Cloud Cover, by Jeffrey Sotto: A Review.

Cloud Cover balances the specific with the universal with ease and elegance, a tribute to the author Jeffrey Sotto’s skill. The protagonist of the book is a 30-something, gay, Filipino man living in Toronto, which could have made some readers feel the story is beyond their experience. The character of Tony is drawn with precision: he is not an everyman. He is himself, flawed and damaged, from external and internal causes, and relatable to anyone who has dealt with personal loss or rejection.

This isn’t to say Cloud Cover is an easy read. Tony’s bulimia is described in some detail, and he is likely to exasperate the reader as much as he does his friends. On the other hand, parts of Cloud Cover are laugh-out-loud funny, a nice balancing act from the author.

I found myself really caring what happened to Tony, both in his new, hopeful relationship and in his work towards healing. Sotto moves Tony past his ‘identity’ to find commonalities of the human experience: the devastation of grief; the joy of true acceptance; the pressure to conform. Nor is Tony’s life always bleak: he finds contentment, sometimes happiness, in parts of his life; a compromise, but one that will be well understood by many readers.

Sotto develops the story with compassion tempered by a clear look at the realities of a mental health disorder. Ultimately Cloud Cover is a hopeful book, but in a realistic way. There is no easy fix, no person but Tony who can turn his life onto a track less damaging, and not without significant, difficult work. But he can, by the end, see at least a hint of the sun behind the clouds, and the reader is left believing in a better future for Tony. Strongly recommended for readers of contemporary novels with believable, realistic protagonists.

Reviewed for Coffee and Thorn Tours.


Author Jeffrey Sotto

Jeffrey Sotto graduated from The University of Toronto, majoring in Film Studies and English Literature. He was the screenwriter and script consultant of the Canadian short films The Tragedy of Henry J. Bellini (2010) and Sara and Jim (2009), respectively.
Cloud Cover, his first novel, published in 2019, won a Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) for LGBTQ Fiction, an Independent Publisher Bronze Medal Book Award (IPPY), and a Literary Titan Book Award. It also briefly topped the Amazon bestseller list in LGBTQ fiction upon release. He published his second novel, The Moonballers: A Novel about The Invasion of a LGBTQ2+ Tennis League … by Straight People (GAY GASP!) in Spring 2022.


Jeffrey is also an advocate for mental health and eating disorder awareness and recovery, having shared his story on CBC Radio, Global News, and Sheena’s Place. He is currently a peer mentor at Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS). He will be contributing to the anthology Queering Nutrition and Dietetics: LGBTQ+ Reflections on Food Through Art, to be released in December 2022. Finally, in 2023, he will be appearing in the docuseries Wicked Bodies by Truefaux Films, which focuses on fostering positive culturally competent engagement in treatment and support centres, universities, and non-profit programs working with LGBTQ+ groups with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.


He is a self-proclaimed “cubicle dreamer,” tennis addict, and compulsive social media duckfacer.

Storytellers: New Cover!

Like interior decoration and wardrobes, book covers can need updating. Bjørn Larssen has a new cover for his haunting novel Storytellers, and I’m pleased to show it to you today.

If you don’t tell your story, they will.

Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt derail the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?

Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is another’s game of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?


My 2019 Review:

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20th century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.


Bjørn Larssen is an award-winning author of historical fiction and fantasy, dark and funny in varying proportions. His writing has been described as ‘dark,’ ‘literary,’ ‘cinematic,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘there were points where I was almost having to read through a small gap between my fingers.’

Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, and has previously worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). He currently lives with his husband in Almere, which is unfortunately located in The Netherlands, rather than Iceland.

He has only met an elf once. So far.


Purchase links on Bjørn’s website.

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J. Dalton

I’m pretty new to writing as I didn’t start until I turned 64.  That was back in 2016 when I was diagnosed with CML Leukemia.

Getting Leukemia was a slap in the face that turned my life upside down.  I lost a job I absolutely loved because of that, and thought I was going to die.  Now that I am on the other side of it, I can honestly say that it turned out to be a good thing. It forced me to face my own mortality and look back on my life and the legacy I would leave.  Now, I don’t fear death anymore, and I am no longer totally focused on work.  I have found that family is the most important thing in my life.

With all of the high dose Chemo pills I was taking and the side effects they caused, (constant Pleural effusions where fluid would build up in the sack around my lungs making it difficult to breathe), there wasn’t much I could do physically any more, so I had this crazy idea that I would write a book for my grand-kids, after all, how hard could it be?  (What the heck was I thinking?) That was the beginning of The Gates to the Galaxies Sci-Fi series.

Now, I’m seven books into the series and working on number eight, and I’m pretty sure not many people write the way I do.

I’m not the kind of author that can sit down at the computer and pound out a chapter or two.  All of my Sci-Fi stories are based on my dreams.  They come to me in full color like I’m watching a high def movie where each character speaks in their own unique voice.  I dream a chapter or two each night when I’m “in the groove”, as I call it, and the next morning, I just write down what happened in the dream.  I can go days without anything going on, then every day for weeks I dream about my story and sit down and write.

In my books, the villains, called the ‘Ones’ speak in musical notes and telepathic emotions that have different meanings when spoken in a different key. 

I think this concept came from when I was a child.  Music was a big part of my life back then from piano lessons, band, chorus and being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles at home like country, big band and of course, the classical music in the cartoons of my childhood.  I would often just close my eyes and hear the music speaking to me as I made up words in my head to go along with the tune, so that became an integral part of my stories.

I don’t think of myself as an author or writer, but rather a story teller.  Money, (or sales) never was a driving factor in doing this.  All I ever wanted originally was to have my grand-kids and then eventually, other people read my stories and react to them. 

There are a lot of different concepts in my books that most Sci-Fi stories don’t use and I think, based on the reviews I’ve gotten so far, that once people read my books, they enjoy them.  That’s the most rewarding feeling to me.

As I said, for me the writing part is the easiest as I simply tell the stories of my dreams.  Marketing, on the other hand, is something I struggle with but I keep working at it. 


J.Dalton’s books can be found on Amazon.

Connect with him on Twitter using @JDaltonAuthor


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Writing for Effect: A Dialogue with Mary L. Schmidt

Mary L. Schmidt writes under her given name and a pen name, S. Jackson with her freshman book a memoir, and she now has 30 books under her belt ranging from three memoirs to comic books, one recipe book, and a lot of children’s picture books. She chose to discuss three topic from three different books for this conversation.

  1. Childhood cancer is scary, horrific, and all consuming.

After surviving the cruel rage of tyranny from her mother and ex-husband, Sarah Jackson traveled a new path, a journey of loss, heartbreak, and ultimately strength. How do we survive the unthinkable, our child suffering from a terminal illness? They say there is no greater loss than that of a child; I say losing a child is the king of loss. Sometimes the thing that helps us survive it, is knowing we are not alone. Bestselling author, Sarah Jackson, will take you on her journey of hope and strength as she provides an intimate raw look at her life.

“I want to go to Heaven, Mom.” as my son lay in his hospital bed in the presurgical area.
“We don’t always get what we want in life, so you might have to come back to me.” I replied as my heart was breaking.

When Angels Fly

One cannot stop an angel from flying and when a child of age five wants to go to heaven, ask your child why, and what he or she knows of heaven. Don’t fear your child’s death but ask them. They will tell you what they know or have seen. My little boy had already spoken with Jesus.


Marian:
In this excerpt, you speak to the role of faith – both a mother’s and a child’s belief – in surviving the unthinkable. No parent should outlive their child, it is often said. But not all parents nor children will have a belief in a divine being. One of your stated goals is for people going through this life-altering experience to know they are not alone. Does your book speak to those who do not believe in a divine being or an afterlife, and if so, can you explain how?

Mary:

Great question! I can answer this one as my ex-husband is a practicing atheist and for his actions. My arm was wrapped around my son the final moments of his life. My ex wanted medicine for when my son’s heart stopped but no compressions. I wanted nothing done. I knew where my little boy wanted to go, and I knew he was moments away from death as he was in transition.  I had to beg my ex three times to let him go as his heart stopped for the third, and last time. He nodded his head yes. I rocked my dead son, after all tubes and such were removed. I talked to him in heaven. My ex simply watched. Then got up from the rocking chair and motioned for my ex to sit, after which I placed my son in his arms. He held him a few minutes then left the ICU. Essentially, as an atheist, my ex had to deal with his grief and such internally without help from the divine God. That led him to get drunk. But I turned to Jesus, and I was not alone.


2. A book on bullying evoking change in children.

In ‘The Big Cheese Festival’, we meet Stubby Mouse and his family and friends. We learn that Stubby Mouse has a secret, that he is being bullied by another mouse, simply because his tail is short. This story illustrates how everyone is different and unique, and it is a delightful read with adorable and eye-catching, cute illustrations for both children and adults. Take a stand against bullying today! 

“See! I did it! I stood up for myself and Cutter Mouse can’t bully me anymore.” replied Stubby Mouse.

The Big Cheese Festival

Thus, Stubby Mouse’s self-esteem increased, and he no longer allowed himself to be bullied by others.

Marian:

I’m curious to know what it is Stubby did to stand up to Cutter!  I like the choice of a simple thing like a short tail, because children can fixate on the smallest difference. How did you portray the bullying? Who helps Stubby stand up for himself?

Mary:

Stubby Mouse was happy and excited when he woke up on the morning of the Big Cheese Festival. All the mice in his neighborhood looked forward to this big event. There would be dancing and lots of cheese, and they would elect a King and Queen of the Festival. This was Stubby’s first Big Cheese Festival, but when Cutter Mouse came to pick up Stubby’s brother, Zippy, he made fun of Stubby’s short tail. Cutter laughed and said that no girls would want to dance with him. Zippy got angry with his friend for picking on his little brother, but the damage was done. After Zippy and Cutter left, Stubby began to cry. Cindy (a girl mouse) heard him crying inside the house, and she wanted to know what was wrong. She told Stubby that she liked him the way he was, and thought Cutter was an awful bully. They went to the festival together, and Cutter made fun of Stubby and knocked him down onto his short tail. Stubby informed Cutter that he would not be bullied anymore, and he pushed Cutter down on his normal size tail. This impressed all the mice attending as they loved Stubby and his bravery. Stubby became King of The Big Cheese Festival for his bravery.


3. A book regarding shyness in children as related by a turtle who was too shy to come out of his shell.

Tommy Turtle is a shy land turtle who likes to hide inside his shell. Tommy Turtle helps parents and teachers reinforce positive behaviors in an imaginative setting of a park and mud puddles as they learn about land turtles and shyness. Learning and sharing are essential for social development in all children.

“I’m scared to come out, I can’t splash the water puddles like the other turtles.” replied Tommy Turtle.

“I will be at your side, and you can jump when I jump. Okay?” said Jerry Turtle.

Tommy took a deep breath and poked his head out of his shell. He watched the other turtles playing, and finally decided to join in. Tommy made the biggest splash in the puddles, and learned that he could have fun, play, and be accepted by other turtles. Tommy also learned that he didn’t have to talk when he was a little more nervous. It was okay to watch, listen, and learn. It was okay to be shy at times. Tommy had the best afternoon, ever!

Tommy Turtle

Marian:

Is Jerry the same age as Tommy?  Or is he an older mentor?  Why does he take Tommy under his wing?  As you indicate, these are important skills for children to learn, but it is something they can do on their own without adult modelling? 

Mary:

Jerry and Tommy are nearly the same age. Tommy is new to the park this story is set in as some kids change schools, move around, and it’s natural to be shy. Tommy was shy and hid inside his shell because he didn’t know the other turtles. In Jerry’s case, he had been new to the same park the year before. Jerry befriended Tommy and drew him out of his shell. Tommy played and overcame his shyness. In the end, Tommy decided that he would help other new turtles when they arrived in the park, just like Jerry helped him. Children can read this book on their own and model their experiences to the experiences Tommy went through.


Find all books published as Sarah Jackson here and as Mary L. Schmidt here, or connect with Mary at her website www.whenangelsfly.net.

Would you like to be part of this series? Authors published or unpublished are welcome – leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

The Silver Crystal, by Ryan Lanz


The Silver Crystal
is the first of The Red Kingdom trilogy, introducing the three major characters of the series: Rhael, a bounty hunter; Phessipi, the leader of a hated and persecuted minority, and Levas, a high-ranking officer of The Order. In a medieval world, the ‘Corrupted’ – men and women with abilities that go beyond those common to all people—are hunted down and mutilated in a way that destroys their extra powers. Hunting ‘Corrupted’ for The Order is Rhael’s job, when we meet him at the beginning of the story.

The Silver Crystal is more character-focused than action-focused, although it has its share of action too. In this first book, the usual hero’s journey of fantasy is given a twist, and the other main characters grapple with the decisions and consequences of leadership and rebellion – costs both personal and professional. Heavy on dialogue, including some passages of banter that are meant to lighten the mood but to this reader stood out as devices designed to do exactly that, not integral to the story – the story still moves along at a good pace, the point of view alternating between Rhael and Phessipi, until fairly far into the book, when Levas is introduced.

This late introduction of the third main character felt a little off-balance, but as this is the first book of a trilogy, in the context of the full story it makes sense. The world-building is sketched lightly but sufficiently, and characters fit their roles. Rhael’s sidekick, Gobo, might provide light relief for some readers, but I found him annoying, like an Ewok in Star Wars. (But then, other people love Ewoks.) Overall, an intriguing fantasy suitable in my judgement for readers twelve and above, with themes of discovery, acceptance, and understanding of differences running through the story.

WHAT THREE THINGS?

By Helen Hollick

Hello Marian, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. You asked me to tell you and your readers about the books I write. Where to start!

I used to write straight historical fiction: my first Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was about King Arthur with a setting in Roman Britain in the 5th to 6th centuries. These were originally published back in the early 1990s – so I’ve been writing for a lo-o-ong while now! My intention for the trilogy was to strip away all the myth and magic of then Medieval Christian-based tales and write the books as ‘what might have happened’. Not for me the familiar ‘love triangle’, there is no Lancelot in my story, no Holy Grail, no Merlin either. I saw Arthur as an ambitious but capable war lord, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) as an equally capable woman. They love each other but are two people with intelligent minds – and firm ideas which often clash. I used the earlier Welsh legends, which are far more interesting and very different from the later Medieval tales.

Following these, I moved to the 11th century and the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. I am a firm supporter of King Harold II, so this story is written from the English point of view – stripped of all the Norman propaganda. The other book is the story of Emma of Normandy – Queen Emma of Anglo-Saxon England. She was married to Æthelred the Unready and then to King Cnut. One of her sons was Edward the Confessor, so a prequel story to the people involved in the subsequent Norman Conquest of England.

I turned to crime during the months of lockdown – fictionally, that is. I branched out into writing cozy mysteries. My Jan Christopher Series are quick read novellas set in the 1970s against the background of my years of working as a library assistant – with the twist of a murder mystery included. There are two in the series published so far, I plan more!

My favourites, however, are the Sea Witch Voyages. I wrote the first, Sea Witch back in 2005/6 when I wanted to read something as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – but for adults (with some adult content, some adult scenes and language, and some violence.) I couldn’t find what I wanted to read so I wrote it myself. I have just published the sixth in the series, Gallows Wake, with a short read novella prequel, When The Mermaid Sings as a bonus read.

So, three things that I care passionately about in my writing?

1) My Characters. I fell hopelessly in love with ‘my’ Arthur, mind you, I was in that man’s mind for more than ten years (it took me that long to write what eventually became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner!) I am even more in love with my pirate (well, ex-pirate now,) Captain Jesamiah Acorne.  Funnily enough, I did notice, a while ago, when looking through bits of The Kingmaking, just how alike Arthur and Jesamiah are! They are both rough, tough guys. Both formidable when angry, but quick to laugh, both determined, both loyal in their own way – both would willingly die for the woman they love, even though tempers often flare between them. Honour is important for both of them – although both are also ruthless when needs must. They both have a solid, reliable friend and I wanted to portray them both as men who cared, who hurt when their hearts were broken and who drowned their sorrows …

2) I care about creating a feeling of believability. ‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’ both had a lot of historical fact to base the outline of the stories on: history tells us that this, this and this happened, and when and where it happened. The novelist has to decide (OK, make up) the whys and hows. For ‘Arthur’ there is nothing to go on – let’s face the truth, King Arthur did not exist (although he might have been an amalgamation of several notable post-Roman war lords.) So for the ‘facts’ I researched post-Roman Britain and used what little we do know as the basis for my trilogy. I also extensively used my knowledge of horses.

For ‘Jesamiah’ some of the elements in the Voyages are supernatural or fantasy – the love of Jesamiah’s life is Tiola, a White Witch, a Wise Woman of Craft. To balance the ‘made-up’ bits I was as careful as I could be to get the ‘real’ bits right, in particular the sailing scenes aboard Sea Witch. I also used quite a bit of factual history from the early 1700s – although some I did ‘bend’ a little to suit my timeline (but I mention what I changed in my author’s notes.) I have absolutely no knowledge of sailing Tall Ships, though. Fortunately there are a lot of good books to use for research and I have a wonderful friend in the author James L. Nelson who checks my sailing scenes for me – and doesn’t laugh too loudly at my bloopers!

3) I suppose my third passion is for writing the book I want to read. ‘Arthur’ I wrote because I have never liked the later Medieval tales. I could never see Arthur as the sort of king who would go off and leave his country for years (although Richard I, did). Nor could I see Gwenhwyfar as being so stupid as to have an affair with Lancelot (who, actually, I didn’t like anyway.) The familiar tales, I believe, were written as propaganda to get men to go off on Crusade, and to justify Richard I, the Lionheart’s obsessions.

‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’, were the same, I wanted to write their stories as they ought to have been written. As for Jesamiah, well, he’s entirely made up, but as I said earlier, I wanted to immerse myself in a swashbuckling, enjoyable and engrossing adult nautical adventure … I didn’t expect that first Voyage, however, to turn out to be such a successful series!

Choose an excerpt or two to illustrates one of your three topics.

1a. From The Kingmaking

With a short, exasperated sigh, Cei strode over to the drunkard. As he was about to shake the man’s shoulder, he broke into a chuckle. Ah no, the poor tavern keeper could not give this one to the street.

Roused by Cei’s persistent nudging, Arthur staggered unsteadily to his feet.

It was only a short journey to the palace but, hampered as he was by the almost dead weight of his companion, it took Cei a while to reach their assigned rooms, where, laughing, he waved Arthur’s sleepy servant aside. “Go back to your bed, I shall tend your master.” He seated Arthur on the bed and pulled off his boots. “An enjoyable evening, I assume. Trust you to spoil it by getting yourself over full of wine.”

1b. Excerpt from Sea Witch, the first Voyage

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the  door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun.

Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”

Hesitant, Jesamiah took it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”

“Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ’alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”

Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating egg shell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”

“Just drink it.”

Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back.  “Later perhaps.”

“Écoute mon gars,”  Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you lead us like the brilliant captain you are or we leave you ’ere in this God-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please.”

Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. Hesitant, he raised it to his lips. “It smells foul.”

The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure, or so ma mere used to say.”

“What was she? The village poisoner?”

Both these scenes get across to the reader that the men have good, reliable friends, and that broken hearts can be dulled by drink, but not mended. The mending, of course, comes later in the stories!

THE VOYAGES

SEA WITCH   Voyage one

PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND  Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

(short-read novella)

And just published…

GALLOWS WAKE

The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

By Helen Hollick

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:

“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”

Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon Author Page (Universal link)https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

Writing for Effect

A Dialogue with Eva Seyler

Eva Seyler is the author of four historical novels or novellas. Here, we discuss how she weaves emotion and reaction into her books, while maintaining a simple style.


Eva:

“Writing for effect”, in my books, is all about the characters.

Snogging 

I’m notorious for writing gratuitous snogfests that (often) don’t make it into the finished projects (for example, there’s an extremely un-kid-friendly RageSex scene that did not make it into The Summer I Found Home because it’s designed to be appropriate for kids). 

The scenes that do make the cut have to meet a few criteria: they need to signify something about the characters’ development, and they need to be focused on emotions rather than mere physicality. The goal is for what I don’t say, what is left to be read between the lines, to be as punchy as what I do say.

His voice caught as he wove his fingers into my hair and searched my eyes. “I am abominably drunk but I will show you things…” 

He bent close, his mouth exploring my throat and shoulders and breasts. His restless, certain fingertips called forth blissful whimpers from deep within me. Clothing shed, skin on skin, fingers of one of his hands interlacing with mine while the other hand like a magician’s called forth sense and life I hadn’t known existed. His mouth on mine, tasting of brandy and cigarettes and heaven, layer upon layer of feeling, sinking—drowning, but never dying, curiously alive, singing strings within. He was intense and he was focused and he knew what he was doing. 

Marian’s reaction:

My sense here is that the narrator is inexperienced, if not virginal: ‘sense and life I hadn’t known existed’. Perhaps she’s taking a risky step here?  And that the man is experienced, and both cultured and perhaps a little disreputable: – ‘abominably drunk’ – not the language of an uneducated man; the brandy also suggests this.  How far off am I?

Eva:

Right on every count. She’s been married before, but the husband was, shall we say, unimaginative at best—and it is a risk because this man is her best friend’s husband. (This snippet is from Ripples, the companion novella to The War in Our Hearts.)

Snappy dialogue 

Louise and George’s banter in The Summer I Found Home and its sequels has segued into an experiment: trying a brand-new (for me) style of dialogue that is intended to evoke the frenetic energy of 1930s-40s screwball comedy. I’m trying to perfect this for a WIP that’s third down the release pipeline: basically, using as few dialogue tags as possible, but still making it clear who’s speaking. 

Just one example of many from the WIP in question:

“I mean, friendship is wonderful. Everything is more fun with a friend. But imagine having, say, me for a friend, Miss Shipton.”

“I wasn’t aware we were friends. Anyway, I’m home now, you needn’t linger—”

“We could be. Friends, that is. Not home. We could be that too. I mean. Together.”

“Are you this eloquent and seductive with all your lady friends?”

“Oh no. Much more with them.” 

“You flatter me.”

“You hoover all the panache right out of me.”

“How romantic.”

“As I said.”

“Will you stop leaning in that impertinent way?”

He was too close, his forehead nearly touching hers. “What kind of person do you want to marry, Miss Shipton?” 

Marian’s reaction:

The short and sometimes interrupted sentences are very effective here, and it’s easy to follow who’s speaking by the inclusion of ‘Miss Shipton’ and/or ‘lady friends’. And then at the end the tone changes to more serious, simply by the dialogue becoming slower and a full sentence, and, the inclusion of an action tag prior to the dialogue. Was that your intent?

Eva:

I’m not sure I thought it out that thoroughly, but it’s true!

Simplicity 

Another strong aspect of my style is staying sharply on point. I don’t write flowery descriptions of scenery or events. I’m not against such things, by any means—it’s just not something that comes naturally. This Great Wilderness, at over 90,000 words, is incredibly long for me. Usually my books (including my two earliest, experimental novels) run considerably shorter. The Summer I Found Home is only around 62,000 words. 

I attribute this to focusing on character development and the specific events that drive that development. 

As with my snogfests and sex scenes, setting descriptions must enhance character development. Here’s an example from This Great Wilderness that encapsulates the scenery in a few short paragraphs, and the description is directly related to the state of Leni’s mind. 

The scenery is stark and incredible. There is the brown, desert-like landscape going one direction, like what the American West always looked like in the cowboy pictures we sometimes sneaked out to see when I was little. 

But face the other direction, and it is saw-toothed mountains, and snow, and ice, and vast lake. 

Two worlds. The desert is my life with Mauritz. The mountains are my life now. Both of them are terrifying to me, and the solitude is immense.

Marian’s reaction:

I’m sure this has a formal definition in writing (it’s not quite pathetic fallacy), but I couldn’t find one – the landscape reflecting the emotions of the narrator. It’s one I use a lot myself. I particularly like the starkness and simplicity of the contrast here between the desert and the mountains, and the threatening aspect of the mountains: ‘saw-toothed’ and cold. But the lake – water is usually a symbol of life and renewal – modifies that. Was that your intent, to suggest to the reader that there is hope for Leni In this new environment?

Eva:

I had not thought of the water aspect! At least not consciously, but that’s an absolutely legit interpretation, and it’s true that the wilderness does bring her back to life.


Eva’s contact information is at https://linktr.ee/theevaseyler  Find out more about her and her books at https://www.evaseyler.com/

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Raina Nightingale

I hardly remembered when I first started to write. I was eight years old, having just learned to read. And what I wrote first was something that was at least half fanfiction: sometimes simply out of love and enjoyment, I would write stories very much like those I read, but other times, when it seemed to me there was something lacking in a book, or something that was wrong and not the way I wanted it to be, I would try to write a story that was like it, but different.

I think in stories. Both reading them and writing them is a big part of my thinking. In some ways, the exploration that comes from both is similar, but in some ways it is different, and different books are very different to read and very different journeys, though I do love some good escapism now and then (especially if it has nice world-building that speaks to me, more on that later)! In reading, I explore other people’s thoughts and am sometimes prompted to consider things about myself and what I like from angles I might not have considered on my own, and it does not take the same energy that writing does.

But writing, making up stories and exploring them as I will, is how I really think, how I discover, challenge my thinking, and consider new thoughts that I find in other places or other people suggest. Or sometimes thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. Character, plot, and world-building can all be a part of thinking to me. A lot of my world-building, even – especially – the more magical parts of it, is inseparable from my appreciation for and understanding of this world, and helps me to articulate things I see better.

My characters are more wild. Sometimes I don’t understand them very well, and sometimes what I think I ought to have learned from them, whether their relationships with each other or their responses to their environments, I’m not at all sure that I do.

Probably most of my characters share some likeness with me, even if it’s as trivial as an aesthetic appreciation or a taste in cuisine. Some of them are very unlike me, while others can be largely deep explorations of aspects of my personality, dreams, or desires, or questions about these might be, but in general I don’t think too much about whether a character is like or unlike me, or how. Yet I always find it fascinating when I’m writing a character like none that I have ever written before, and I keep having moments of, “Oh, this is how someone who is like this thinks!” It’s really quite surprising. Yet, in real life, I sometimes feel like my empathy, my ability to understand and feel for people, is far behind my characters. Yet what would it be if I didn’t try? Or what would my stories be if I didn’t try in real life?

It’s hard to enumerate, or even really define, how writing and stories have been a part of my life and thinking, since it is so interwoven altogether. I don’t think there’s anything where it can be fully separated: sometimes I learn, through writing a character who enjoys something, to have more appreciation for it myself. Some recent examples are that I see the beauty in the ocean so much more after having written Corostomir, a man who is in love with the ocean, and writing a dry plains-loving people sharpens my appreciate for desert climates, something that used to not exist at all: the greener and the wetter the better, I thought.


Raina Nightingale has been writing fantasy since she could read well enough to write her stories with the words she knew (the same time that she started devouring any fiction she could touch). She enjoys rich characters and worlds where magic and the mundane are inseparable. She calls her fiction ‘Dawndark’.

Author/Review Website: https://www.enthralledbylove.com

Universal Book Link for all my books: https://books2read.com/raina_books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Areaer_Novels

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20243136.Raina_Nightingale


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J.C. Paulson

On following your muse: it might just save your life, and other benefits.

When I awakened at three one morning a few years ago, as I had for months after a traumatic career ending moment, I was, for a change, not in tears.

I saw a (beautiful) reporter, a (stunningly handsome) cop, a (stupid homophobic) decision made by a church and a (dead) bishop. Where did that come from? Would I remember it all at a more reasonable hour of the morning?

Didn’t think so. But I did.

It became Adam’s Witness, a novel I never thought I’d write. Nor any novel, really.

I’m not much of a believer in intervention, divine or otherwise. Neither do I believe in astrology, but I am a perfect Virgo: analytical, critical, loyal to a fault . . . and very much with my feet planted on the hard unforgiving ground. Lightning bolts from heaven or any other mystical place do not, in my view, occur. At least, not to me.

But something happened. Somehow, my brain was trying to save my sanity, or perhaps myself. The mood did not actually improve much for a long time, in the overall; my father became desperately ill and eventually died, among other rather traumatic life events.

Even so, the creative muse eventually took hold and if nothing else served as a distraction. There’s nothing like diving into someone else’s life.

Even someone fictional.

And now, I am powerfully inclined to pitch my method of mind-bending to others. Simply, it is this: If a creative or athletic or other positive new thing is calling you, I advise answering the mental phone. Even if it’s hard.

Obvious by now is that my own escape from hell came via my creative cells, and I believe that most of us have those. Sometimes we have to go looking for them, but they are there; and in my view, they represent the best of ourselves.

Learning that I could actually sit down for longer than a few minutes, focus, type, research and write a book was an epiphany.

I am also here to tell you that publishing a book online and in print by yourself is not the easiest thing you’ll ever try, creatively or technically. Nor is trying to disseminate your new invention.

(I’m sure similar difficulties apply to all other pursuits.)

But I did it.

It boosted my self-confidence that I could learn something new — actually, several somethings. It cleared my mind of everything but my plot, characters, and message. Then it forced me to think, as they say, outside the box: how do you format a book on Amazon?

It also allowed me to blurt many of my strongly held beliefs (for example, why in the name of all that’s sane would some discriminate against or loathe LGBTQ people? Or any people?) when I had no other outlet.

To this day, I haven’t entirely sorted out why or how walking a new creative path changed my mind. Altered my brain, really. But it absolutely did. I’m quite sure it forged new synaptic pathways, and no kidding.

As to other benefits, there’s always a chance someone else might like, or even love, what you have made. Your book. Your painting. Your photograph. Your song.

You might make someone’s day. You might change their outlook for the better. You might entertain, or elevate, or excite.

But this is for certain. You have created something new and unique that did not exist before. And for that, my heartfelt congratulations.


Joanne (J.C.) Paulson, a long-time Saskatoon journalist, has been published in newspapers including The StarPhoenix, The Western Producer, the Saskatoon Express, allSaskatchewan and a variety of magazines.

She is the author of a mystery series including the novels Adam’s Witness, Broken Through, Fire Lake, Griffin’s Cure, and Two Hundred Bones, a novella. Her most recent works are a historical fiction/western novel entitled Blood and Dust, published by Black Rose Writing, and a wee children’s book, Magic Mack and The Mischief-Makers. Find her books via her website or on Amazon.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Empress & Soldier

A boy of the night-time streets; a girl of libraries and learning.

Druisius, the son of a merchant, is sixteen when an order from his father that he can neither forgive nor forget drives him from home and into the danger and intrigue of the military.

Eudekia, a scholar’s daughter, educated and dutiful, is not meant to be a prince’s bride. In a empire at war, and in a city beset by famine and unrest, she must prove herself worthy of its throne.

A decade after a first, brief meeting, their lives intersect again. When a delegation arrives from the lost West, asking Eudekia for sanctuary for a princess and support for a desperate war, Druisius is assigned to guard them. In the span of a few weeks, a young captain will capture the hearts of both Empress and soldier in very different ways, offering a future neither could have foreseen.

A stand-alone novel that can also serve as a second entry point into the Empire series. No previous knowledge of my fictional world is needed.

Electronic ARCs available after November 15, 2022. Email request to arboretumpress (at) gmail.com