On Symmetry (Or, There’s Something about November)

“Hey, how about that?” I said when I received the schedule for my senior year in high school.  I had been waiting for it for a few days, eager to see who my teachers were and what order my classes would be in.  (Mind you, these were the days, in that long-ago 20th century, when class schedules were snail-mailed.)  For three days, I had been watching for the mailman, a rotund fellow by the name of Al, to deliver it.  Finally, the schedule had arrived.

 

The first thing I noticed was that one of my teachers would be someone I knew well, someone who had taught me in a different class as a freshman.  I will call him Mr. D.  And back in my freshman year, he taught English and unlocked for the class the treasures of great literature and the colors of the writing rainbow.  But now, in my senior year, he would be teaching a class called Current Events.  Great, I thought.  I always liked Mr. D.

 

On the first day of school, I lingered after class for a couple of minutes, talked with him about what might be in store for the semester, reminisced about ninth grade.  “Freshmen,” he said with a roll of his eyes.  He still taught freshman English, too.  In fact, even as we spoke, the first brave souls of his freshman English class began to trickle in to the room.

 

I told him about the impact his writing rainbow lesson had on me, how I still thought about it, still tried to live it, and always would.  That made him smile.  I asked him if he still talked about writing rainbows and creativity and reaching for your best to the current crop of freshmen.  “Indeed, I do,” he said.  I was glad to hear it, and hoped some of the wary underclassmen filtering into the room, eyeing me suspiciously as I conversed with the teacher at his desk, would be as motivated by the lesson as I had been.

 

“Well, it’s good being back in your class,” I said then, knowing I needed to go.  If I didn’t leave soon, I’d be late for my next period.  “I look forward to the semester.”

And I did.  I meant it.  And it didn’t disappoint.  Mr. D. didn’t disappoint.  Throughout the term, he assigned for us to read through issues of Time and Newsweek, and report on the news, every week.  (Again, this was early 1990s education!  No Googling.)  Frequently, my worldview clashed with his, and we’d have spirited debates.  He’d write in the margins of my handwritten essays that he disagreed with my interpretation of events but that he supported my right to hold views contrary to his own.  We argued, we clashed about politics, but I enjoyed the class.  And, I like to think old Mr. D. enjoyed having me as his student again.

 

One morning, a frosty, early November, hint-of-winter morning, I arrived in his class a few minutes early.  Since it was the first period of the day, there were no departing students from a previous class.  It was just Mr. D. seated at his desk.

 

I approached, and we started talking.  I mentioned again how it was good having the opportunity to take a class he taught.  “I never thought I’d be in your class again,” I said.  “Freshmen year and now senior year . . .”

“There’s a kind of symmetry to it,” Mr. D. said.  “You got stuck with me at the start, and at the end, of your high school career.”

 

A kind of symmetry, yes.  I liked the sound of that.

*******************

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost five years since I published the e-book version of The Eye-Dancers.  Time continues to speed along on rapidly fluttering wings.  I remember well the stops and starts that led up to publication day.  There were hiccups, hurdles, and unexpected delays.  But eventually, release day arrived–in November 2012.

 

So it seems fitting somehow that, five years later, there have been delays and hurdles and hiccups with the sequel, as well.  Editing has taken longer than expected.  The writing process has taken longer.  And of course sometimes things simply crop up, a week’s delay here, a month’s there.  The end result has been a later-than-originally-anticipated release date.  But The Singularity Wheel is getting close!  I am working through the final substantive edits this week and next.  Following that, a few heaven-sent beta readers will comb through the manuscript.  Once they are done reading and offer feedback, I will do a final, final round of edits followed by a thorough copy edit/proofread.  The cover will be completed.  The file readied for publication.  And . . .

 

A November release date is planned.  Five years, to the month, following the release of The Eye-Dancers.

There is something about November, indeed.

 

As Mr. D. might say, there’s a kind of symmetry to it.

Thanks so much to everyone for all your ongoing support.  It means the world.  And thanks so much, as always, for reading!

–Mike

 

So . . . What’s a “Singularity Wheel”? (Or, a Title Finally Emerges)

Ideas are funny things.  Sometimes they strike with no warning, no foreshadowing, completely unasked for and unplanned.  Other times, you might be searching doggedly for the resolution of the next scene, the next chapter, the next story, and you peek around every corner, under every stone, every nook and cranny, hoping to find the missing piece–only to be rebuffed each time.  Sometimes ideas come complete, a gift from the muse, a fully developed story just waiting to come alive, one keystroke at a time.  And sometimes they tantalize, tease, coyly offering a hint or a lead, providing a glimpse but not revealing the whole.

ideastart

 

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I experienced all of this and more, and in fact the genesis of the story began two decades before the first word was even written.  When I was in high school, I had a dream one night, a taut affair where I saw a ghost outside my bedroom window–or, at least, I thought it was a ghost.  She was a little girl, no more than seven years old, and as I peered through the window, I saw her standing in the road, beneath the streetlamp that stood beside our mailbox.  The light from the streetlamp filtered right through her; she seemed more spirit than flesh-and-blood girl.  This “ghost girl” signaled for me to come outside and join her, and I was sure she wanted to lead me somewhere from which I would never return–perhaps the cemetery across town; perhaps a hidden hollow deep within the woods where boy-eating wolves or nameless, sharp-fanged creatures roamed; or maybe some ethereal phantom world, a far-away limbo on the other side of tomorrow.

wolves

 

I felt myself fighting hard to resist, not wanting to leave the security of my room.  But there was an inevitability to it all, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.

That’s when I woke up, sweating, my sheets a crumpled mess at my feet.  It took a moment for me to gather myself, but when I did, I knew this “ghost girl” from my dream was someone I needed to write about.  In the days that followed, excited, fired up, eager to launch into a new adventure, I tried putting her in various short stories, tried to begin a novel with her as the focal point.  I even tried writing a poem about her, and I am no poet!  Nothing worked.  Frustrated, I jotted down a few notes about the dream, making sure I wouldn’t forget, and filed them in a literary to-do pile, hoping one day a story would emerge.

ghostgirlstorynothingworks

 

It took twenty years.  Then one night, I had the very same dream, taken back to the house where I grew up, seeing the same specter standing out there in the street.  Only this time, upon waking, I had the germ of an idea.  Over the next few days, the idea sprouted, watered by the suddenly giving and generous gifts of a capricious muse, fueled by enthusiasm and a drive to write the story.  And when I wrote the first words, the first scene–in which Mitchell Brant has the same dream of the same “ghost girl” I did–I believed this time would be different.  This time, the tale would be told, the story brought to its completion.

eyedancerscapriciousmuse

 

The key word being “story”–singular.  I never thought or intended that The Eye-Dancers would be continued.  At the time, I had a fully developed single-story idea, not the beginning of a series.  I had no reason to believe there would ever be a sequel.

But again, ideas are funny things, and one late-winter day, three years ago, a dramatic visual formed in my mind’s eye.  I wasn’t thinking about any of the Eye-Dancers characters, wasn’t thinking of the novel at all.  I was merely out taking a walk, enjoying the crisp New England air, the sunshine, relishing the first, shy, almost indistinguishable signs of the coming spring.  And then, from out of nowhere, it seemed, I saw it.

hintsofspringwhilewalking

 

As if by magic, the image took shape.  There were Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski–slightly older versions than what we see in The Eye-Dancers–standing before an impossibly large structure.  The building was easily the width of ten football fields, and it rose countless stories into a sky the color of ash.  And above the structure, in that ash-colored sky, were Monica Tisdale’s (the “ghost girl’s”) swirling blue eyes.  They dominated the scene, growing, expanding, overtaking the sky.  Her eyes glared down at the boys, as if challenging them to a duel.

eyesinsky

 

What was most striking about this image was the absence of color.  Aside from the “ghost girl’s” blue eyes, everything, including the giant building, was gray, a monochrome world of black-and-white. What could such an image mean?  On that day, taking that walk (I nearly collided into a tree, distracted as I was with this scene-from-nowhere!), I didn’t know.  I just knew something was stirring, a seed had been planted, the first kernels of a new idea were cracking open and waiting to grow.

blackandwhite

 

And grow they did until I realized–I had a sequel to write, after all.  Other scenes seared themselves into my mind:  Ryan, now a card shark, shuffling a deck of playing cards as if his life depended on it–and maybe, just maybe, it did.  A blue queen of spades, with eyes as blue as the “ghost girl’s,” staring out of the deck, her expression so real as if to be animate.  What did a blue queen of spades signify?  I didn’t know yet, but somehow I knew she was to be called The Singularity Queen and that she was the only blue card in the deck (all the other spades were the customary black).  The “ghost girl” herself splitting into a million versions of herself, a foot in each world, somehow in tune with an infinite number of universes.  Marc and Mitchell and Ryan and Joe vanishing from view, first a finger disappearing, then a foot, then an entire leg, and . . . ?  What did all these scenes signify?

bluequeenshufflingcards

 

The ideas came in bunches, the story evolved, fleshed out, expanded tenfold.  The boys were older now, seventeen, on the verge of their senior year in high school.  And the “ghost girl” was older, too–no longer a girl of seven, but twelve now, on the precipice of the teen years.  What struggles would they all have now, five years removed from the conclusion of The Eye-Dancers?  As I started to write, the answers came, and the journey took off.

journeybegansequel

 

It’s been a long, oftentimes challenging journey at that.  Several times throughout, I became stuck, at a crossroads or what sometimes felt like a dead end.  There have been gaps in the writing, periods of intense distraction or busy-ness where the next chapter had to wait.  But through it all, I’ve kept going.  It’s taken longer than I’d hoped, and the end has still not been reached.  Four more chapters remain.  The aim is to finish the first draft by the New Year, then edit the manuscript over the winter, and have it ready for release next spring.  As I near closer and closer to the finish line, I will post more about the story, the events, the challenges the characters will face.

2017nextspring

 

But one thing I can do right now is offer a title.  Titles are just as temperamental as ideas.  For me, sometimes titles come at the start, before I write the first word.  Often, though, when I sit down to start a story, I leave the title page blank.  “What’s this going to be called?” I wonder.  And I have no clue.

whatistitle

 

It remained this way for two-and-a-half years with this sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  And believe me, I tried.  I spent hours trying to come up with a title.  Nothing came.  Then, one day this past summer, it did.  At first, I hesitated.  Would it work?  Or was it too confusing?  Too obscure, too odd?

I wasn’t sure, but it felt right.

The fourth definition of the word “singularity” in Webster’s dictionary reads:  “a point or region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole.”

singularityblackholewebster

 

This coincided with another visual from the story–the blue queen of spades in the center of a circle of playing cards.  In the “ghost girl’s” alternate world, the card game in question is called The Singularity Wheel.

As it turns out, the sequel to The Eye-Dancers is called that, too.

singularitywheelend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Trip Back Home, a Paperback, and a Promotion

I can still remember the first time.

I was seven years old.  I don’t remember the shop, or even what kind of shop it was–a bookstore, perhaps?  A drugstore?  An eclectic little gem with knickknacks and mementos gracing dusty, wooden shelves? I don’t know.   That detail has escaped, leaking through the holes of conscious memory, a magic trick of the mind.  But the rack, the spinning rack–I remember that.

countrystore

 

The rack was taller than I was, filled with issue after issue of comic books.  The covers promised grand adventures, larger-than-life stories, journeys through space and time.  I spun the rack, mesmerized by the squeaking sound it emitted, the covers whirring past in a blur.

comicrack

 

When the rack finally stopped spinning, I looked at the comic book directly in front of me.  The Fantastic Four, number 209.  I’d heard of Marvel’s first superhero team, of course, but I was also aware that my older brother, who collected comics, thought they were overrated.  He was  Spider-Man fan.  But the scene depicted on the cover carried my seven-year-old mind far away, up high, soaring with the stars and comets and planets from galaxies so remote I couldn’t even fathom the distance.

ff209

 

I knew I had to have that issue.

The rest, as they say, is history.  That single issue of The Fantastic Four began a lifelong love of science fiction, comic books, and, really, stories of all sizes, shapes, and genres.  I wrote my first short story that fall.  I began to read more and more for the sheer fun of it, not simply because it was assigned for school.  A handful of years later, I was introduced to the world of Ray Bradbury, as I lost myself in stories of carnival rides and astronauts, time travelers and Martians.  High school dawned, and I read Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, and Steinbeck.  When college arrived, it didn’t take long for me to declare a major–English.

bradbury

 

My life has always revolved around books.  The feel of them, the texture of the pages as you turn them.  The musty, magical smell of a comic book from 1952, an artifact, a relic from a bygone era.  Boys with cameras or baseball gloves smile at me from advertisements sixty years old, spanning the chasm of decades, infusing me with a sense of nostalgia for a time period I never even experienced or saw.

oldcomicad

 

The physical presence of books–the weight and heft of the volume–these elements add to the experience.  Reading a book, an actual, physical book, is different from reading its equivalent online or on a Kindle or smartphone.  Not necessarily better, just different.  More complete, perhaps, engaging more of the senses, providing for a more intimate and personal experience.  “There is no friend as loyal as a book,” Hemingway once said, a sentiment I have often shared over the years.

hemingwayquote

 

And so it is with great excitement that I can announce–The Eye-Dancers, published as an ebook late in 2012–is now also available as a paperback.  It seems fitting that the publication of The Eye-Dancers in hard-copy form should happen now.  This weekend, I head back home to Rochester, NY, visiting the old house where I grew up; the house where I learned to love books, not just for the stories, but for the characteristics themselves–the binding of the spine, the wrinkles and imperfections, the crisp, fresh smell of  new editions, or the heady aroma of decades-old volumes, the yellowing pages succumbing to the oxidation and literary alchemy of time.

oldbooks

 

I’ll bring a physical copy of The Eye-Dancers with me to Rochester, I’m sure.  And perhaps, at some point, some quiet, still moment, I’ll wander into my old bedroom, open the book, and remember . . .

childhoodmemories

 

******************

The Eye-Dancers, the paperback, is available for purchase . . .

at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-Michael-S-Fedison/dp/0692262784/ref=tmm_pap_title_0/190-9007348-1553839

and at CreateSpace, https://www.createspace.com/4920627

eyedancers

 

 

Additionally, The Eye-Dancers, the ebook, is now on sale for just 99 cents, through the end of September, at the following online retail locations:

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

and Kobo:  http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/The-Eye-Dancers/nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg?MixID=nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg&PageNumber=1

Thank you to everyone for all the wonderful and ongoing support!

bouquet

 

And thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Guest Post: Tammy Salyer, New Release Announcement– “Contract of War”

Since creating The Eye-Dancers website two summers ago, I have virtually met so many great people in the WordPress Community, and one person I met fairly early on is Tammy Salyer.  Tammy was gracious enough to interview me on her fantastic website back in the winter of 2013, and it was a privilege for me to post about the second entry in her Spectras Arise Trilogy shortly thereafter.

Tammy is very generous with her support of her fellow authors, always ready and willing to go the extra mile to help out in any way she can.  So it is my pleasure today to have her post about the release of Contract of War, the third and final book of her Spectras Arise Trilogy.

I cannot recommend this trilogy highly enough!  If you enjoy taut sci-fi, first-rate prose, rich characters, and suspense that compels you to keep turning the page, then I encourage you to check out the Spectras Arise Trilogy.

But Tammy can speak of her trilogy better than I can, and so without further delay . . .

****************

New Release Announcement

Contract of War, the final novel in a the Spectras Arise Trilogy by Tammy Salyer, a “riveting quest on the galactic fringe,” is out July 21st.

trilogycovers

 

What it’s about:

 

Contract of Defiance, Contract of Betrayal, and Contract of War follow heroine Aly Erikson and her crew of anti-Admin smugglers through an ever-escalating glut of life-and-death adventures and trials of a living on the side of liberty and freedom—whether they agree with the law or not—in the far future of the Algol star system. As former Corps members, most are no strangers to fighting and dissent, but more than anything, they want to spend their lives flying under the radar without control or interference from the system’s central government, The Political and Capital Administration of the Advanced Worlds. But the Admin’s greed-drenched dualism of power and corruption has other plans, and throughout the series, Aly and her crew are reminded of one lesson time and again: when all other options run out, never let go of your gun.

 

Contract of War begins in the aftermath of the system-wide war between the Admin and Corp Loyalists and the non-citizen population of the Algols, where everything once resembling order has been leveled. Scattered enclaves of survivors dot the worlds, living, however they can, in snarled lawlessness. Aly and her crew have carved out a niche of relative peace, doing their best to go on with their lives through salvaging, scavenging, and stealing. But with no force left to keep the lid on the pot, the pressures of chaos and discord soon cause conflicts to boil over. As enemies close in from all directions, even, sometimes, from within, the crew once again must fight—not just for survival, not just for their way of life, but this time for a future that can finally lay to rest the system’s bloody and savage past.

 

To learn more about the series and her other projects, visit former 82nd Airborne paratrooper and author Tammy Salyer at www.tammysalyer.com.

 

Grab all three novels in the trilogy while they’re on sale for 99 cents each through August at Amazon {amazon.com/author/tammysalyer}, Apple {http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/tammy-salyer/id519481023?mt=11}, Barnes and Noble {http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/tammy-salyer}, Kobo [http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/Search?query=Spectras%20Arise%20Trilogy&fcsearchfield=Series}, Libiro {http://www.libiro.com/}, and PayHip {http://payhip.com/TammySalyer}.

 

About Tammy:

tammy

Tammy writes a bit, reads a bit, and frequently races cars across intersections from the saddle of her bike. Consequently, you could probably crack walnut shells on her thighs, but she hopes no one ever tries, because … awkward. Find her on her blog (www.tammysalyer.com) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/tammysalyer), or sign up for her newsletter (http://eepurl.com/Trzh1) to be the first to know of contests, new releases, and special events you might enjoy. She’s currently working on a prequel to the trilogy and another project that has something to do with space Vikings. She hopes you enjoy reading her works and welcomes your reviews.

*****************

Thanks so much, Tammy, for thinking of The Eye-Dancers blog on your release day!

And thanks so much to everyone for reading.

–Mike

 

An Interview with Author Shannon A. Thompson

Nearly one year ago, I interviewed author Shannon A. Thompson here on The Eye-Dancers site, and it’s my pleasure to virtually sit down with her again for a second interview.  Shannon was one of the very first followers of The Eye-Dancers blog, back in the late summer of 2012, and I thank her for her ongoing support!

Last year, I asked Shannon about her great website, shannonathompson.com, which has now grown to include nearly 14,000 followers, and which I cannot recommend highly enough; her novel Minutes Before Sunset (the first novel of The Timely Death Trilogy), which debuted last spring; her views on writing; and the advice she would give to new, aspiring authors.  This time around, we’ll discuss what she’s been up to these past twelve months, the new novel she is about to release next month, and her views on the writing process and the way characters have a penchant to do and say things you would never envision ahead of time.

So, without further delay, I hope you enjoy the interview . . .

*******************

1.  It’s been almost one year since our first interview.  How have the past twelve months gone for you?  How has your website, shannonathompson.com, evolved over this time?

Wow!  What a question.  It’s been a crazy ride.  When you last interviewed me in March of 2013, I didn’t even have a contract for my novels.  Since then, I have signed with AEC Stellar Publishing, Inc., and I’ve been published twice–one novel and one short story.  My novel Minutes Before Sunset has since become award-winning, and the next installment of the series comes out on March 27.  I’ve graduated college, and I also work for my publisher now.  Like I said, it’s been a crazy ride–a very enjoyable one.  My website is where I’ve shared all of my adventures, but I’ve mostly been amazed at how many other readers and writers I’ve connected with over the year.  I started off with no followers, and now I’m about to hit 14,000.  I am so grateful to be able to speak with so many readers, writers, and dreamers on a regular basis.

2.  You have a new novel coming out next month–Seconds Before Sunrise, which is a sequel to Minutes Before Sunset, and the second book in The Timely Death Trilogy.  Tell us a little bit about this.  Can you give us a summary of your new novel, and how it picks up the story from the first book?

The second book starts in August–one month after Minutes Before Sunset ended.  The beginning opens up with Jessica, who no longer has a memory, but it immediately shows how the characters have changed and what events are looming over them–the main event being Eric’s approaching birthday.  While Minutes Before Sunset revolves around the Dark, readers can expect a new focus in the second book.  Seconds Before Sunrise shows what it is like to be a human in a paranormal world, but don’t worry–there is plenty of action and love struggles to look forward to.  Here’s the summary on Goodreads.

3.  I am in the process of writing a sequel, too, and I find that it has its own inherent challenges.  What did you find to be the most difficult aspect of writing a sequel?  The most enjoyable?

Actually, I wrote the sequel, Seconds Before Sunrise, before I ever wrote the first novel.  It wasn’t until I realized that book 2 didn’t make sense without book 1 that I wrote Minutes Before Sunset.  I learned a lot writing the trilogy, but I mainly learned how much having a plan can help prevent confusion like this.

4.  While writing Seconds Before Sunrise, did you encounter any surprises?  For example, did any of your characters sometimes act in certain ways you wouldn’t have foreseen?

Oh, definitely!  They change so much from the beginning of one novel to the ending, let alone from one novel to the next, so guessing what exactly they will do is nearly impossible.  I always have a plan, but I am often taken over by their decisions.  The biggest moment in Seconds Before Sunrise that I didn’t plan for at all happens in the last three chapters.  Only Eric saw that coming.

5.  When, exactly, will Seconds Before Sunrise be released for sale?  Where can readers purchase it?

March 27, 2014–it will be available through all major retailers, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

6.  Of all the many aspects of writing novels, editing them, revising them, publishing them, and promoting them, is there any one thing you enjoy the most?  The least?

Writing is my favorite part, of course, but I also look at editing as writing.  I find most of it enjoyable.  I rarely have moments in any part of the process that I don’t enjoy.  The closest I get to that is when I’m spending a day promoting when I really have the itch to write.  That can be a confusing bummer.

7.  If you could, in one or two sentences, sum up Shannon Thompson and what she stands for, and what she hopes to achieve through her writing, what would you say?

With my passion guiding me, my dream is to create wonderful worlds, aspiring characters, blissful love, and virtues for readers to complement their everyday lives with.

******************

shannon

“At sixteen years old, Shannon A. Thompson became the published author of November Snow.  At twenty-one, she was featured in Poems: a collection of works by twelve young Kansas poets.  On May 1, her paranormal romance Minutes Before Sunset was released by AEC Stellar Publishing.  In July, it was awarded Goodreads Book of the Month.  It’s the first novel in The Timely Death Trilogy.  Her first short story, ‘Sean’s Bullet,’ released in an anthology in October 2013, and her upcoming novel, Seconds Before Sunrise, is expected to release March 27, 2014.

“She’s lived in five states and moved over fifteen times, which she uses as inspiration for writing.  Shannon dedicates all of her published works to lost loved ones, and she encourages everyone to find their passion.  Shannon recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing.  She also works as a Social Media Marketing Manager for AEC Stellar Publishing, Inc.”

In addition to her website, you can find Shannon on Twitter  and on Facebook.

Please click here to purchase her novel Minutes Before Sunset.

Thanks so much to Shannon for doing this interview, and thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

.

Author Interview — Joanna Wiebe

For over a decade now, I have been a freelance proofreader for a handful of book publishers.  I really enjoy it.  I have always loved to read, after all, and the publishers I freelance for offer a wide, eclectic selection of titles to work on.  Many are nonfiction, which I don’t mind at all.  I’ve always been a big nonfiction fan.  But, of course, as a fiction writer myself, I always feel excited when I am assigned a novel.  Such was the case late this past summer, when I was asked if I could proofread a Young Adult paranormal novel with the eye-catching title of The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant.

unseemly

 

And as I read the story, I literally forgot I was proofreading, that this was supposed to be a job.  I was captivated by the words, the plot, the characters.  It was a joy to read.  I reached out to the author, Joanna Wiebe, asking her if she would be willing to do an interview here on The Eye-Dancers blog, and she was gracious enough to accept the invitation.

authint

 

And so, without further delay, I hope you will enjoy the interview with Joanna . . .

1.  Your novel The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant, published by BenBella Books, is due out at the beginning of next year.  It is also the first in a series of three novels, called the V Trilogy.  Please tell us a little bit about the book, as well as the trilogy as a whole.

Well, the first book, The Unseemly Education, describes the beginning of a series of pretty major discoveries that our hero, Anne Merchant, will make about herself and the people she loves throughout the series.  In the first book, we see her very focused on what a lot of teenagers focus on: getting the hell through high school and off to college, where ‘real life’ is supposed to start.  Anne has always been a top student, so she expects to become her class valedictorian, but she finds out quickly that all the Cania kids share her drive to become what they call “the Big V.”  By the end of the book, we learn why the Big V is such a big deal to these kids, but we don’t yet know why Anne, who is a far cry from the standard Cania student, has been allowed to come to Cania; we’ll learn that in the second book, and that’s when we’ll see Anne begin to live life instead of thinking life is something that happens after you’ve got through the muck and mire of being sixteen.

2. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant tackles the issue of regret, and the lengths parents will go to give their children a second chance.  How did you decide you wanted to write about this theme?  Did the idea for the book just hit you, suddenly, as ideas sometimes do?  Or was it something you had thought about for a while?

The lengths parents will go to was an issue I fought to keep central to the story throughout its evolution because, from where I stand, we read a lot of romantic love stories but not quite so many stories of the love between parents and their children.  I’ve experienced the way romantic love comes and goes—I mean, the guy I was crazy about in high school is essentially the opposite of attractive to me today. 🙂  And I’ve experienced how everlasting the love between parents and their children can be.  My dad essentially raised all five of us on his own, and when he died when I was in my early twenties, I felt a desperation to have him back from which I have yet to fully recover.  That said, I’m not suggesting romantic love takes a backseat to parental love—not at all!  They’re equally complex, and that’s what I hope to explore.  Of course, this book isn’t ‘about’ a girl and her parents—it’s a fantasy-paranormal-romance-suspense book. 🙂  But it does center around how desperate a parent’s love for their child can be and how vulnerable that makes them—to say nothing of the powerful feelings children have for their parents: desire to please, worry about disappointing, fear of being unable to be real with them, and ultimately, for some of us, understanding.

The issue of regret is really interesting—I love that that came through for you.  Certainly the parents here feel regret, and some of the kids do, too, but I’ll be exploring Anne’s regrets in greater detail in the second book.  So stay tuned.

3. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is a wonderful title!  I am always fascinated by titles of stories, and know from firsthand experience that titles sometimes do not come until very late in the game.  Did you know what the title for the novel would be before you began writing it, or did it only come to you in the middle, or at the end, of the writing process?

So glad you like the title!  A few other writers have commented on liking the title, too, which is a great relief to me because I’ve come to understand that I am terrible at titles.  When I was a creative writing student, the other writers in class would tell me how much they loathed my short story titles, but I thought they were awesome!  Stuff like “Prep School Boy’s Last Chance to Dance” and “There’s a Hole in My Boat.”  They’d groan; I’d smile.  With this book, my poor agent and editor had to wade through my suggestions very patiently over a very long period of time.  I’m like, “Shadows and Tall Trees!”  And they’re like, “You realize this is supposed to be something people want to read, right?”  Yeah, I guess I’m brutal.

It was actually my partner, Lance, who suggested “The Education of Anne Merchant” just around the time I was surrendering the final manuscript to BenBella, which happened after the book deal and then-title had been announced.  My editor, Glenn, added the word “Unseemly,” and voila.  I had nothing to do with it beyond coordinating it.  Which is probably why people think it’s good. 😉

4. There are some very memorable characters in the novel.  Were any of the characters inspired by anyone you know, or have known?

Thank you!  I actually worked with a guy named Manish, so (spoiler alert, but not a biggie) when my old coworkers found out I killed him off, they were like, “I knew you didn’t like Manish!”  But I totally do like him!  This minor character just felt like a Manish to me . . . and he needed to die. 😉

The character Stanley is my dad.  No question about it.  One of the greatest things I’ve heard about my book is something my sister Sarah said after she read the chapter where Anne and Stanley reunite; she said it felt like I’d created a new memory of our dad for her.

Oh, and the Pomeranian, Skippy, is the name of my nana’s Pomeranian we grew up with.  That dog had the stinkiest breath on earth, but that didn’t make it into the book, to my dismay.  When you’re writing a story like The Unseemly Education, where a reveal is around every corner, all the little details become clues; so giving Skippy stinky breath might have confused readers, even if it would have made my siblings laugh.

5. The setting for the Cania Christy Preparatory Academy, where Anne Merchant goes to school, is Wormwood Island, Maine.  Is there a special significance to this setting?  Why did you choose Maine as the location for Cania Christy?

Maine is just one of those locations, isn’t it?  I think Stephen King has done something to it; it seems cloaked in mystery and paranormality.  The school needed to be remote and on the East Coast, so it really came down to the Boston area or Maine.  And Maine just felt right.  Wormwood Island is named after the character Wormwood from CS Lewis’s amazing The Screwtape Letters, the significance of which will hopefully make sense to people who read the book.

6. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is a Young Adult novel in the sense that it tells the story of a teenage girl and her unusual experiences at the Cania Christy Academy.  (Though I believe the story will appeal to readers of all ages.)  Have you always enjoyed YA fiction?  Do you have any favorite YA authors?

I love YA.  When I was what I guess people call a “tween,” I read a lot of VC Andrews and Christopher Pike; prior to that, I read the Hardy Boys.  I guess around the time I was in grade eight or nine, I graduated to bigger books with bigger stories, like The Clan of the Cavebear series by Jean Auel and the novels that would shape my appetite since, with The Jungle and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being chief among them.

It seems to me that the best YA writing ever is happening now and has been for the last decade or so.  I find I don’t have favorite authors as much as favorite YA books, which include The Book Thief, Fiend, and Miss Peregrine’s School—plus wonderfully indulgent reads like Smith’s Lockdown, Meyer’s Cinder, and Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood.

7. Have you always known you wanted to be a writer, ever since you were little?  Or did the calling to write come slowly, over time?

It has been a forever thing, but it really took form after my parents’ divorce, when I was eight and we moved in with my nana.  I was very shy then, and she had a typewriter.  Writing was the most natural response to where I was and how I was feeling, and that’s never changed.

8. If there was only one piece of advice you could give to a new or aspiring writer, what would it be?

Write with a deadline.  Start writing that f***ing book right this second, and tell yourself you’ll have it done exactly four months from now.  We writers make a lot of excuses, and you just know someone’s reading this right now thinking, “It would be so cool to hold my own book in my hands, but . . .”  No buts.  Just set a date, and write.  Don’t sleep.  Don’t watch TV.  One of my favorite writers (okay, I guess I do have faves) is the late Donald Barthelme.  His brothers also wrote and taught writing.  One of the Barthelmes—it escapes me which—was describing his rigorous writing process to his students; a student asked him when he found the time to sleep, and he replied, “Who said anything about sleeping?”  Carve out time to read, to work enough to cover your bills, to sleep enough to stay alert, and possibly to run outside just to freshen your head.  All the time left over is time you should be outlining your story, writing it, revising it, editing it, and ultimately querying agents.  That’s how you move from aspiring writer to published novelist.  At least, that’s what people kept telling me, and that’s what worked for me.

9. Please tell us when and where The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant will be available for purchase, and where readers can discover more about you and your work.

It comes out Tuesday, Jan 14, 2014, and it’s available in bookstores throughout Canada and the US.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date with news, new books, giveaways, and general awesomeness, join me on my Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/joannawiebefiction

********************

Thanks so much to Joanna for doing this interview!

And thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

At the End of the Day . . .

When I was a graduate student, I had a professor in a creative writing workshop who would occasionally pick apart someone’s story in front of the entire class.  It wasn’t for the faint of heart.  But it was educational.  There were about fifteen of us in the class, aspiring writers all.  We would craft short stories, bring them to class, and share them with each other, critiquing our stories and writing comments in the margins.  For the most part, the professor,  a balding, bespectacled gent originally from London, served only as a moderator, facilitating the discussions and making sure the group stayed on topic.  But every now and then, he would decide to single out a particular story, and use it as an illustration of what not to do.

One day, he chose the topic of cliches.

cliches1

 

“You should never insert cliches in your story,” he said.  “It’s okay to use them in some dialogue.  People, after all, frequently speak in cliches.  But never use them in your narrative description.  Avoid them like the plague.”  (I admit, I nearly raised my hand here to tell him he’d just used a cliche to make his point on avoiding them, but, wisely, I just listened.)

cliches2

 

He then proceeded to eviscerate one young woman’s story, pointing out no less than half a dozen time-worn phrases in her ten-page piece.  I felt bad for her–brilliant as he was, this professor was not known for his tact.  Nevertheless, some of his lessons have stuck with me over the years, and whenever I edit one of my stories, I tend to keep an eye out for cliches.

I can’t guarantee that The Eye-Dancers is cliche-free.  Far from it!  But, with hope, there are very few cliches in the book.  In fact, if anyone can spot a cliche in the first three chapters, which are included on this website, please contact me, and I will send you a copy of the book for free!  Let’s call it The Eye-Dancers cliche challenge.

This gets me thinking about the entire creative process–from typing that first word, to sharing your work with others, to submitting it for publication.  It’s a challenging thing.  Looking out for cliches can sometimes take a backseat to the seemingly more important items on the writing list.

I mean, executing a story idea is no small feat.  It takes time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears.  Inspiration, after all, is 99% perspiration.  And coming up with a new twist for a story isn’t easy.  You have to push the envelope, think outside the box, and make sure you come up with an idea that hasn’t already jumped the shark.

Staring at a blank computer monitor, the cursor blinking, as if taunting you, can be intimidating, but trusting the creative process is essential.

blankscreen

 

The key is to type that first word and then keep going, keep working, and keep chopping wood.  If the idea takes flight, you will feel like a kid in a candy store–it’s almost too easy, too much fun!  Putting the pedal to the medal, you may speed right through the story, feeling like a champ.

But then you step back, inhale deeply, and take the time to read through what you’ve written during that whirlwind first-draft cyclone.  You may groan.  The rose-colored glasses are off now, and you see the results as clear as day.  The idea may have been worthwhile, the writing, in general, may even be passable.  But, being a first draft, the manuscript is littered with inconsistencies, poor sentence construction, the works.  The job of turning out a polished, completed story has only just begun.

snoopy

 

Knocking on wood, you hope you can start again at the top, put your nose to the grindstone, go the whole nine yards, and produce a top-notch piece of work.  There is still much to do, but it’s time to roll up the shirtsleeves, raise the bar, and shoot for the stars.  It’s easy at this stage to want to rush through the edits and just say the thing is done.  But patience is a virtue, and, if you’re planning on submitting the story for publication, well–you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Everything needs to be perfect, and you have to give 110%.

Finally, after a second and third, and fourth edit, the story is finished!  The problem?  You’ve read, reread, edited, and reedited the piece so many times, you’re bleary-eyed and tired of it.  You decide to set it aside for a day or two, then read it one last time before sending it out.

When you read it again three days later, you are satisfied–it’s ready.  It’s time to submit the story, sink or swim, do or die.  Who knows what the editor will think of it?  All you can do is send it off, and let the chips fall where they may.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And then you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait . . . and finally, after five months, a postcard arrives in the mail.

“Dear Writer,” it reads.  “Thank you for sending us your work and giving us the opportunity to read it.  However, we regret to inform you that it does not suit our needs at this time.  Thank you again for thinking of us.  Happy writing!”

You read the note again.  It’s frustrating.  After all the work, all the revisions, you don’t even receive a personal response.  Dejected, you wonder why you bother, but then you realize–there are so many other outlets where you can submit your story.  There are other fish in the sea!  Rejuvinated, you send the story to five other places within the next couple of days.  After all, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  Besides, rejection is as much a part of the writing life as, well, writing.  It’s par for the course.  Some of the magazines you’re submitting to inform that they do not want simultaneous submissions–but this doesn’t seem fair.  So you simultaneously submit anyway!  Living dangerously can be fun.  And you need to break a few eggs if want to make an omelet.

Meanwhile, as you wait to hear back from these five new outlets, you are working on a novel–a vast, multi-layered tome that will likely take months, maybe years, to complete.  And then the process will begin anew–perhaps querying agents, publishers, networking.  Maybe you will try the indie author route.  So many options!  Life is a bowl of cherries.

One day, months later, while working on chapter twenty-one, you receive an email from one of the magazines where you submitted your short story.

“Dear Writer,

“We regret to inform you . . .”

rejection

 

You sigh, print the email, and toss it into a rejection pile on the edge of your desk.  You toy with the idea of wallpapering your room with these slips.  Oh well.  That’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.  The story is still under review elsewhere.  Maybe someone is considering publishing it.  You never know.  Your fortune can change in the blink of an eye.  And truth is stranger than fiction.

A week later, another rejection slip–snail-mail.  But this one has a handwritten note!  “Great prose.  Keep up the good work.”  A rejection never felt so good.  You pin the slip on the wall, and get back to the novel.  There are still a dozen chapters to write, and hundreds of pages to edit, watching out for, among other things, all those pesky cliches!

“The life of a writer,” you say with a smile.

At the end of the day, it is what it is.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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