Monday, October 22, 2018

Interview With James Anderson, Author of Lullaby Road

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Did you dream of being a writer from an early age, or did that come later? 

A few years ago I was asked in an interview what I wanted to be when I grew up. I responded immediately: "Someone else." In the second grade I was diagnosed as (in the parlance of the day) "retarded." Perhaps I was marginally autistic, certainly ADHD, and absolutely dyslexic. I didn't understand people at all and, candidly, I could be explosively violent.

As a result of all this, I was left to myself a great deal and slowly I began to read, and as I began to read and write I also began to understand people. Most of my early social skills were learned from books. My guess is that my writing, which began early, was an attempt to refashion the world and the people around me into ways that made sense—at least to me. (And gave rise to comments from Ben Jones, when telling of the unexplainable and horrific crime at the center of my first novel, like: "All people wanted is a reason that made sense, even if it made no sense."

I finished my first novel when I was sixteen and not attending high school very much, which I suspect was their choice as well. By the time I was nineteen I was beginning to have my poems and short stories accepted in magazines. At twenty-one and still an undergraduate at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, I started my publishing company. Though I continued to write, I generally stopped trying to publish my own work.  I wrote six or seven novels in my twenties through my forties, all prior to The Never-Open Desert Diner, which was my first published book—at age sixty-two. I have often thought that writing was how I achieved my goal of growing up to become "someone else." I have become many "someone else's," one of which is Ben Jones, and in the process became contented if not always happily myself.

While Lullaby Road is offered as stand alone novel, in many ways it is a sequel to your first book - The Never-Open Desert Diner. Did you mean for Ben Jones to be the main character in a series of books from the start, or did the idea for the second book come later?

Review HERE!
That is an excellent question. The answer is yes—and no. As I was writing The Never-Open Desert Diner, which I was almost positive would never be published, I simply wanted to write a novel that entertained and consumed me during a difficult time. All I wanted to do is write the best novel I could write, without regard to genre or formulae. I've never been much interested in coloring inside the lines. Not a "mystery" or a "thriller" or a "crime" story. Really, I don't care much about genres. Besides, I agree with Faulkner, who was an avid reader of mysteries, that all stories are mysteries of one sort or another. I wasn't really thinking of a "series" character, and that is still true.

By the time I completed the book, but before it was published, I sensed there was more to tell—more to the story—and thanks to Crown, I had a chance to do that with LULLABY ROAD. Still, my vision is not as a series, not even as a trilogy—rather a triptych (which is a term usually associated with visual art) that exists as (3) separate panels, where each panel can be appreciated alone, but when attached in sequence provide a larger, single work, a panorama if you will.

As the plot centers around the desert, the "desert rats" who live there and driving a big rig, I wondered what your experience was? Have you actually driven a big rig? Have you spent serious time in the desert? If not, what research did you do to make it feel so real?

I have never driven a "big rig," at least not as a job. Neither does Ben Jones. He is a "day driver" and not an "OTR" (over-the-road) driver. Ben drives a slightly customized medium duty diesel with a twenty-eight foot box (trailer) that has a small refrigerated unit built in to the back. He needs room, but not that much room. His truck and trailer economically accommodates what he usually has to deliver to the "desert rats" and the poor roads he must traverse on a daily basis. A semi-trailer would be a hindrance.  

As a driver, the medium duty trucks were the ones I drove, though not well and not for long. My first job, delivering masonry building materials ended after three weeks when I slammed into the rear of a 7-Up truck scattering bricks and mortar and broken green bottles of 7-Up all over the road. The load came forward and crushed the cab flat. I was uninjured and unemployed. Then I drove a 1937 REO for a thrift outfit raising money for Vietnam vets. A few months. Top speed was maybe forty miles an hour. It had an old Brownie transmission that required about four shifts all double-clutched just to get to walking speed. The cast iron tailgate hydraulics failed and dropped several hundred pounds of iron across my knees. I was young and healed quickly but never returned to the job. I had made enough money to go back to college.

As for the desert, yes, I have spent a good deal of time in the desert, particularly the deserts of the American Southwest, most notably Utah. I do some research, though not a lot. Usually I write something and I think it is and then go back and check it. Nothing is more dangerous, to a writer or a human being, that what one 'thinks' he or she KNOWS. As anyone who has read the novels, or knows me personally, will say, the natural world is very important to me, and very personal. In that way the desert, the desert of Ben Jones, is both harshly beautiful and at the sometime surreal, often spiritual. 

The Utah desert is different from other deserts (in my opinion) because of the unique quality of the light. Deserts (all deserts) are usually defined by what they do not have—people, resources, particularly water. At the end of The Never-Open Desert Diner the crazy itinerant preacher John, says to Ben Jones, almost exactly what I just said, and then concludes with: The desert is home to light." It is no accident that my novels are preoccupied with the desert weather and landscape and their symbiotic relationship with the people who choose to live there. Ideologies melt away. 

What becomes clear in such a sparse and unforgiving setting is the connections between people, the abiding interdependency, almost in a form of high relief that wouldn't be nearly as dramatic and clear in any other kind of setting. What is absolutely essential in life, and to life—our reliance on each other and the land— rises from the flat, desolate environment of the desert. That, I believe, is the true essence of the desert and why so many readers have found my novels so evocative and atmospheric and those qualities are not really 'facts' you can research, you simply have to feel them.


Previous Ben Jones Novel
Your characters were very solid and believable. Can you share a bit about the process of creating and fleshing out people so they feel real. Are they composites of people you know? Are there elements of you in them? Do you create a cast of characters ahead of time you refer to or are they created as you write the story?

The praise my novels have received with regard to their characters has given me the greatest sense of accomplishment. The answer to your question, again, is yes—and no. I don’t work from an outline. My rough draft is my outline, and most of the events and characters spring from the page even as I write them.

Recently I was asked how much research I do, especially on people, and my honest answer was, not much. I know these people, or variations on them. When I was young, doing all kinds of jobs, I worked doing hard physical labor. My sister and I grew up in poverty and saw first-hand how tough life can be working day in and day out just to make ends meet. I just heard Alice Walker speak of this, her line: “Fighting for life everyday.” The characters in my books seem “real” because they are “real.” Part of what makes a character appear real is building the truths of their lives and entwined histories and shared hardships through simple, though often obliquely complex conversations that arise from common daily tasks and habits.

A good example of this is a scene in LULLABY ROAD where Ginny, the teenaged unwed punk teenaged mother of an infant, tells Ben Jones how she fell asleep working the nightshift at Walmart—her total exhaustion as a new mother, alone in the world, working two jobs, going to community college. But the other women, all older, gather around her, protect her from being seen by the supervisor, and just let her sleep as long as they can. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book because it comes in part from seeing what my own mother went through and how the women around and helped and protected one another as they each cared for their children.

Lullaby Road is not upbeat. While a mystery is being solved, we are surrounded with damaged people living sad lives.  What do you do an author after a day of immersing yourself in that literary world to shed the gloom and bring you back to reality and a happier place?

Now that is a truly original and tough question. First, however sad and damaged the people might be, most are heroic in some way, just as the truck driver Ben Jones is heroic. It is not so much a matter of winning or losing but the valiant daily struggles with which they contend. I admire their stoic, exhausted determination. I think readers do too. But yes, there is sadness, great exhausting sadness that often personally overwhelms me.

Ben Jones gets severely physically injured, as do others, in LULLABY ROAD, and I confess I felt just as beat up when I completed the novel. The violence in my novels, when it happens, is not comic book or melodramatic violence that can be shaken off with an ice pack and a couple Tylenol, or a six-pack of beer and a good joke. The same is true of the emotional and psychological damage. If you survive you do eventually go on, but you live the price you paid everyday. This, too, happens in a kind of personal geological time where the consequences of being a victim, or even a witness, can unfold over generations.

One of the absolute best novels I’ve read in a long time is BULL MOUNTAIN, the debut novel by Brian Panowich. You see the geological life of crimes played out over generations in a rural Georgia crime family.

As for how I shed the residue left over from writing such harrowing scenes, all I can say is that sometimes it takes good friends and family, and a long, demanding workout at the gym. That said, some of it never goes away. That’s how I know I’ve succeeded in telling the truth and that there is lasting value and accomplishment in what I’ve written regardless of how well a book sells or is received. Every page must risk it all. A writer always knows when he or she has achieved authenticity. It has to—it must—leave real scars. If it doesn’t, why do it at all?

What is your writing process (scheduled time, when inspiration strikes, etc.)?  What do you enjoy the most? What part of the process is your least favourite?

I really like what Pam Houston says about this topic. She thinks and thinks and when an idea reaches critical mass you simply must begin committing it to words on a page. But along those lines, both Steven King and Dennis Lehane have said, “professionals get up and go to work and amateurs wait for inspiration.” Somewhere in there is my process. I am always thinking about an image, or a piece of dialogue—or just a sensibility that is the seed of a story. I usually am up very early in the morning about 4am, before the fires of the day begin and I am awake though still with a residue of sleep—it’s quiet. But I will often write until I am exhausted, oblivious to the time and everything around me and inside me is inside the narrative and the world I have created.

Again, the best, really the only important part of writing or any form of artistic creation, is doing the work. Falling in love with the blank page as Michael Chabon says. The least favorite? Final proofing. No matter how many times I’ve been over a project, along with terrific, detailed copy editors—damn! There is always, always something. It drives me crazy.


Most of the writers I know did not study in university. As you have you MFA in creative writing, I am curious to know what you feel was the most important thing you learned in school? Also, what do you feel that training has brought to your craft?  

 I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen, followed by several more, none of which I even tried to publish. I read a few hundred books a year in the sciences, environment, biography, philosophy, poetry and novels. My life, as a publisher and writer, has continually been blessed with friendships with many writers. BUT—I didn’t go for an MFA until I was in my late 50s. An MFA will not make you a writer, though it might make you a better writer by adding new tools to your tool box, or helping you learn different ways to use the tools you already have. It also helps to be around others struggling to do the same thing. You learn from their struggles, and successes.

I went to a program in Boston at Pine Manor College, the Solstice MFA, where Dennis Lehane is the Writer-in-Residence. They accepted me. All the others to which I applied rejected me; and yet, it turned out to be the best program for me because my instructors, like Sterling Watson, Sandra Scofield, Venise Berry and Jaime Manrique looked at what I was trying to do and then simply worked with me NOT to change what I was doing, but to help me do it better. I wouldn’t trade that MFA experience for anything. It challenged me to throw away everything I thought I knew and become a beginner again—at 57. No one expects a surgeon or an accountant or an attorney to simply wake up one day and start operating, or defending a client or whatever. You work. And work. And learn everything you can about writing in every way you can from everyone you can. I am still learning. Still failing. Still adding tools to my tool box.

What's next for you as a writer? Any new books in the works?

Good question. I am working on a memoir, as well as two other novels and a collection of short stories/novellas. One of the novels is the third Ben Jones, but if LULLABY ROAD does not do well I might not have a publisher. Of course I will write it, but it might take a backseat to the memoir. As the Zen Master said: We’ll see!

Lullaby Road by James Anderson

In LULLABY ROAD, readers will find themselves enthralled by
Anderson’s vivid sense of place and his beautiful and heartbreaking narrative.
Synopsis -

Winter has come to Route 117, a remote road through the high desert of Utah trafficked only by those looking to escape the world and those the world has rejected. Local truck driver Jones, still in mourning over the devastating murder of his lover Claire, is trying to get through another season of his job navigating treacherous roads and sudden snowfall without accident when a mute Hispanic child is placed in Jones’s path at a seedy truck stop along his route bearing a note that simply reads “Please, Ben. Bad trouble. My son. Take him today. His name is Juan. Trust you only. Tell no one. Pedro.” From that moment forward, nothing will ever be the same. Not for Ben. Not for the child. And not for anyone along the seemingly empty stretch of road known as Route 117.

​Despite deep misgivings, and without any hint of who the child is or the grave danger he’s facing, Jones takes the child with him and sets out into a landscape that is as dangerous as it is beautiful and silent. With the help of his eccentric neighbors—Phyllis, who turned up one day in her Rolls-Royce with two children in tow and the FBI on her tail; Andy, a Utah State Trooper who is on or off duty depending on if his hat is on or off his head; and Roy, an ex–coal miner who has lived in Rockmuse, off Highway 117, his whole life and survives on odd jobs and the kindness of his neighbors—Jones uncovers buried secrets of the desert that are far more painful than he could have imagined.

Review -

Lullaby Road is that wonderful genre of fiction where the people, especially the main character, guide the story rather than having them as secondary to the plot. We follow the main character - Ben Jones - whose simple and solitary life of driving a rig in the lonely desert to make deliveries to "desert rats" takes a decisive turn right that the start.  In chapter one, he has a mystery young girl with her dog and his tenant's baby thrust on him as he begins his daily run. What follows is a complex plot that only begins to become clear near the end.

There are two literary descriptions that come to mind for Ben, an anti-hero and a tragic hero. In looking up the definitions the second is most accurate - "...damaged emotionally; it's someone who has lost everyone and everything that have mattered to him; became a recluse and avoids getting attached to anyone or anything anymore in case he may lose them again." As we get to know him more, we do find out he has lost his love tragically and gets comfort from his long hours on the road, alone in the desert.

Ben is pulled out of his comfort zone as he is drawn in to not only the mystery of the young girl and her dog, but the disappearances (and deaths) of several key men who might have answers and the hit and run attack on another desert character who is a staple in his life. As he struggles to find answers, his interactions with the other characters helps them to come alive. They are not your everyday people. They all have pasts and secrets that have drawn them to the desert.

This is a great read, but in many ways a sad one. It is full of interesting, but damaged souls living fairly isolated lives.  The beauty and unforgivable nature of the desert is also made clear, especially when Ben is out all night in it looking for the mystery girl who has fled. And there are a few violent passages to be aware of.

I really enjoyed this reading this book, but found out after it really is the second in a series.  While it does stand alone, I wish I had read the other book first.



Meet the Author - 

Fab author interview HERE!

JAMES ANDERSON was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Reed College and received his MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College. His first novel was The Never-Open Desert Diner. His short fiction, poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in many magazines, including The Bloomsbury Review, New Letters, Solstice, Northwest Review, Southern Humanities Review, and others. He currently divides his time between Colorado and Oregon. 

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook



Sunday, October 21, 2018

Slow Cooker Carne Asada

Image from Slow Cooker
I love any recipe that is Mexican inspired - especially if it is for flank steak.  This cut of beef has become a lot harder to find in recent years.  I have no idea why.  Fortunately my local Costco offers it in 2 steak packs (about 3 pounds total). You can separate them and freeze one for later or cook them both at the same time and freeze half of the cooked beef for use later.

Flank steak can be tough if not either cut across the grain into thin strips or slow cooked until very tender and shredded with 2 forks. I personally love to do the second, but in the image here from a blog site called Slow Cooker, they gently cross cut the very tender meat.  I love the look of this presentation, but after slow cooking, the meat really falls apart, so it couldn't have been easy. For now I'm sticking with shredding it.

Now for my feedback on the blog's recipe shared below (a few changes which I noted).  This is makes a very, very mild flavoured beef which my husband prefers.  It can be used in burritos, tacos, on rice (drizzled with some of the cooking juices), in taco salads, on top of fries like a poutine, or even in a Mexican inspired casserole. If sliced, you could serve as is.

The sides you choose to top it with can amp up the flavour and/or heat - cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, ripe olives, lime slices to squeeze, salsa of any heat, etc. Or you could adjust the recipe before cooking. I listed a few ideas at the bottom that could be added to the crockpot to bring more flavour or heat.  Enjoy!

Left - the beef shredded with 2 forks *** Right - cooked beef in the crockpot before shredding with 2 forks.

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Slow Cooker Carne Asada

Ingredients

3 lb.       Flank Steak
1/4 C     Olive oil
1/4 C     Orange juice
Juice of one lime about 2 tablespoons
2 tsps     Minced garlic
1 tsp      Chili powder
1/2 tsp   Cumin (original recipe uses 1 tsp)
1 T         Honey (might increase to 2 T next time)
Chopped Cilantro (original recipe was 1 tsp, but I love Cilantro so added about 1/3 C wo 1/2 C stirred the last 30 minutes of cooking) so it was fresher.
Green Onion (this was not in the original recipe, but I added about 1/3 C stirred in the last 30 minutes of cooking). Fresher added then and stays greener for a little colour.

Instructions

If you want to cut the steak into slices like in the photo at the top, add to them to the crockpot whole. If you want to shred the beef after like in the second photo, then cross cut the flank steak into thirds, then add to the crockpot. This will be the length of the beef when shredded so cut into smaller sections if you prefer, but 1/3 cuts work for me.

Whisk together the oil, orange juice, lime juice minced garlic, chili powder, cumin and honey.  Pour over the steak making sure all pieces are covered and cook on low 7-9 hours until tender. I actually mix the pieces of meat up about halfway through, moving those on the bottom to the top and those on the top to the bottom.  Then try to push them all down under the juice as much as possible.

Remove from slow cooker
and slice. Serve immediately or return to slow cooker on keep warm and let soak in juices. OR shred the meat with 2 forks right in the crockpot and leave in the juice until ready to use to keep it moist. I shredded it about 30 minutes before serving and then added the cilantro and green onion to warm them up and cook slightly.

NOTE - Possible additions to crockpot to amp up the flavour or heat include diced jalapenos, pickled jalapenos, a spicier chili powder such as Chipotle, crushed red peppers, a little more honey, maybe orange juice concentrate instead of fresh squeezed, and I even thought about playing around adding a little grated orange and lime grated in. It would help those citrus flavours pop a little more. So play around with this recipe at will. It's a great basic for those wanting a milder taste, but don't be afraid to make it your own. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vancouver Fashion Week S/S19 - Lasalle College Student Showcase


I always have to tell people I didn't retire from everything, I only retired from event coverage. The exception to this is fashion design student shows.  From day one, I felt strongly about providing media coverage to young designers just starting out and I will continue to support the local design students as long as I am work in media.

These young artists bring new ideas and directions to the fashion world. Watching their shows gives the audience a glimpse into the future of the industry.  Because they are not bound by what can only be sold at this time in stores, they are free to be more conceptual in their garments and dream big.  What they offer not only inspires me, I also find myself wishing I could snag a one-of-a-kind garment or two right off the runway for my closet. In fact I've done that very thing at least once.

This was LaSalle College Vancouver's 19th consecutive season challenging a carefully selected group of the strongest students from the school's design program to create collections for this special show. Every season a new show theme is chosen that they must incorporate. This time the four students selected for this honour were asked to pick an inspirational woman to base their designs around.  The results speak for themselves.

Special thanks to everyone who worked behind the scenes to make this show spectacular - Creative Director/Fashion Show Producer Tracey Pincott, Make-up Johnny Bellas, Video Production Trevor Brady and the beautiful Lizbell Agency models.  Well done!

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ZHENGYU “JO” ZHOU

Influential Female: Influential Female: Grace Jones (Jamaican-American supermodel, singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress).

“ I see beauty in both men and women and create garments that are gender fluid – that is the type of designer I want to be.





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SI-MAN “JACKIE” CHEUNG

Influential Female:  Florence Nightingale (An English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing).

“I am hoping to make a positive impact in the Vancouver fashion scene using gently worn clothing that I can upcycle and I hope to have my own brand that follows this philosophy.”





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NASRINE DAMROUDI

Influential Female:  Violet Trefusis (An English socialite and author).

“ I am inspired by listening to people's journeys in life and try to emulate that in each garment.”





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YA-TING “ALICE” CHUNG

Influential Female: Jean Harlow (an American film actress and sex symbol of the 1930s).

“I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be showcasing in Vancouver Fashion Week with my other classmates.”




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For more information on the fashion design program at Lasalle College Vancouver please visit the school's website.

About LaSalle College Vancouver (www.lasallecollegevancouver.com)
Established in 1998, LaSalle College Vancouver (LCV) is an Applied Arts school accredited by Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB) of the Ministry of Advanced Education of British Columbia and which meets the provincial British Columbian Education Quality Assurance (EQA) standards. LCV offers over 35 exciting applied arts programs in the fields of Fashion, Game Design & VFX, Audio & Film, Culinary, Interior Design, and Graphic Design, with credentials ranging from Bachelor degrees to certificates. E-learning programs are also offered in Fashion Marketing, Administrative Assistant, Video Game 3D Modeling, Interior Design, Graphic Design – Branding and Event Planning and Management.

About the LCI Education network (www.lcieducation.com)

LCI Education traces its origins back to LaSalle College in Montreal, which was founded in 1959. Present today on 5 continents, the LCI Education network consists of 23 select higher education institutions, and some 1,500 employees offering instruction to over 10,000 students throughout the world each year. LCI Education is also known as a leader in online training in Canada. LCI Education encourages program harmonization across the various countries in order to ensure greater flexibility, better control over the quality of its services and respect for cultural diversity.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mantis Force: Decimation (Marium Kahnet Book 2) by R.J. Amezcua

Book 1 review HERE!
Book 3 Review - Coming 10-26

Synopsis - 

Led by Victoria and Balese, the rogue sisters of the Marium Kahnet have successfully completed their life-long quest for revenge against the sorcerer’s guild. Now a new mission has begun, one of survival, as their enemies seek their lives with a vengeance. As planned, the sisters who managed to survive the destruction of the testing facilities have joined their adopted family’s nefarious criminal organizations, plotting to escape with detailed plans of the Leviathan project to justify their actions to their home world of Ramah. But they are unaware they are being  hunted by elite mercenaries hired by the sisterhood.

Review -

​Book 2 in this series picks right up where book 1 left off. I appreciate when an author doesn't spend pages and pages of a sequel recapping what happened in the previous book. BUT, if it's been awhile since you read the first book, then you might need to glance through it go get up to speed

In Decimation, we follow what came after the destruction of the testing facilities. Deadly radiation has killed millions and is slowly spreading further and further. Some of the Marium Kahnet rogue sister have lost their lives, others are struggling with the scale of the death toll they have caused. This story follows several of them as they try to deal with the guilt as well as struggle to find a way back home.

The story is flowing and the multitude of names of people, places and technology is close to the same as the first book, so not a lot of new things to understand and absorb.  The author has kept the storyline tight and to the point. And the book is on the shorter side like the first, which works well for a SciFi trilogy set in the far reaches of space.  And as in the first book, he ends in a way that makes you want to reach for the next book.

Definitely written for SciFi fans. 

Buy the book - Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ iTunes 
Meet the Author -

Read a fab author interview HERE!

R. J. Amezcua was born and raised in Silicon Valley, and is happily married to Sheryl. As a young boy, one of his favorite TV shows was Lost in Space. Being an entrepreneur and visionary by nature, he has begun his journey as an author and writer. Using his love for science fiction, he created the epic saga “Mantis Force,” which encompasses a vast universe.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook



Monday, October 8, 2018

Interview with by Lucy Appadoo, author of A Life by Design (The Italian Family Series)

Please share a bit about the journey to writing and publishing your very first book. Was this a dream you had as a child, or one that came later in life?

I enjoyed writing as a child but at that time I didn’t want to be a writer until I was an adult. I attempted publishing stories with traditional publishers a number of years ago, but wasn’t successful until I came across a Canadian Publisher who soon went bankrupt. My dream ended at that point years ago, and I had stopped writing until I got an ipad as a gift for Mother’s Day from my husband and two daughters. I started downloading books and read them on ibooks, Apple, and questioned how I could add a book on the ipad. I decided to research self-publishing, then started self-publishing in 2015 with my very first book, Crystal Light. I started on my self-publishing journey and never looked back.

As as a registered Counsellor and Coach in private practice as well as a Rehabilitation Counsellor for the Australian Government, you must work long hours. How do you find time to also write books? Do you have a set time each day or write when inspiration hits?

Working in various capacities is about balancing my time and creating to-do-lists. I find time to write on the weekends and evenings, and sometimes on my days off as I work in my main role four days a week. I have set times several evenings a week (after dinner), but this might increase if I have a deadline with book edits and need to get the book back to the editor, or when I have started on a new novel.

You have eleven published titles and many are set in different parts of the world, such as Italy and Australia. Have you travelled to these places? What type of research do you do to make sure the places, food and people are an accurate reflection of the location?

I travelled to Italy when I was 23 years old and as a 7-year old child, and live in Melbourne, Australia. I researched the history of Italy by interviewing my parents about their childhoods for two of my novels from The Italian Family Series, as well as reading or borrowing books from an Italian association. I also worked with a virtual assistant from Time Etc to check facts about Milan for A Life By Design, and used the Internet (Google facts. images, and Google landmarks).

Review Here!
Where do you find inspiration for new storylines and characters? Does it get harder or easier with each new book? 

I am inspired with new storylines when I have particular characters in mind, based partly on personal experience and partly on imagination. I also draw ideas or inspiration from my environment, including movies, books, past experiences, and places I visit. At times, I might get an idea pop into my mind so I make sure I jot it down before the idea’s gone. I also get into a meditative space that helps me to immerse myself with a character. The character tends to speak to me. 

I find that when you write a series, it gets harder with each new book as you need to remember the details of previous characters. It can also be easier to write the next book in the series as you’ve established most of the characters in the previous book. I tend to write along the same themes but the plot needs to be somewhat different. With a different book that’s not part of a series, it’s still always a challenge to write a new book as you’re starting from scratch. However, with more experience, it does get easier than when you first start writing.

Are the characters you create ever built from pieces of you, your friends or the people you meet through work?

Yes, my characters are part-imagination and part pieces of me. For example, Elena in A Life By Design is the part of me that is creative, adventurous, likes to try innovative things, and loves Italy. My characters can be a composite of someone I know but never an actual person. However, in Dancing in the Rain and The Beauty of Tears from The Italian Family Series, my characters were inspired by my parents.
What do you find hardest about the writing/publishing process. What part do you find easiest?

The hardest thing about the self-publishing process is the marketing aspect, which takes a long time and requires strategy, persistence, and innovation. The hardest thing about writing is creating the final process to ensure that everything is as perfect as you can make it. The easiest part for me is coming up with a range of ideas and getting caught up in my characters’ journeys.

Between work and writing, you must have a very busy schedule. When you take time for yourself, what do you love to do to relax?

I enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction books, meditation, journaling, going out with friends and family, and watching shows or movies, particularly on Netflix.

Other books in The Italian Family Series

What's the most important piece of advice you can offer to a writer just starting out in this genre?

A writer just starting out in this genre needs to do their research, can complete writing courses, do a lot of reading in the genre to understand the story structure, and use mentors or editors. A new writer needs to persist and follow their writing passion as in the end, holding that book in your hand is definitely worth the hard work and sweat.

A Life by Design (The Italian Family Series) by Lucy Appadoo


Book Four in The Italian Family Series

Synopsis -

When 20-year-old Elena Allegro leaves the Italian village of Laurino to study Fashion Design in Milan, she’s certain her dreams are about to come true. Despite her father’s warnings that risk comes with her newfound freedom, she loves her studies and develops a love interest with Francesco, the handsome young entrepreneur who offers her a part-time job in a Milan clothing store.

It seems like an idyllic situation—until a stalker targets Elena, tormenting her with mind games and threatening her safety. In the face of escalating danger to herself and to Francesco, Elena must fight for her freedom, her love, and her survival.

Review -

Lucy Appadoo is a prolific author with 11 published titles to her name. Many (though not all) are in the genre of are in the genre of romantic suspense and historical fiction. In A Life By Design we follow the journey of 20-year old Elena, who was raised on a farm in a small Italian town with very traditional parents. She wants to flee small town life to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer in Milan. While her father in particular is against this, she manages to convince them to let her give it a try.

The plot moves along at a steady pace - she arrives in Milan, quickly lands a much needed job, meets the handsome Francesco who she is wildly drawn to and the studies at school are all she dreamed of. We also quickly learn all is not idyllic. There is something about Francesco's past that sends up warning flags. Is he a player? Is he an honest business man? Then on her first day at school a male classmate who begins to harasses her and soon after a stalker appears who threatens her safety, trying to force her to move home. The police have no interest in her protection and she ends up in incredible danger - abducted and scared. Can she escape?  All through the story line the romance with Francesco grows with no clear idea if this will end well.

While there were times the writing did not flow as natural as others, overall Overall I enjoyed reading this book. It's a fun escape to dive into after a busy day with a bit of romance, intrigue, mystery and danger.

Buy the Book: 
Meet the Author -

Read a fab author interview HERE!

Lucy is an author of romantic suspense, historical fiction/coming of age, short story thrillers, and non-fiction books. She is also a Registered Counsellor/Wellness Coach, and works as a Rehabilitation Counsellor for the Australian Government.

Lucy enjoys reading romantic suspense, romance, thrillers, crime novels, family/historical drama, and sagas. She has enjoyed travelling to exotic places such as Madrid, Mauritius, and Italy, and draws on these experiences in her creative writing.

Lucy’s favourite authors include Kendra Elliot, Christiane Heggan, Theresa Ragan, Tara Moss, Nicholas Sparks, Adriana Trigiani, Erica Spindler, and James Patterson (to name a few).

Lucy’s interests include meditation, exercising, journal writing, reading fiction and nonfiction texts about writing, coaching, and counselling, ongoing professional development, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and socialising with friends and family.

Connect with the Author:  Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook


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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Interview With R. J. Amezcua, Author of the Mantis Force Trilogy

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Did you dream of being a writer from an early age, or did that come later?

The seed to be a writer began during High School when my English teacher remarked that I could be a very good writer. Being a teenager, I rebuffed the notion, stating “Writing is not for me, I want to work on computers as a career.” It was during my career in sales that I thought about writing stories. Then on April 4th, 2004 I wrote the first few lines of an adventure story.

Where did the inspiration for the Mantis Force series come from? For the characters that populate these books?

Review HERE!
I love science fiction; Star Wars, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, Lost In Space, Dune, Doctor Who, and Forbidden Planet are some of my favorites As a Christian, I believe in biblical prophecies, so I set out to create a fictional holy tome called the Kodashah filled with prophecies from which I create fantastic stories. I had to create characters from scratch, meaning I had to know where they were born, what happened to them during their life and meld that to their current circumstances. Hence the Mantis Force is across 5 galaxies and has more than 500 characters. The possible storylines are endless. 

For this series, you had to create all new worlds and species that think are different from ours. As well you had to invent new names for people and places. How did you go about developing these worlds, races and names? How did you keep track of all the elements to avoid inconsistency as you wrote? 

I am a very visual person. I saw a movie in my mind and I wrote what I saw. I also have a detailed map of my stories and have created an encyclopedia to maintain consistency.

Review Coming Oct. 18th
Did you have to do any specific research to develop the science behind your plot?

No not really, it more theoretical science I use the Mantis Force universe. For instance, we know that matter occupies an “x” amount of physical space. Now take for example a cell phone tower somewhere in California and a cell phone tower in Florida. With my theory, they are connected in the transdimensional spectrum and can move from one occupied space to another space through that spectrum. A machine that accomplishes this in the Marium Kahnet series is the Mass Displacement Matrix (MDM). One enters a MDM on a certain planet and arrives in another MDM in a distant planet. 

How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

I really don’t have a schedule, I try to jot down at least a sentence, sometimes just a few words daily.

Review Coming Oct. 26th
When you relax with a book, do you find yourself immersed reading sci-fi or do you enjoy reading a wide variety of genres? Do you have a favorite book or author? 

I used to avidly read every genre. Shortly after I started writing, I felt I should limit my reading, so that my inspiration would be mine and not influenced by another writer’s style. My favorite authors are C.S. Lewis and Frank Hebert.

Do you have any new books in the planning or writing stage? 

Yes, I am currently working on the next Mantis Force book trilogy, this story takes place millennia in the future. I am also working on two holiday themed children’s illustrated stories.

Mantis Force: Retribution (Marium Kahnet Book 1) by R.J. Amezcua

Part 1 in a 3 part trilogy.

Synopsis -

In a war-torn galaxy, Jazrene Vallo, the supreme spiritual leader of the Marium Kahnet, is close to fulfilling her divine destiny: refashion the Order as a beacon of light. But her plans for the sisterhood to become the official ambassadors of peace are compromised when she is forced to send mercenaries to capture rogue elements of the sisterhood seeking revenge against those responsible for murdering their families. Failure to capture them will bring an irreversible blemish upon the sisterhood. Unbeknownst to her, it may be too late to stop them.

After fifteen years of methodical planning and burrowing into the highly classified Leviathan project, the cadre of vengeful sisters are ready to execute their mission. Their goal: to destroy the Stadageos, vast military testing and bio-engineering bases where the twisted machinations of fallen creation formed the ungodly fierce races of Leviathans. Their failure will release death and destruction on a scale not experienced since the fall of creation. But even if they succeed, not all of them will survive.

Review - 

Retribution is the first book in a series by author R. J. Amezcua.  It is true science fiction - placed in the far reaches of space with unique races and religions. As a Sci Fi fan who writes non-fiction, I am always in awe of how these authors create the multitude of strange names for the people, the worlds, etc., then keep track of them throughout. It has to take a lot of organization and focus. Then there is the science aspect to deal with in a way the reader can understand without getting tedious. Not easy.

In this first book, we are introduced to the foundation of this series - the history of an attempt to wipe out the Marium Kahnet, the characters important to this story's plot, the races involved in this conflict, rogue elements plotting revenge and the shape of what this revenge will be. As well we learn of a new threat that is being created - the Leviathans - that will threaten all they hold dear.  Can the rogue element's efforts make a difference?

While I should have been overwhelmed by all the information I needed to absorb, it didn't seem to be an issue. The story flowed right through all the details.  I also appreciated him keeping each book short in terms of word count.  When there is a lot of absorb, this really makes a huge difference in pacing.

If you're a true Sci Fi fan, this series will be great to sink your teeth into.

Buy the Book - Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author -

Read a fab author interview HERE!

R. J. Amezcua was born and raised in Silicon Valley, and is happily married to Sheryl. As a young boy, one of his favorite TV shows was Lost in Space. Being an entrepreneur and visionary by nature, he has begun his journey as an author and writer. Using his love for science fiction, he created the epic saga “Mantis Force,” which encompasses a vast universe.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook







Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Held Together: A True Story of Love's Victory by Jenny Q

A riveting true story about the power of love and the strength of community.

Synopsis - 

In January of 2014, Joshua Tree’s beloved village herbalist, Jenny Q. suddenly became seriously ill and rapidly descended into a coma with slender chance of survival. The shock of this news initiated an overwhelming outpouring of love, wit, service, practical magic and sharing of spiritual wisdom between those in her intimate desert community. Indeed it seemed that the entire group became one in their desperate effort and race against the clock to save her life.

While the words of others in the community tell the story in this book, it is Jenny’s own insightful writings that provide a fascinating window into a range of rare experiences. She gives us a unique glimpse into the mysterious worlds encountered while in a coma, the absolute alteration of losing one’s legs, the subtle venom of PTSD, the nightmare of withdrawal from prescription opiates, and the maddening frustration of having to re-learn basic skills previously taken for granted such as the ability to walk.

Review - 

This book is in some ways hard to review because it truly unique in terms of how it is written and there are many, many layers of the human experience it explores.

The main story line is both simple and frightening - Jenny Q goes in for a minor surgery and by the next day is fighting for her life. A serious infection has taken hold that only has a 5% survival rate. Her journey through this abyss is told through short personal remembrance notes, songs and poetry written by herself, her friends, her family, her community and her partner. The price to survive? Loss of many pieces of her body including both her legs and the fingers on one hand. In the end she had around 50 surgeries to deal with the ravages of the infection.

Because of the way Jenny Q's story is told, we see the most serious days in the hospital through the eyes of others.  How it affects them, what they see, the fear and how they come together in support.  With limited access, many focus on standing beside her spiritually, holding her close and offering her spirit a tether.  We see the power of coming together as a community.

We are also introduced throughout the narrative to Jenny's journey to this moment - her life as a Dead Head, her marriage, the birth of her child and divorce, opening her Grateful Desert shop, her relationship with her ethnic family (both the strengths and the challenges) and the joy of finding her life partner. After she returns home we walk with her through the struggles to accept the changes to her body - will her partner still find her beautiful with the disfigurements -  and the limits she has to learn to work around.  It was also an eye-opener for her to experience how others reacted to her "disabilities."

A wonderful and inspiring read that explores so much more than just illness and recovery.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble BookBaby Author Website Add to Goodreads


Meet The Author - 


Fab Author Interview HERE!

Jenny Q was born in Southern California to Palestinian immigrants. Her love of herbs began in her teens while on the road following the Grateful Dead. After exploring many heart homes, she set her roots in Joshua Tree, California, where she opened Grateful Desert, the local apothecary. Joyously sharing her life with her tight-knit desert community, Jenny lives with her beloveds~ Yazzy, her daughter and Myshkin, her wife.

Connect with Jenny: Website 


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Interview with Jenny Q, Author of Held Together: A True Story of Love's Victory

This is a very unusual book in terms of how the story is told - in some ways a collaborative book. Please share the journey of how this came together - the idea to tell your story this way, how you decided whose words would be included, did they write their notes during your illness or are these reflections written afterwards from memory, etc.

Indeed, this is a strange way to write a book! The idea was formed as much by necessity as it was a creative/artistic vision.

Many people asked me to write my story soon after I came home from the hospital, but I was still very sick and couldn’t imagine tackling a project so big. Also, there was much about my journey that I didn’t know, because even after I emerged from the coma, I was living in a dream-like state for many months.

I also liked the idea of moving the book like a novel, fast-paced and with tension. So I ripped apart all the submissions and wove them into my own writings. I wanted to keep everyone’s voice intact, so while I edited each piece, I kept the personalities of each writer.

I sent out a call for submission about six months after my original hospital stay, so at the beginning of 2015. Most people wrote from memory, but some were written at the time that I was away.

Your passages are written entirely in lower case without any capitals while others follow a more traditional format. Why did you choose to express your thoughts this way?

The initial reason I did this was that I was in some sort of weird phase when that was how I was writing everything! I grew out of that :) but decided to keep my pieces that way to distinguish my voice from others. Also, many of my pieces are stream of consciousness, so I thought this quirky way was appropriate.

While you were in a coma, you were surrounded by a community reaching out in support in many many ways, both physical and spiritual. Did their presence slip through the layers at any time, or did you become aware of this amazing outpouring only after you awakened? 

I have bits of memory from when I was in the coma. I saw a woman that I knew from around town that I barely knew. Later, I found that that she is a spiritual woman and told me she had been meditating with me. There are a few stories like this. I saw many other people that I know intimately. 

Review HERE!
What was it like as you read through all the loving and positive words written by other expressing how important you were in their life? Was there anything you learned that surprised you? 

That’s a great question that no one has asked me yet! It was very strange to read through everyone’s writings. It filled me with joy and love, but was very hard as well. I cried a lot as I read through each submission. I am very humbled.

It was particularly hard imagining publishing a book with so many positive words about myself. It made me feel so vain! But I kept trying to take some space from the ‘Jenny character’ so that I could convey the journey.

As far as being surprised goes, I think I felt more secure in the fact that when you love your community deeply, it is felt and reciprocated.

But I was surprised in other ways. Each submission that came in told a part of my own life, pieced back together parts of my life that I didn’t know or couldn’t remember. It was incredibly healing in this way.

I believe every step we take, every experience we have, teaches and guides us. How has walking through this experience - the physical, the spiritual and the family/community - touched your life? What have you learned or what has been affected in your outlook/journey?

Oh, in so many ways!

First, I never want to take my body and my health for granted! I used to run five days a week, and though I savored my strength and ability, I would sometimes whine while tying my laces in the early morning light.

Second, I was always one that believed in gratitude- my shop is called Grateful Desert! I thought I had that nailed. No matter how hard life had been at any moment, if I focused on what I was grateful for, things would always seem lighter. But going through this experience gave me such a deeper experience of gratitude. I know how hard life can be and how lucky I am with the amount of ability I have left.

Lastly, I was given a gift as I traveled through the stars while in a coma. Ah, it is so magnificent, the truth and depth of who we are. Nothing is as perfect as when we simply are. The knowledge I hold onto is that nothing needs to be as stressful or dire as what we make it, especially the pressure we put on ourselves to be good or productive. When we go, we are all the same, we are indeed one. I came back with the surety that we can relax, be good and productive because it feels good; that no one is keeping tabs, there are no celestial elevators. I came back more joyous than ever knowing that this life is a gift, and afterwards, it is even more brilliant.

What would you most like readers to take away from reading Held Together?

This book is multi-dimensional. There are many stories.

The most obvious - there is an able-bodied person, an average woman just like most, who becomes disabled and physically transformed. I want people to be able to relate to people that look like Other. We are all alike more than many people think. It would also be wonderful for people to understand how hard it is to move around this life with physical and other disabilities.

Also, it can be quite lonely to be disabled. There is so much shame associated with it! I wanted to reach out to other people who feel different and let them know they are not alone. People tend to stare at my prostheses, and I want to let them, so that the next time they see an amputee, it won’t be as shocking. I tend to wear short dresses for that reason.

This is also a story about community, and how love can save a life.