and then struggling to succeed.

When back in time, in the 14th century, he is renamed Romero, and he falls in love with a beauty name Guilietta. It’s not too big a leap to realize that a sub plot of the first series is that it’s in part a Romero and Juliet story. Same city, similar names, close time period. And it’s fun.

It took a year and three more rewrites to come up with what is now entitled The Lens and the Looker. The darn thing has changed into a trilogy. It’s been a long road. You can find out more at www.history-camp.com . You can also “like” the History Camp Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/historycamptrilogy?v=info.

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If you’re looking for something different to read this summer, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Hutchison’s controversial, adventure-filled novel, Latitude 38.

The novel takes place some time in the future. Because of political unrest and heated debates over issues like immigration, gay rights, euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, school prayer, and same-sex marriage, the United States has been split into two republics along the 38th latitude. The southern republic is violent, dogmatic and corrupted, while the northern republic is more peaceful, flexible and compassionate.

Our protagonists, Diego and Adriana Sanchez, are a couple deeply in love. They live in the southern republic. However, this isn’t their main problem: Adriana is dying of terminal cancer and the pain is getting unbearable, but one of the south’s ‘secret’ policies is not to waste pain medication on terminally-ill patients. Euthanasia is also out of the question, as it is not permitted in the south. In order for Adriana to have a serene, pain-free death, they must find a way to get to the north.

Through Adriana’s oncologist, they learn about Arnold Cutbirth, a roguish brute whose ‘job’ is to guide people across the border for exorbitant sums of money. Thus, Diego and Adriana use their life savings to pay for the trip. The story starts at the heart of the conflict, with Diego and Adriana meeting Cutbirth and getting ready for their journey. They soon find out that they’re not the only ones in the group. Travelling with our protagonists is an interesting array of characters: a gay couple, a young mother and her ten-year old girl, and a religious zealot, among a few others. Together, propelled by their own individual goals and guided by cruel and merciless Cutbirth, they must endure all kinds of hardships and dangers in their quest for freedom and a better life.

Latitude 38 is skilfully plotted. From the beginning, Hutchison pulled me into the story with lots of action and dialogue. Exposition and description are kept at a minimum, so the pace is quick. The love between Diego and Adriana, as well as her sad situation are compelling without being melodramatic. Needless to say, they’re very sympathetic characters and, because of this, it was gripping watching their behaviour and reactions as they were pushed to the limit due to their circumstances. Cutbirth is a fascinating character—in fact, for me he is the most fascinating character in the novel. He’s a bad seed, but there’s something about him that makes you wonder that, had he been born in the right setting under different circumstances, he would be a very different person. There’s a subtle transformation in him as the story develops, and this was engrossing to watch. Also interesting is the dynamic interaction between all the different characters as they try to get along in spite of their own instinct to survive.

Though there’s lots of adventure in Latitude 38, this isn’t your typical adventure novel. It is a realistic story with elements of adventure and dystopia. It is a tale of survival filled with crisp dialogue, mounting tension and a heart-breaking climax. While some people might hate the ending and others might love it, one thing is for sure: few will be able to stay impartial or indifferent toward it. This is one of those stories that will stay with you long after having read it.

Latitude 38
By Ron Hutchison
Stay Thirsty Publishing
Ebook, $9.99
General Fiction

Purchase this book HERE.

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Lately there’s been talk amongst publishers, agents, and authors alike that E-Books might one day be offered to the public for free (ok, I know this is happening now, but I mean ALL E-Books). Instead of the reader paying the author/publisher, sponsors will pay in exchange for product placement inside the text. Since the books are read via electronic reader, readers will be able to link to specific product websites, and even to that author’s own books should the opportunity present itself.

I wondered if a scenerio of sponsorship is realistic or if I even unintentionally mention the name of popular products and services inside the text of my books and more importantly, if I did so organically. In other words, do these products become included in the story because they belong there or because I might want them there in order to collect a payment?

Here’s a small chapter of a new novel I’m working on, Moonlight Rises (the sequel to Moonlight Falls). Let’s see how many instances of product placement there are without me forcing them into the text (I’m not gonna link to all of them because I’m a writer more than a blogger and I’ve got a lot of work to do…but you get the point!).

Darkness fills the bedroom.

How long had I been asleep. An hour? Three? It had to be at least three. I looked at my fifteen dollar Target special wrist watch. Fifteen past seven. I’d slept for over five hours. I slid off the bed, more than a bit groggy. There was some blood smeared on the bed sheet from where I rolled over onto my side. I touched my shirt and found that it was wet. I turned on the lamp, pulled off the shirt and the old dressing, checked the wound in the mirror above the dresser. The stitches were still intact. I put on a fresh dressing and a clean shirt. I’d slept long enough. Time to get to work. Find out if Paul Czeck was who he says he was, and if he was in fact looking for a man whom he swore he was his biological father.

I had the Dell laptop open on the kitchen counter, a Bud tall boy open beside it. Thank God for Verizon wireless internet. Allowed me to multi-task. I switched onto Google and typed in the name “Paul Czeck” in the search engine. Not a damn thing came up. Nothing about him belonging to a professional society of engineers, nothing regarding high school or college alumni. No Facebook page, or Twitter account. As far as the internet and social media was concerned, Czeck was anonymous. And considering he worked for a facility that dealt on a daily basis with classified nuclear information, maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be.

I sat back, took a sip of beer.

The pain in my side was getting worse. I tapped the wound gently with my fingers. It sent a small shockwave of sting up and down my side. The Lidocane had officially worn off. I got up, found the Advils in the cabinet above the sink, poured four into my hand. Sitting back down at the table, I swallowed all four with a swig of beer.

Next search. I got the website for The New York State Society for CPA’s. Now there was some excitement. I typed in the name, Howard Roth. I got a single business address that was located downtown, Broadway. Not far from where those three thugs beat the snot out of me. I wrote the address down on a Post-a-Note, stuffed it into my wallet. Tomorrow I’d go pay a visit to Mr. Roth’s office, see if he did in fact look like the man in Czeck’s black and white photo, only thirty-plus years older.

Next item. Maybe there was nothing noteworthy about Czeck on the web, but I could bet the mortgage he was located in the White Pages. And that’s the way it turned out. He lived in a North Albany suburb called Loudonville. Four Orchard Grove. It’s exactly where I would be heading that evening, soon as Georgie got here.

So there you have it. You count the instances of product placement. And I’ll admit, I forced a couple in there, like the Target wrist watch one. But I did that to make a point: if as authors we wanted to cash in a on product placement, you see how easy it would be.

However, I was shocked to learn that popular products and services do appear more than I thought in my work. I wonder if they appear often enough for these companies to pay the author for their appearance much like film production companies collect a hefty payment for product placement in their popular movies? Only the future knows.

For now, I have to get back to work on the novel, and the all important climax which just happens to be taking place at McDonalds which this week is featuring oatmeal for breakfast and a return of the all beef, double…..

About the Author:

Vincent Zandri is an essayist and freelance photojournalist, and the author of the recent bestsellers, The Remains, Moonlight Falls and The Innocent . His novel As Catch Can (Delacorte) was touted in two pre-publication articles by Publishers Weekly and was called “Brilliant” upon its publication by The New York Post. The Boston Herald attributed it as “The most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season.” Other novels include Godchild (Bantam/Dell) and Permanence (NPI). Translated into several languages including Japanese and the Dutch, Zandri’s novels have also been sought out by numerous major movie producers, including Heyday Productions and DreamWorks. Presently he is the author of the blogs, Dangerous Dispatches and Embedded in Africa for Russia Today TV (RT).

He also writes for other global publications, including Culture 11, Globalia and Globalspec. Zandri’s nonfiction has appeared in New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, Game and Fish Magazine and others, while his essays and short fiction have been featured in many journals including Fugue, Maryland Review and Orange Coast Magazine. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College and is a 2010 International Thriller Writer’s Awards panel judge. Zandri currently divides his time between New York and Europe. He is the drummer for the Albany-based punk band to Blisterz.

You can visit his website at www.vincentzandri.com or his blog at www.vincentzandri.blogspot.com. Connect with Vincent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VincentZandri, on Facebook at www.facebooks.com/vincent.zandri?ref=profile and Myspace at www.myspace.com/vincentzandri.

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Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two children, Drake and Celeste.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Christine! Have you always been a fan of science fiction?

Oh yes! The first story I ever wrote, at the age of seven or eight, involved Cabbage Patch Dollars going to Mars. I liked aliens, the future, magic, witches, and anything strange or unusual. As a teenager, I had a crush on Wesley Crusher. My favorite books were A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia.

When did you decide you wanted to become a novelist?

This was never something I decided, it’s just a part of me, something I have to do. I could no more not write than not breathe, and novels are my natural style. I like to spend time with stories, getting to know them, and so while I have written and read a few short stories here and then, I vastly prefer novels.

Tell us about your novel, The Immortality Virus.

The Immortality Virus is a far-future science fiction novel that asks: “What if the entire human race stopped aging?” It takes place in 2450, four centuries after The Change (when humans stopped aging), and tells the story of a blacklisted P.I. named Grace who is hired to find the man who caused The Change – if he’s still alive. There’s action, mystery, and a sprinkling of romance to help brighten the darkness of an otherwise dystopian novel.

What was your inspiration for it?

The Immortality Virus didn’t come to me in a burst of inspiration. I started out with the idea that I wanted to write a science fiction novel (I had just finished a paranormal novel and wanted to try something a little different), and then started doing a random search on Wikipedia. The search led me to the article on DNA, which helped me recall something I’d read about a genetic source for aging, which led me to more articles, and after about a week of reading and researching, it all came together in my mind: Someone released a virus that altered the human genome in such a way that we no longer aged.

After that, things came together fairly quickly. I got into characters (which is where I usually start, to be honest), world building, and I wrote an exploratory draft. Grace came to life as I started writing, as if she had always been inside of me and we were just waiting to be introduced.

How did you create the dystopian world in your story?

It all started with a what if: What if the entire human race stopped aging? I didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel, although I clearly realize that is what I did, but rather to consider the actual consequences of something that we (the human race) has always wanted. How long have we searched for the Fountain of Youth, both literally and figuratively? The current popularity of vampire novels is, I think, largely about the draw of immortality. And maybe it would be exciting, to be one among many, watching history move, but what if it were all of us? Would history even move very quickly, without the natural momentum of birth, growth, and death?

After that, I went back and outlined a social and political history, focusing on the Unitd States, from the time of The Change (in about 2050) to the time of the novel (2450). Much of this did not end up in the book, but having the information clear in my mind helped me to realize the world of the story.

What makes your protagonist special?

Grace is a strong woman – touch, determined, and smart – but inside, she’s vulnerable. She often sees the world through a cynnic’s eyes, and yet she stops to help those in need, grumbling the entire time. She truly cares, but is afraid there’s really no such thing as love, especially when forever is truly put to the test.

What is your greatest challenge when writing science fiction?

My greatest challenge changes as I grow as a writer. When I wrote The Immortality Virus, my greatest challenge was action sequences. I spent many hours with my husband, coreographing them with him, and acting them out, to aid in the believability. (My husband being well-versed in marshall arts.) The experience helped me a lot, though, and I now feel much more confident writing those same scenes.

What is your writing and editing process like?

So far, it has been different for each book I have written. I’m not sure if I learn something each time, or if I just have to mix it up to keep things interesting.

Lately, I’ve decided that the trick to writing is to listen to that voice inside my head telling me something isn’t right and not just bash my way through a story that isn’t working. Writer’s block means something is wrong, and if I stop to fix it, I have much better success.

Editing is difficult for me, especially because I have to blow up my screen to a hugely large font so I can catch those obnoxious errors the word processor missed. I take it slowly, one chapter at a time, going through twice for content, once for style, and once for grammar and spelling. With all but the first content run, I put all the chapter numbers in a hat and pick them out one at a time, to help me keep things interesting.

How long did it take you, from idea to final draft, to complete the novel?

I first dreamed up the idea in the summer of 2006, at which point I wrote a novella-length story that I always knew needed to be a novel. I spent most of the next year working on other projects, including the promotion of my debut novel, Touch of Fate, then I picked it back up in the summer of 2007. I wrote a full draft that summer, then once again, worked on other things until August of 2008, when I finally wrote the last draft. This was something of a summer project because I was involved with a summer critique group for a while. All together, if I carve out the times I set it aside to work on other things, I probably spent 9-12 months on it, but as you can see, the math isn’t all that simple. 🙂

What advice would you give to aspiring SF authors?

Writers write! (For more details, visit my blog. I have weekly tips for writers there.)

Thanks, Christine!

Thank you for having me!

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Author Ron Hutchison graduated from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a degree in journalism. He has worked as a reporter, editor, and columnist at newspapers in Texas, California, and Missouri. He was employed by Sun Oil Company as a public relations executive, and later operated his own advertising and public relations agency. He created the board game ‘Sixth Sense’ in 2003. The game was sold at independent bookstores nationwide. Since moving to Joplin in 2007 from New Mexico to care for her elderly mother, he has written dozens of Op-Ed pieces for the Joplin Globe on social issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage. He lives in Joplin, Missouri.

Q: You’ve had a long career in journalism and public relations. What made you take the plunge and write your first novel?

A: Actually, this is my second novel. Santa Fe Crazy was published in 1999. I became sidetracked for the next seven or so years with a board game I created and marketed called Sixth Sense. I didn’t really begin writing fulltime until 2007.

Q: Please tell us about your novel, Latitude 38.

A: Latitude 38 is a love story set in the future. It plays out against a backdrop of swirling social and political change, and tells the story of Diego Sanchez and his wife Adriana, a couple deeply in love. Their world is shattered when Adriana is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After gut-wrenching deliberation, they opt for doctor-assisted suicide. Wee problem. Crippled by decades of blistering partisan debate over the questions of euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, school prayer, and same-sex marriages—and fearing total anarchy after the bloody Pro-Choice riots a year earlier—the United States is now two separate republics and the border between them is closed. Because Diego and Adriana live south of the border, where doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, they must flee north, across the 38th latitude, where euthanasia is not only legal, but mercifully encouraged for people with terminal illnesses. Any doubt they had about making the perilous trip is removed when they learn the government south of the 38th latitude secretly mandates that terminal cancer patients be given placebos to fight the pain.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

A: The 38th latitude divides the United States into halves. It seemed a natural title. A country being carved up is not new. European countries have been sliced and diced many times over the past 100 years, as have Middle East and Far East nations. The January 2007 issue of National Geographic Magazine reported that in the preceding two years more than 600 changes had been made to the borders that define the world. Remember the Soviet Union? What was once the second most powerful nation on the planet is today 15 separate countries. To think the United States is immune from such geographic restructuring is arrogant and naïve. The breakup of the Soviet Union was caused in large part by economic factors—the Soviet Union went broke. Given our mounting debt, the same thing could happen here. However, it is not debt that will be our undoing; we have the means to fix that. No, it is the uncompromising ideological division that will cause our demise. At first glance, one might see this disintegration as a Republican vs. Democrat tug-of-war. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals the division to run deeper than mere political affiliations. It is polarization at the gut level, one that trumps party loyalties.

Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: When I moved to Joplin, Missouri in 2007 to care for my elderly mother, I was asked by the editor of the Joplin Globe to write Op-Ed pieces for the newspaper. I had worked at the Globe many years earlier as a reporter and later as an editor. Latitude 38 was a consequence of these editorials. Oddly, I had never shown an interest in social issues until I began writing the Op-Ed pieces in 2007. I can’t explain my sudden interest. I’m reminded of David Seidler’s acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars. He won for Best Original Screenplay with The King’s Speech. The 73-year-old playwright cracked that, “My father always said I’d be a late bloomer.” Perhaps, like Seidler, I’m a late bloomer because at 70 I now have the personal discipline, intellectual honesty, and cast-iron point of view to succeed at writing.

Q: Describe your main characters, Diego and Adriana. What makes them compelling and why should the reader care about them?

A: Diego and Adriana are deeply in love. Diego has lived a sheltered, adventure-free life, and he questions his ability to successfully make the dangerous border crossing. But Adriana’s welfare is at stake, and he pushes himself to limits he once thought impossible. The story is told through his eyes. Although she is dying, Adriana is selfless; she cares more for her husband’s welfare than her own, and encourages Diego to conquer his inner fears.

Q: You explore some heavy social themes in Latitude 38. Could you discuss some of them?

A: The ideological philosophies separating Americans today are more poisonous than those dividing Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or Sunnis and Shites in the Middle East. I realize that’s a bold statement, but sadly, I believe it to be true. Regardless of the issue here in the U.S., the two sides refuse to give a hair’s breadth. It is this malicious impasse that compelled me to write Latitude 38. Although I broached many social issues throughout the story, I allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the fair-mindedness of each issue, whether it is abortion, capital punishment or gay rights. Nobody likes to be preached to. I’ve tried not to preach.

Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing the novel?

A: I tried to remain philosophically neutral. It wasn’t always easy. I wanted the readers to draw their own conclusions about the consequences of a strict law-and-order society.

Q: What are your writing habits like? Are you disciplined?

A: I write six hours a day, seven days a week.

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

A: About a year and a half. The story went through many revisions.

Q: Tell us about the publishing process. Was it difficult landing an agent and/or finding a publisher?

A: Finding an agent was difficult. I was fortunate to have made the connection with Leticia Gomez in 2008 when a Hollywood film company called Antibody Films optioned a three-book middle-grade series I had just written. I didn’t have an agent at the time. I found Leticia, and she represented me. Later, she represented Latitude 38, but found the going rough with traditional publishers—they told Leticia that Latitude 38 was too controversial. That’s the beauty of e-publishers. They allow writers more editorial flexibility. As a consequence of this, e-book readers have a much greater story selection.

Q: What’s next for Ron Hutchison?

A: I have two other novels in the works.

Q: What is your best tip for aspiring authors?

A: Write.

Thanks for this interview!

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Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!)
Third Edition
By “Laughing” Larry Berger
ISBN-13: 978-1450255523
ASIN: 1450255523
September 2010
52 pages

Purchase HERE.

I was intrigued when I received a copy of this poetry chapbook for review. It isn’t the typical poetry book. The author, ‘Laughing’ Larry Berger, ‘wrote’ or improvised these poems onstage as part of an audience participation free verse sets at coffee houses in Los Angeles in 1996.

It isn’t easy to write poetry, much less improvise it in front of an audience, which is why I was delighted to discover Berger’s wit, imagination, and flair for language.

The verses, some as short as a few lines and some long enough for two pages, explore various subjects and themes, from fun and light to serious and transcendent.

A good example of the author’s lighter poems is “Bubble Gum.” It catches a moment, a single snapshot of pure joy.

Soft and warm between my teeth,
an old lover returns
sweet and tangy inside my mouth.

Over and over she dances,
building evermore desire.

Slowly she turns up the heat,
stoking the fires
her passions no longer confinable
releasing the rapture of the moment!

And then
She slides along my tongue
For one

A recurring theme in this work is the idea that modern men are trapped, caged, slaves and prisoners of their own cars and apartments. The following stanza is from “Leprosy.”

Rotting corpses walking down the street
are they really so different from you and me?
They get up, go to work, come home,
all in steel and concrete coffins.

In other poems, such as “Four Thousand Years Ago (The Crack Baby’s Prayer),” the author takes a philosophical look at life, presenting the reader with a grim picture of society, injustice, and the violence inflicted by humans throughout history. Berger uses the symbolic metaphor of rivers red with blood—this metaphor, by the way, is also recurrent in some of his other poems.
Some of my favorite poems in this book are the ones where Berger captures one single moment of happiness in a world where disaster looms in every corner. For example, in “Green Tea Ice Cream,” which is about the prediction that the world will end in 2012, Berger ends the verse with:

Right now
I’ve got my green tea ice cream
I’m happy.

There are a several memorable lines in this collection. This from “Ten Foot Pole.”

Thousands homeless
or out of work, downing
Anti-depressant medication
As that statue out in the harbor
Spreads her legs to the world.

The following, my favorite, is from “Stop Laughing!”

To stop laughing
is to resign ourselves to
coffins of skin!

I’m not sure if Berger meant to leave his best poem for last, but “Cold KFC in N.Y.C.” was definitely the best for me. The poem, which reads like a story, is about a man who has just been mugged in Grand Central:

You see
an hour ago
I was kissing concrete
back at Grand Central
with the barrel of a
.357 shoved into the back
Of my skull.

The man, who has just missed death, goes back to his crummy, cold flat and collapses from terror and exhaustion. Later he wakes up hungry and the only thing left in his fridge is some cold KFC leftovers. Berger ends the poem—and the book—with:

And folks
I’ve got to tell you!

Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!) is a collection of forty-eight poems. I was surprised at the author’s creativity, good humor, and, at times, depth about the human condition. Some of these poems were performed on stage along the West Coast and New York and were created in interactive poetry readings. It is a unique and ingenious concept. I don’t read poetry often but I found Instant Poetry engaging and interesting. If you enjoy poetry and would like to try something different, I recommend you grab a copy of this book.

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David Pérez was born and raised in the South Bronx in New York City of parents of Puerto Rican descent. Growing up in the Millbrook Houses in the 1960s and navigating his way through Catholic school comprise much of the storyline for his memoir Wow! (11B Press, 2011). David has written hundreds of published articles for newspapers and magazines and is also a skilled editor. As an actor, he has appeared on stage, film and commercial print. He currently lives in Taos, New Mexico with his wife, poet Veronica Golos, and is the father of two adult children, Belinda and Jase.

Thanks for this interview, David! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it?

Wow! is a memoir of a smart, funny and somewhat naïve Puerto Rican boy (me) growing up in the South Bronx in the 1960s, living in the projects and navigating his way through a Catholic elementary school populated by a trio of desperadoes known as the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

Wow! is not the typical “boy grows up in ghetto, survives despite drugs and violence” story. This childhood reads like an adventure tale with David and his somewhat wacky friends: Julio’s constant queries in Religion class (“What if you only steal bubble gum?”), and Chino’s challenges to authority (“I ain’t afraid of no Brothers of any heart!”). David’s brother George is worried about junkies stealing boxes of potato chips in broad daylight. Mom loves the Funk &Wagnell’s Encyclopedia. Dad has just discovered credit.

I called my book a “memoirito” because of its novella length (128 pages). Its episodic writing style also reminded me of the telenovelas that Latinos watch, or those popular pocket paperback novelas in Spanish with illustrations. Wow! has illustrations too, done by my brother George Pérez, an internationally acclaimed comic book artist. He drew the cover as well.

As far as inspiration goes, I’ve always been a storyteller, whether as an activist journalist, writer or actor—and especially as a father. Seeing my kids become adults so quickly made me think of my own growing up, how cool it would be if I could capture each moment as if with a pause button. Reviewing my coming-of-age eventually resulted in my memoir.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

It was a little of both, actually. My process began several years ago at an Ashram in upstate New York. Reminiscing on what an eventful life I’ve had, I took out a little notepad and began jotting down names of family and childhood friends, names of streets in my neighborhood, memorable events like first dates, each entry only a few words long. I filled several pages and only got to high school!

Months later I took an entry, for instance St. Luke’s or running track, and just free wrote whatever popped to mind. And that’s how Wow! sprang to life. Eventually, I made chapter outlines and began pulling the narrative together. Thus the writing became more structured, more focused, with intent.

How long did it take you to write the book?

My book took about seven years to complete. I wrote it in spurts because there’s so much else in my life that I enjoy doing—spending time with family, going for hikes, acting in community theater, and other freelance writing and editing gig that I regularly get. So by necessity Wow! had to grow organically. My process also included sending sample chapters out to magazines, going to writing workshops for group critique (a must for all writers), and doing public readings, which I enjoy immensely.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Prior to Wow!, my main writing had been journalism, which I still do. This is a field where you don’t have time for writer’s block. You have deadlines to meet, other assignments waiting to be done. Journalism also requires that you get to the point quickly and concisely, and that’s similar to all writing—at least it should be.

That said, I did have moments with my book when I stared at a blank page for hours, or when I just couldn’t get beyond a first sentence. I struggle with beginnings a lot. It’s important, I feel, to draw the reader in quickly, to get them hooked into your story right off the bat. But since I had no deadlines beckoning, my writing blocks would kick in big time.

In addition, this was about my life. Given my primary training, this was much harder to write than some article about another person or event. Plus I didn’t have a word limit; there was nothing I couldn’t write. I could follow my writing plan or chuck it all together—which I once did, only to find myself frantically combing my computer to retrieve my original chapter outline. No question: Wow! was a challenge to complete. It was fun, yes, but definitely a lesson in how to keep your eyes on the prize.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Publishing has been interesting; I did tons of research about the various options. I started off by submitting directly to small and mid-sized presses, rather than seeking an agent. There are plenty of quality presses that don’t require an agent, Graywolf and Algonquin, for instance. Anyway, my manuscript was accepted by a small press two weeks after I submitted it; pretty incredible, I thought, and quite the confidence builder! Then I got other “we’re interested” bites from noteworthy presses.

As I was deciding what to do, I met with my brother George at his home in Orlando, Florida to discuss the cover and interior illustrations. He wondered if I should just publish it myself to “make most of the money and maintain all artistic control.” It was an option I was also considering, especially since I wanted to keep the book’s price at $10, a hard thing for a traditional press to accept since they would make little money—and me even less.

Soon afterwards, a friend of mine who’s into the film business discussed with me the idea of starting a press, and having Wow! be their launch book. As she put it, Wow! had cinematic elements well suited to the entertainment goals of her company, 11B Productions. We discussed terms and cemented a deal. Thus began 11B Press. I’m very pleased with my decision.

In terms of advice, the main thing I can offer is that you should explore each and every possibility, and then find out what works for you. At the same time, keep yourself open to the unforeseen and the unexpected. Seek out other writers and immerse yourself in the creative community as much as possible; many doors can open that way.

But all in all, keep things in balance. At a recent “21st Century Publishing” panel held in Taos, New Mexico (where I currently live), I emphasized that everyone has to seek his and her own journey. Why do you want to write? How important is a book to you, really? What other creative things give you pleasure?

Everything boils down to being true to yourself. It sounds metaphysical but it’s true.

What authors or type of books do you read for fun?

I read many different types of books, and since I work part-time at Moby Dickens Bookshop in Taos (25 years in business as an independent bookstore) my reading list is totally out of control. I like books on politics and the economy (the more left the better), science fiction, humor, mystery, world history, science, new age, and memoir. Within this vast list of genres, authors I’ve enjoyed include Arthur Clarke, Chris Hedges, Michael Pollen, Graham Hancock, Elizabeth George, Naomi Klein, Vine Deloria, David Sedaris, and Michio Kaku. Recommended Taos authors include Summer Wood, Veronica Golos, John Nichols, and Frank Waters.

Among the many Latino authors I admire are Eduardo Galeano, Junot Diaz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Cristina Garcia, Juan Flores, Julia Alvarez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Esmeralda Santiago, Abraham Rodriguez, playwright Jose Rivera, and almost all Latino spoken word and slam poets.

Not every book I seek out to read is fun. Yet even when a book is difficult to read because it exposes realities like war and violence and suffering, I still get a keen sense of fulfillment in feeling my worldview expand, in simply knowing. I get a rush out of truth, and good writing always does that to me, no matter what its content.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I only have a website, which is www.davidperezwow.com. There you can hear audio clips from Wow!, find samples of my other writing, and learn of my editing experience, among other goodies.

Do you have another novel on the works?

Wow II—The High School Years!

Thanks, David, and best wishes in your writing career!

About the book:

128 pages
$10.00 print version
$3.99 Kindle ebook

Click on the cover below to get your copy!

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Please welcome my special guest, award-winning Cuban playwright and novelist Teresa Dovalpage. She’s here today to talk about her novel, Habanera.

Teresa has a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature and is the author of five novels, three in Spanish and two in English, and a collection of short stories in Spanish. Her plays has been staged in Chicago by Aguijon Theater and in small theaters in Miami. Her articles, reviews and short stories have appeared in Rosebud, Latino Today, Afro-Hispanic Review, Baquiana, La Peregrina, Letras Femeninas, El Nuevo Herald and other publications. She currently works as a freelancer for The Taos News and the bilingual paper Mas New Mexico. Visit her website at www.dovalpage.com.

Teresa presently lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches Spanish and Spanish Literature at UNM-Taos. Her blog in Spanish, that complements her narrative workshop, is http://dovalpage.wordpress.com/ and her blog in English, where some of her articles are posted, is http://teredovalpage.wordpress.com.

Q: Thanks for this interview, Teresa! When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

A: Thank you, chica! Now that I think of it, I probably decided to become a writer when I was a teenager. I grew up in Havana during the 80’s and entertainment options were quite limited then—camping out in rustic settings or going to Saturday night parties. I was never the cheez boom bah type (in fact, I was a nerd) and was afraid of snakes so I stayed home in the company of books. After reading thousands of pages, there came a time when I thought, “Hey, I bet I can write one too.” And I began to write…some really awful stories, according to my mother.

Q: Did anyone in your family write or have creative interests?

A: My grandfather used to have long conversations with himself and he often wrote them down. He transcribed them carefully, in dialogues between two characters “Yo” and “Mí mismo” (I and Myself). I don’t know if this counts as creativity, though… I tried to depict a few of his eccentricities in Ponciano, the main character’s grandfather in my novel Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family.

Q: Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

A: While I lived in Cuba I didn’t think there would be any opportunity for me to publish my books so I just keep writing for the love of it, por amor al arte. But I knew I would eventually leave the island, which happened in 1996. Once I came to “La Yuma,” as we call the United States, it was quite a smooth road. I didn’t even have an agent when I began, just sent the manuscript of A Girl like Che Guevara to as many publishing houses as I could think of. “Someone is going to pick it up, someday,” I figured.

Q: Did you have any mentors?

A: Pues claro! There are two writers that I greatly admire and consider my mentors, mis maestras. One is Lorraine Lopez, author of The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters and a finalist of the 2010 PEN /Faulkner Award. I always learn a lot about plot development and structure from reading her books. And my fellow Cuban Ana Cabrera Vivanco, currently living in Spain and author of Las Horas del Alma, a brilliant novel that I expect to see translated into English soon.

Q: Let’s talk now about your novel, Habanera, which has garnered some rave reviews. What is it about and what was your inspiration for it?

A: It started as a memoir, but at a given moment I realized I had reinvented history too much. After some prodding from my mother, who called me a liar among other things, I decided to turn it into fiction. It is loosely based on my own family, though I added many events that never happened in reality. (There was no ghost at home, at least that I knew of.) But the characters are inspired in my parents and grandparents who were—and are—a weird and motley crew.

Q: Habanera combines quirky humor with compelling drama. How do you decide when to incorporate humor in this type of novel? Is it a conscious decision or does it come natural?

A: Well, some things that people find funny were never intended to be humorous at all, hehehe…

Q: One of the reviewers wrote: “Dovalpage is a master of quirky, loveable characters, and emotionally resonant narrative.” How do you create your characters and make them genuine? How do you make your prose shine with emotion?

A: In this case, I copied most of the characters from reality so creating “genuine” characters was relatively easy. After all, I knew the models well… As for the emotion part, I try to give as many details as I can, to get inside the characters’ heads and let hem do the talking.

Q: What was your writing process like while working on Habanera? Was it difficult to go back in time and relive that experience?

A: Since I started it as a memoir the writing process was like keeping a journal backwards. I wrote down a series of episodes as they came to my memory (the unfortunate event with the Christmas pig at home, the visits to the cemetery…) But when I decided to turn it into a novel I changed the timeframe, from the 80’s to the 90’s, so I had to go back and rewrite some scenes… In general it was fun to relive my childhood experiences. I could see for the first time how quirky it really was.

Q: Tell us what the revision process is like for you. Do you edit as you write or do you edit later?

A: Both. I edit as I write and when I finish the manuscript, I have someone read the final draft too, particularly when it is in English. Ay, these pesky prepositions! My husband Gary has been very helpful in that respect.

Q: How was your road to publication?

A: It hasn’t been too difficult. After my first novel in English, A Girl like Che Guevara, was published by Soho Press, I had three more novels (in Spanish) published—Posesas de La Habana Posesas de La Habana, (Crazy Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), Muerte de un murciano en la Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana) that was a runner-up for the Herralde Award in 2006 and El Difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel) that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009. It was a little more complicated to find a home for a collection of short stories in Spanish, Por culpa de Candela and other stories, but I finally did. And then came Habanera

Q: What do you love most about the writer’s life?

A: The fact that I can write at home when I feel like it, surrounded by my cats and dogs…And wearing my moo-moo, though I only do that when my husband isn’t around. And most importantly, to hear from the readers, to get the personal feedback that makes all the butt-hours spent in front of the computer worthy. There is a fan of Cuban Literature in Spain who has created a website called La Biblioteca Cubana de Barbarito (Barbarito’s Cuban Library). When I get a message from him or from another reader, I feel in seventh heaven…

Q: What Latina authors have inspired you?

A: Many of them! But I want to mention Elena Avila, who sadly passed away last March. She wrote Woman Who Glows in the Dark, a national bestseller about curanderismo, and several beautiful plays. I used Woman Who Glows in the Dark as a textbook in my Santeria and Curanderismo class at the University of New Mexico and it inspired me to write a book on that topic, 101 Questions to a Curandera, that I am presently co-authoring with an eight-generation curandera, Patricia Padilla. The only thing I regret is not having been able to meet Elena in person.

Q: Did you establish a connection with other Latina writers when you started writing? How important do you think is a supportive community for budding writers?

A: Bueno, we have a very supportive and active community in NuncaSolas! I also have a wonderful circle of Latina writers and we trade first drafts and give each other advice. It is an invaluable help.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

A: Don’t store rejection letters… I have heard that some writers do it but can’t imagine anything more depressing, plus it seems like bad Feng Shui. And above all, keep writing!

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