Monthly Archives: August 2012

Author interview: Lianne Simon

Today’s interview is with author Lianne Simon. She and her husband live in Suwanee in the US state of Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Her debut novel is Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite.
 

Lianne Simon

 
Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?
 
My husband and I were in Phoenix two years ago. The last morning there, I woke with anorexia and a desperate need to tell a story. After dropping thirty pounds, my weight stabilized. With my husband’s encouragement, I abandoned my six-figure-salary career to write about some intersex kid’s gender issues.
I had already spent more than ten years answering inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of children born between the sexes. Along the way I’d met several intersex adults and listened to their tales of the issues they faced growing up. But to make Jamie’s story authentic, I had to share from the heart of an intersex child as though it were my own.
 
Jamie was born with a pixie face and a sexually ambiguous body. Although doctors put male on Jamie’s birth certificate, it quickly became apparent that she considered herself female. Her parents allowed her to live as a girl until authorities discovered that the nine-year-old boy Jameson was being illegally home schooled. Rather than send Jamie to public school as a boy, the family moved to a district that would allow them to continue to home school under close supervision. But Jamie had to live as a boy until her parents could locate a physician willing to help correct her birth certificate.
 
 
The child in the photo is nine. He’s the same size as his six-year-old sister. He’s one of the people on whom the character Jamie is based.
 
At sixteen, the four-foot-eleven soprano leaves a sheltered home school environment for a boys’ dorm at college. His act has convinced his father that he’s happy as a boy. However, when a medical student tells Jamie he should have been raised female, Jamie discovers the life she could have as a girl. Will Jamie risk losing her family and her education for a boyfriend who may desert her or a toddler she may never be allowed to adopt?
 
I was told by agents that they had no idea how to market such a story, so I concentrated on smaller publishers. I eventually signed with MuseItUp Publishing because of their great reputation. They assigned me an amazing editor who is excited about my book.
 
Your website mentions your faith several times. How important is being a Christian to your writing, and are you worried about alienating people who don’t share your beliefs?
 
An author who encouraged me along the way asked me if I was ready for people to think I was writing about myself. Although Confessions is fiction, I found that the telling of Jamie’s story required sharing my heart at a depth that made me groan. Telling can quickly become preaching that turns people off. Faith in Christ is an integral part of me; it’s going to come out. Showing Jamie’s–showing my desperate need of my Savior may still offend a few, but I don’t think it will cause people to stop reading.
 
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
 
Seriously? I’m not sure how much ‘want’ has to do with it. Pouring your heart out on to paper is cathartic, but after the hundredth edit of the fifth draft, I wondered if I’d ever convey what I intended. My editor had to slap my hand, yank the manuscript away, and say, “You can stop now.”
 
Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?
 
I’m taking a hybrid approach that seems to be working for me. MuseItUp Publishing does both e-book and print, but allows their authors to opt out of print. That really is gracious of them. Lea Schizas seems more interested in helping authors than in building an empire.
 
If you’re going to self-publish, be sure you find a good editor. The rest you can do yourself if you put your mind to it. If I can start a micro-publisher, format my document, and come up with a reasonable cover, I know you can.
 

Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, by Lianne Simon

 
What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
 
I’m sure you’ve heard them all–write first, edit later–enter late, leave early–show, don’t tell–get right to the action/inciting incident.
 
But first of all, share so deeply that it hurts, so deeply that the story flows out like pure water from an artesian well. The story itself matters more than everything else.
 
Thanks for sharing with us. Hope your book does well.
 
Thanks!
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Lianne Simon describes herself as a housewife trying to learn to write, and trying to help the kids she loves. They say you write about what you know. Lianne is a Christian who has some knowledge of intersex conditions and how they affect people, which led her to write her debut novel.
 
Confessions of  a Teenage Hermaphrodite is due to be released on September 18 and is available for preorder on Amazon. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on Lianne’s website at http://www.liannesimon.com/confessions/

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When going back to work means more, not less, writing time

 

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But for me, at least, that’s how it’s worked out. Going back to work has given me more writing time than I had when I was at home.

I returned to work on August 6, after a seventeen-month maternity leave. I work part time, four days a week, one of which is from home and three of which are in the office. And do you know what? I’ve written more in these past three weeks than I did in the three months before, I think.

Before you jump to conclusions, no I’m not writing when I should be working. However, what being back at work means is more time spent in front of a computer, without the interruptions that young children generally provide. What being back at work means, for me, is a good half an hour to an hour each day – in my lunch break – when I can just write, without interruptions.

Sure, I could have got that much time at home … but not uninterrupted. Even when the baby went to sleep, getting a solid hour’s writing time was almost unheard of, and there were other things to do that couldn’t be done when he was awake, like the vacuuming, or cleaning the bathroom, or whatever. (My youngest child is a climber. Leaving him alone for more than a few minutes means that you’ll find him on top of the dining room table, or something similar, when you return.) In short, there were always other things that had to be done in order to keep the house running smoothly. Besides, clearing off the table and getting the laptop out also took more time and frankly, that didn’t always sound appealing.

I recognise, of course, that there is an element of choice in all this. I could have chosen to have an un-vacuumed, un-cleaned house and used that time to write. I could have done all the cleaning on weekends, when my husband was around to keep an eye on the kids. (Don’t worry, he does his share of cleaning too. I’m just referring to my jobs.) I could have chosen to use that time to write. And it probably says something about me that I didn’t – maybe some people will think I’m less of a writer because I didn’t make that time every day. That’s okay. I’m comfortable with my decisions.

Now, though, the fire is back and the manuscript is definitely getting finished. I’ve written 5000 words a week over the past three weeks, upping my tally to 86K altogether. And it’s all because I’m already sitting at the computer, I’m already in that writing pose, and I have some time when I KNOW that no kids are going to need me. It’s heaven.

So yes, going back to work has, for me at least, meant more writing time. Now what about you? When have you found that something helped your writing when you expected it to hinder it? Because I’m sure I’m not alone here. Writing, it seems, has a way of sticking its head in and sorting things out when you least expect it.

 

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Book review: Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall

Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall

 

This is a review of the book Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall. The novel focuses on Ada Howard, a middle-aged preacher’s wife in the American south, who is invited to a college reunion and uses that as the catalyst for a weight-loss campaign.

This is a journey of self-discovery more than anything. Ada fears that her husband is having an affair, and the promise of seeing an old flame at the reunion has her considering doing the same for the first time. In the twelve months that the book covers, she learns much about herself, her friends, her family and her husband, and comes out at the end a much happier woman.

I wasn’t able to relate to all of Ada’s journey. For one thing, I’m one of the few Western women who has never gone on a weight-loss binge, but then again I have a lot of friends who have so it wasn’t wholly foreign. For another, her weight was always counted in pounds. For someone who grew up on metric, I was forever having to translate her weight into kilograms in my head so I had some idea of what her progress was. These aren’t terminal problems by any means, but they did diminish my enjoyment of the book somewhat.

The other thing that was new to me, though I was happy to learn, was the aspects of African American culture that featured so heavily in the narrative. The group of women who lunched in white-owned restaurants once a month to prove to themselves (and others) that it was acceptable for them to do so was an eye-opener for me, and it reminded me that many of these battles are far from over, even fifty years after the civil rights movement. I also wasn’t aware – and this is key to the diet theme – that there is a strong “big is beautiful” belief about the female form, and that many women choose to be larger-figured because it affords them more respect and self-belief.

The book was structured well, too. Each of the chapters is titled by one of the “rules” Ada sticks with in her journey, such as “Don’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing”, “Manage portion sizes”, or “Create your own spa day”, all of which correspond to that part of her journey. Then at the end there is a chapter called “How to use my, Ada Howard’s, novel as a diet book”, which I thought was an innovative way of tying the narrative with a greater objective. As a book, it fits itself well – which I suppose is appropriate given the theme.

Ada’s Rules is an enjoyable, easy read which handles some very sensitive issues with grace and tact. It’s easy to pick up and hard to put down, and leaves the reader feeling satisfied – and (for me at least) also that they’ve learned something. Overall, it’s a well written insight into southern America and into the mind of an intelligent yet somewhat insecure heroine. I believe it’s well worth looking at.

 

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Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
342 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as hardcover

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Assorted writing tips #6 – dealing with writer’s block

When struck with writer's block...

When struck with writer’s block… (Photo credit: kaniths)

 

We’ve all done it. Finally managed to get a couple of hours that will be free of interruptions, only to sit down at the computer and stare at the screen, unable to type because we have absolutely no idea what to say. The ideas are there, but the words just aren’t coming. We have writer’s block.There are a number of ways to try to get past this. What I want to do today is list some of the methods that – for me at least – work best, and also those that work worst.

Good ideas

  • Read through what you’ve already got. Do some edits here and there and maybe extend a scene or two. Just immersing yourself in your story
  • Jot down some ideas in freeform mode. It might be a whole scene, it might be a line of snappy dialogue, it might be an impression or an emotion. Even if it doesn’t make sense, write it down. You may find inspiration in your jottings at a later date.
  • If you’re a linear writer (ie, you start at the beginning and write in order till you get to the end), perhaps think about writing a scene that you haven’t got to yet. Most people have ideas about key points in their stories, and how they want them to go. Write them down. Construct the scene. Sure, when you get to it you might change bits of it (or lots of it), but it will get you writing again. (If you’re not a linear writer and simply don’t know where to start, do this too. Get those key scenes down in print. You can always change them later if you need to.)
  • Try free writing. Open a blank document and just type words (or, if you prefer longhand, open a new page of your notebook). Don’t think about the words, don’t try to modify them, and don’t worry if they don’t make any sense. Just the act of writing can be what you need to get back into it. (Also, free writing can sometimes free things from your subconscious. Don’t discount what you see on the paper once you’re done.)
  • Read something similar to what you’re trying to write to get your head in the right space for that genre.

Bad ideas

  • Opening Facebook or Twitter and scrolling through, telling yourself you’re looking for inspiration. Chances are you’ll just get distracted, start trolling through blogs and the like, and two hours later you’ll have achieved precisely nothing.
  • Letting yourself get bogged down in a particular scene. If there’s something you can’t seem to get past, just ignore it for the time being and come back to it when you’ve had a bit of a break.
  • Getting another coffee. Then noticing the kitchen bench needs wiping down, so getting out a dishcloth to do that. Then thinking that the dishcloth needs washing so putting a load of laundry on. Then noticing that the kids have tracked mud through the laundry so mopping the floor. Then thinking that since you’ve got the mop out you might as well do the bathroom and kitchen floors as well. Then noticing there’s a ring around the bath so cleaning that. Then remembering you haven’t brushed your teeth today so doing that. Then noticing that the toothpaste tastes odd because it’s not combined with the taste of coffee like it normally is, so going back to the kitchen to drink the coffee you made. Then realising you’ve taken so long to do everything else that your coffee is now cold, so tipping it out and making some more. Then noticing that the dishes need doing …

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily going to be what works for other people, but from what I can tell a lot of what works for me is almost universal. Naturally, sometimes writer’s block isn’t going to respond to anything listed above, whether recommended or not, but often – I find at least – it will. It’s just a matter of trying things out and seeing how you go.

Good luck!

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Guest post: You’re probably a fan, you just didn’t know it, by Eric Swett

 

I cannot remember a time where I did not enjoy reading fantasy. I have gone through periods of time where my focus had shifted to science fiction, and I will occasionally read a historical fiction, but I always come back to fantasy. For a long time I was unaware that fantasy could be subdivided into sub-genres. It was all fantasy to me. A few years ago a friend of mine gave me his book to read and I loved it. One Right Tricky Bastard was the story of a wizard in the modern world who had to deal with all of the troubles of modern life with the added complication of magic and monsters being real. I was  hooked. I asked if he knew any other books like that and he turned me on to Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files series. I tore through those books as well and started hunting for others. I had been pulled into the Urban Fantasy sub-genre.

So what is an Urban Fantasy? The major defining requirement for an Urban Fantasy revolves around the setting. A traditional Fantasy novel tends to include fantastic creatures and/or magic in some sort of a medieval setting. The Urban Fantasy will include the creatures or magic, but the world is modern (or at least post medieval) and usually revolves around a town or city. Whether the fantastic elements are out in the open or hidden from most people does not matter, as long as it exists. This in itself is a rather broad definition of the sub-genre, and it bleeds into a number of other sub-genres (especially horror), but is the most direct definition of Urban Fantasy.

It is almost impossible to avoid Urban Fantasy lately (not that I would recommend avoiding it), so let’s take a look at a few different books, movies and television shows that would fall into the Urban Fantasy category.

Movies:

Wow, the possibilities here are endless, but as an example I could use Fright Night, Drive Angry, or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as examples. Each of them is a story told in the modern world and involves an element of the supernatural (which is really just another way of saying magic and monsters), but an even more direct example is the 2011 film, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. The main character is a private investigator who works amongst the monsters that lurk amongst every day people. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and magic blend together with a modern world that is all too willing to not notice their existence. The movie itself was mediocre at best, but it is a perfect example of the genre.

Urban Fantasy

Television:

Two prime examples of Urban Fantasy on television are the long running Supernatural and Grimm. Both involve monsters, ghosts, and magic in the modern world. Both shows cater to the idea that the world is filled with supernatural entities that people are just not aware of and the heroes do the best they can to keep it that way. Secret Circle and Vampire Diaries are a couple of examples that fall into the genre, but they are also categorized as paranormal romance or even teen drama, but they are set in a modern world and involve magic or monsters (yes, the vampires are sexy, but still monsters). Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and American Horror Story are all examples of Urban Fantasy shows on television.

Books:

I could list plenty of books here, but instead I’m going to name two series that fall into the Urban Fantasy genre, even though they are regularly considered part of different genres.

Harry Potter is one of the biggest Urban Fantasy series of all time, though no one ever thinks to call it that. There is magic and monsters in every book and the inclusion of those elements in the modern world definitely qualify the series for the genre. The Twilight Saga, traditionally classified as Romance or Fantasy (as well as Young -Adult), also qualifies as Urban Fantasy with its heavy dose of vampires and werewolves.

As you can see, Urban Fantasy is everywhere, so what other Urban Fantasies have you found hiding in plain sight?

 

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Apocalypse Rising, by Eric Swett

Thanks Eric! Food for thought indeed, as I too had never really thought to split fantasy stories into sub-categories. He is absolutely right, though, and it’s amazing to think how many well-loved books, films and television series fit into this sub-genre. If you’d like to see how Eric puts his love of Urban Fantasy into practice, check out his book Apocalypse Rising, available as ebook or paperback on Amazon.

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Eric Swett started writing a story at 100 words a day in the spring of 2011 as an exercise while he worked on his novel. One year later and that exercise turned into his first novel, Apocalypse Rising. He has started another 100 word project (which can be found on his blog here) and the sequel to his first book.

He is the husband of Tracy and the father of Zachary and Connor. He works in the IT industry and is a recent transplant to North Carolina. He loves all things science fiction and fantasy and openly claims the title of geek.

 

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Giving it away for free

Fan fiction in the making ?

Fan fiction in the making ? (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

I had a comment on my latest blog entry this morning, asking my thoughts about publishing fiction online. This isn’t self publishing – you don’t do book sales and you don’t need an IBSN; rather, you find a blog or a fiction website and publish a story, novel or whatever on that.

Well, this got me thinking, not least because I have already done that. I’ve written before about earlier novels which will never be published; well, one of those is online, albeit under another name. You see, that novel was fan fiction, which is not something I talk about much in the writing community.

Publishing online is a great way of getting feedback on your work from total strangers and giving you an idea of the range of people your writing may reach.  Fan fiction probably has a lead over original fiction here, though, in that if someone wants to read fan fiction they don’t have much choice but to scour the Internet. If they want to read original fiction, they can get a cheap book or a freebie from Amazon, or go to the library. However, there are a lot of fiction websites out there and people do read and review the stories on them, so I very much doubt it’s a waste of time. You can build up a fan base with a novel published online, and gauge whether your writing is good enough to try to take that next step – write something for publication offline, that people can buy.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though. If it’s a book you are thinking, however remotely, of getting published in the future (other than self published), then it would be my advice not to do it. A book that has been previously published online is not something most publishers would be interested in. Sure, there are exceptions (Fifty Shades of Greywhich was pulled from the Internet before it was published externally, springs to mind) but generally it’s not a goer.

Also, think very carefully about where you want to put it online. If it was me, I’d be looking at one of the many  fiction websites that specialise in this sort of thing. These websites attract people who are looking to read fiction online and would therefore probably get you more of an audience than, say, doing chapters serially on a blog, which may flounder unseen in cyberspace for months or even years. You could well get more comments/reviews on a fiction site, simply because more people who are inclined to read online would find it. If you’re not familiar with fiction websites there are a lot out there – wattpad.com and figment.com come to mind, and there’s also gluttonyfiction.com, though that focuses more on fan fiction than original. There is an original fiction section there, though, so it might be worth looking at. (Disclaimer: I have had bad experiences with both Wattpad and Figment, though I know other people who have had nothing but positive experiences with them so perhaps I just got them on a bad day. I have never used Gluttony. Any other sites I haven’t mentioned are omitted simply because I don’t know of them or can’t think of them just at the moment.) There is a downside, though: online publishing leaves you much more open to plagiarism, which I have experienced. Just be prepared to Google your story title or opening line occasionally to make sure that no one has published it elsewhere under their own name.

So, would I publish online? Sure! But not if it was something I wanted to take further. If it was just to be an online story, it’s a great way of getting feedback and finding out where your writing is at. It’s also an excellent method of connecting with people who like your work, and who may buy it in the future given the opportunity. But I would be very wary about publishing anything that I may want to publish externally at a later date, and I would be very aware of the possibility of being plagiarised.

What do other people think? Publishing online or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Author interview: Alison Wong

Today I welcome Alison Wong, author of the novel Take a Chance. Alison  has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing experience and give some advice to all the other writers out there.

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it?

 Take A Chance is my first novel, a contemporary romance – chick lit, where Hannah explores re-kindled love for an estranged sister and an ex-fiancé while balancing Chinese family values. Hannah is a 2nd generation British ethnic Chinese and she flutters about with her conscience in deciding if she should give love a chance. When writing about Hannah and Julian, it drew me to my own experiences growing up as an ethnic Chinese in England. I was often told to study hard and go to university and forget about the boys. I believe my parents knew daughters had to work harder because we had our gender discriminating us, and we had our ethnicity too. Cultural assimilation into an adopted country does not mean that parents forget their culture or values. Instead they instill them into their children and for some parents, their aspirations too. For Hannah to find love again, she has to face both her British and Chinese values, especially her family values. In Take A Chance, fate and a little sisterly and heavenly nudging is helping her.

What has the response been like?

Take A Chance was officially released June 2012, so the response from potential buyers-readers is awaiting. I had an initial soft release in May 2012 and the manuscript was updated for the June release. The beauty of having a subsidy self-publisher for my book is that it doesn’t affect the ISBN. I can have my book revised without purchasing a new ISBN, though at a cost. To celebrate the June release I listed my book for a 5 copy free Giveaway on Goodreads.com and the response was good. There are readers interested in Take A Chance – the trick is getting them to buy . My self-publisher set my paperback and hardback retail prices and at least I can negotiate the eBook price. The pricing is an issue I’m working on. If you indie-publish or e-publish with Amazon’s KDP and Smashwords you have full control of the price. It’s so tempting to go into indie-publishing in the future. Aside from the Goodreads Giveaway,  I believe it’s important to get reviews as readers place value on them. I’ve so far had three positive reviews of Take a Chance on Goodreads.com. On the other hand, friends and family have been great. If you’re an aspiring writer and debut author, you really need all the support you can get.

There is a strong cross-cultural theme to the novel.  How hard is it to balance competing cultural values and what impact has this had on your writing?

I like this question. It is the very reason I wrote Take A Chance because its theme is about balancing different cultures: East meets West within a love story. Chinese people are reserved. It is probably because of post-Confucianism in traditional Chinese culture. ‘Elders are to be respected'; ‘authority figures are to be respected’. Both these edicts result in non-violent, obedient and passive respect. Whereas, in the West, individuals are encouraged to be assertive, independent and pro-active yet there is a strong sense of justice. If you have opposite cultures in your upbringing, how do you balance them? Moreover, what if your parents are from the East and you are from East-West? However, I’m proud to be both. It’s not easy though. I’ve been there, growing up as a British ethnic Chinese who can’t read or write Chinese or speak fluent Chinese, and I try to answer some of these questions in my book.

For me, Take A Chance is a romantic and witty, novel way to deal with cultural values from the viewpoint of a modern, British ethnic Chinese woman, Hannah. She tries to balance Chinese and British cultures and her family values while re-kindling her love for sister Rosalyn and her ex-fiancé, Julian. Julian is a worldly man, and it is his openness and acceptance of other cultures that attracts him to Hannah and her to him because he understands her upbringing and family values. He is basically the ideal man – well-educated and reasonably well-off despite being non-Chinese; yet, like Hannah, he is British too. He and Hannah have more in common than Hannah realises. Moreover, Hannah isn’t submissive: she is independent, head strong and a bit of a rebellion, although ironically she is loyal to her parents and is humble and modest too. This is her cultural identity of balancing East and West. In the end, she has to compromise with her family values in order to be true to her identity. She is neither Chinese nor British: she is British but ethnic Chinese. My message to readers is that love always wins. I wish there was more peace and love in the world.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?

I guess I knew I always wanted to write since I started my first journal at the age of seven. I still keep a hand-written journal now and I have a blog.  I’m learning to prioritise my time for writing the sequel to Take A Chance. However, I have a higher priority, which is to enjoy life to the fullest.

I sometimes wonder if writing is in my family because my son wrote a journal when he was five. Of course, he wrote only when he was reprimanded. Children can be so honest. My son’s favourite post-reprimand journal entry was: ‘I hate Mummy.’

As a parent and teacher, I didn’t mind the words. He spelt them correctly at least and he needed to vent his anger – better it was on paper than on me.

I have to say though, that teaching wasn’t my vocation despite a successful career. I went into teaching because I needed a job and teaching is in my blood. I come from a line of teachers. I never had the confidence to write though, not even when my Form 4 secondary school English teacher encouraged me to write a memoir one day. I can never forget him because he was the best teacher I ever had, and he had a claim to fame: he taught the English actor, John Hurt. Moreover, my youngest sister upstaged me: she was the natural born writer of the family, next to me of course.

I began to seriously consider writing when I left English teaching and had time on my hand to pursue my passion for writing. What spurred me on though was my youngest sister who died of cancer a few years before I left teaching. I wanted to write a fun love story for her because she never had the chance to fall in love; so, Take A Chance is in memory of her.

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

Six years ago I actually considered submitting my manuscript to a US/UK literary agent or publisher dealing with multicultural romances. There was, at the time, a lot of buzz about self-publishing and Lulu.com was free. Other subsidy self-publishers had emerged too as an alternative to traditional publishing. I considered Trafford.com, then a well-established self-publisher but realised how expensive the packages were, and Lulu.com was US based, which made me wary of the royalties and tax issues and marketing on my own as I live in Hong Kong. It was all overwhelming. As it turned out, life’s ups and downs interrupted my plans and my manuscript gathered dust. When a recent near-death experience jarred my life, I was reminded of the dreams my sister never achieved. Life is short; so, I decided to make my dream of being published come true.

I am still learning from the experience. Trafford Singapore has done an excellent service transferring my manuscript to a printed book and an eBook. They have fulfilled their Orchard package terms which includes an ISBN, global distribution on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. However, I have been on a learning curve regarding my self-publisher, self-publishing, marketing and social media.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Success doesn’t come overnight. Catherine Ryan Howard (indie-published author) has an insightful blog Catherine Caffeinated on self-publishing.

There are a lot of self-publishing experts and marketing experts out there and you will be inundated with advice and offers – some free, some not. Self-publishing and marketing books are big business, I’ve come to realise. I chose self-publishing with a subsidy publisher, and post publishing, I wish I researched more information. It’s best to stick with self-publishing rather than buy any marketing packages; far better to spend money on editing and proofreading before you self-publish. And of course, there is the option of Smashwords and Amazon KDP for writers now.

If you are on a string budget, I would advise writers to keep your options open, research them and think about your expectations. For example, I don’t expect to be a bestseller and I’m happy simply show-casing my book.

Should you go the traditional route and query an agent? Some publishers don’t even want to hear from you without an agent. They will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Even if you queried, you would probably face rejections, nevermind rejections of solicited manuscripts. Fear is the biggest obstacle. So, what can you do? Head for free publishing on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or Smashwords.com?  In my opinion (please do not take this as expert advice since I am no expert) if you are a non-fiction writer and a marketing expert or computer-social media guru, you will be able to cope with marketing and promoting your book once it’s self-published. If you are a novelist, take a hard look at yourself and study your writing and personal style. Is self-publishing the route for you or is the traditional route better if you can overcome fear of rejection, and cope with self-marketing? I don’t want to put aspiring writers off, however. I believe that there is a story in everyone. Traditional publishers and savvy readers are always on the lookout for new talent and new writers, even if a writer is self/indie-published.Times are changing. So, from a writer to another writer: Write. Don’t give up! Courage. Dreams do come true if you make them happen. As Henry David Thoreau said to me when I was writing my book:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

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Alison Wong is a Hong Kong born with both Chinese and British roots – the best of both worlds. She was born in Hong Kong but grew up in England. Alison re-rooted in Hong Kong after graduating from Lancaster University, England. Later she gained a post-graduate degree from Hong Kong. After several years of teaching the English language, she left teaching. She now divides her time between being a domestic goddess to her husband and son, and writing. A simple, healthy, happy life is her motto and priority. You can read more about her and her book at http://alisonwauthor.wordpress.com/, and Take a Chance is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

 

Footnote: Since doing this interview, Alison has parted company with Trafford Singapore. Her advice to writers, however, remains the same. She has now closed her blog and is concentrating on writing her next book, and I wish her all the best.

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Why do you write? And does it matter?

Medieval writing desk

Medieval writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Well, why do you? If you are a writer, that is. :)

It’s an interesting question. Me, I’ve been writing for years, but it’s only the past five or six years that I’ve taken it seriously at all. After reading a lot of books, I started to think that some of the stories in my head could find an outlet in that way too. Let’s face it, with a lot of the stuff I was reading, I was sure I could do better.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but the feedback I’ve had on some of my completed works (unpublished, that is) is that maybe I can. Do better, that is. If nothing else, it’s been encouraging, which is why I kept at it. I’m not someone who is so full of ideas that I would still be writing even if everyone hated my work. I need to believe that I can get somewhere with it, that I can have people I’ve never met read my words and be moved by them, in order to do it.

I know that this may be considered conceited, admitting that I don’t necessarily write for the love of it. The thing is, though, that I do, albeit in my own way. The way I see it is that I’ve already written the never-to-be-published stories. What I want to do now is take that next step, and write something that could be published, perhaps even by a publishing house. I have nothing against self-publishing and I may go down that path myself, but there’s a part of me that wants the external validation that getting an agent and a book deal provides.

Perhaps you write to be published, too. Perhaps you feel, as I do, that it’s time for you to try to take that next step. Or perhaps you write because you need to, because it’s your raison d’être, because if you didn’t you would go crazy. Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle and you’re writing something that you think might end up in the wider world, but you’re not sure. Perhaps you’ve got a story you want to tell and you have no idea where it will take you.  Perhaps you’ve seen The Hunger Games and want to get in on that whole YA dystopian thing, or maybe pen the next erotica mega-hit. Perhaps you just like the feel of creating something and you have no intention of ever showing it to anyone.

The thing is, we are all different, and while our reasons for writing may sound the same on some levels, I suspect that once you delve right in, they are in fact all different too. Unique in their own way. We have different motivations, different expectations and different hopes and dreams about where our writing might take us. And I think we should celebrate this.

There are some people who judge others based on the reason they write. They turn up their noses at the idea of jumping on a bandwagon or writing for profit, saying that it should be for the love of the craft. Or they wonder aloud why anyone would waste their time on something that can never earn them a pay cheque. But I think this is self-defeating behaviour. We all have something in common, in that we all write. We all share a passion. And this is something that should be celebrated; that should be used as a reason to meet new people, not alienate them.

Why do you write? It’s probably a reason unique to you. And, really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it at all.

 

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Book review: I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran

 

I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran

This is a review of the book I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran, a series of short stories purporting to be about love. I say “purporting” because, while they are indeed love stories – even if you stretch the definition somewhat – I found the title of the book very revealing, because most of them seemed to be as much about death as they did love. In addition, while love did feature heavily as a theme, romantic love did not, so using the term “love stories” on the front cover could be interpreted as being misleading.

The stories are in many ways disturbing. As a mother with a baby, I had trouble reading the first story from the POV of an escaped tiger and its treatment of the “human cub” it comes across. The story of the repressed wife who goes to Thanksgiving dinner with her husband dead on the living room floor is, again, something out of my comfort zone. But then again, this isn’t a bad thing, and I find it helpful to leave my comfort zone occasionally. The tone was helped by the liberal helpings of humour, often black and certainly always dark, but nonetheless there, which was a welcome distraction. There is perhaps an over-reliance of the experiences of Asian migrants living in the United States, which is part of Parameswaran’s own story, but then again if one does not write what one knows – to some extent at least – then the work can come off feeling contrived and unbelievable. These stories, even those from the perspective of animals, are neither of those.

My one criticism is that some of the stories felt unfinished. Four Rajeshes I thought was too open at the end, and Elephants in Captivity (Part One) did feel like it would have benefited from Part Two and perhaps even Part Three. Even the final tale, On the Banks of the Table River, left a little too much unanswered for my taste. Perhaps Parameswaran’s writing is too subtle for my palate, which is certainly possible, but it did leave a sense of vague dissatisfaction upon completion of the book.

That said, however, it is an exceptional first collection of short stories. They are well written, original, inventive and ultimately believable, if occasionally unnerving, and are certainly not the bland tales which one may expect from a debut author. Ultimately, if you are looking for a collection which will stay with you long after you finished the last word, then I am an Executioner is a book for you.

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I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
260 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as ebook or paperback

 

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