Beginning January 1, 2013

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

INTERVIEW: MARIA V. SNYDER

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Maria V. Snyder, whose latest book Touch of Power, the first book in the Healer series, was released in January. Maria is giving away an autographed copy of Touch of Power to one random commenter on today's interview.

Maria has finished the first draft of the second book in her Healer series, Scent of Magic, which picks up almost immediately after Touch of Power ended.

Avry, the main character of both books, is in a unique position at the end of Touch of Power, and she plans to use that to her advantage. Her biggest goal is to repair her relationship with her sister, so she returns to Estrid's army, but this time on her terms. Meanwhile, Kerrick has rejoined Prince Ryne and they’re about to march south to hook up with Estrid's army when trouble from the north causes them to split their forces. The unique thing about SOM is there will be scenes from Kerrick's point of view so the reader will be able to keep track of him while Avry's dealing with Jael and Estrid as they prepare for war with Tohon.

Maria started to write out of boredom. Her first job after college was as a meteorologist for an environmental consulting firm.

"The amount of work came in waves, and we were either extremely busy or bored. During the slow times, I started writing a short story," she explained. "Ideas were always floating around in my mind, but that was when I began using them. I submitted my first short story for critique at a writing conference in Philadelphia, and when the workshop leader gave me 7 out of 10, I thought that was pretty good for a first effort and decided to stick with writing for a while. After my son was born and I only had about one hour a day to myself, I had to decide what was important enough to spend that precious time on. Most days writing won."

This was in 1990, and Maria dabbled with short stories until she started her first novel, Poison Study, in 1996. She finished writing and revising it around 2001, but it took her two years to sell it and aother two years for her publisher to publish it. Since that first release in 2005, she's had at least one book released a year—sometimes two.

For her first book, the plot came first.

"I had this idea about a person who was the food taster for a monarch and I figured someone would try and poison the monarch and my food taster would be involved in solving the mystery," she said. "Then I had to think about who would want that job."

Maria will get an idea for a character in a situation, and she'll have a vague notion about how it's going to end. But, apart from that, she's very much a pantser.

"I do write a synopsis for my editor’s approval, but I never stick to it," she admitted. "It can be very scary because I usually spend the first half of the book convinced I won’t have enough for a novel, and then I spend the second half of the book worried I have too much. But then the plots all come together and I’m wrapping it up around 100K. You would think I’d trust the process after ten books, but nope – I feel the same way. The best part of being a pantser is when my characters do something to surprise me or there’s a twist I wasn’t expecting. When those happen – it’s such a great feeling!"

Occasionally, she will get stuck and not know what happens next in the story—one of the drawbacks to being a pantser vs. a plotter. There are a few things she does to help get unstuck. First, she takes a break—she will take a long walk or a shower or just do something else for a while. It normally helps her recharge her creative batteries. If that doesn't work, however, she has a writing partner who will read what she's written so far—then they talk on the phone.

"She saved me when I was writing Storm Glass," Maria told me. "Brainstorming sessions with my fellow writers are also wonderful for untangling knots."

In Maria's opinion, the one most important element in writing is characterization.

"If your readers don't care about your characters all the fancy language, clever plots, and surprise endings won't matter because they probably have put the book down after the first thirty pages," she said. "As a reader, when I reach page thirty or so, I ask myself, 'Do I care? If the main protagonist dies in the next scene, will I be upset?' If the answer is no, then I close the book and start another."

I asked Maria to describe her writing space for us.

"I have my own office in my house. My husband built all the furniture in it with cherry wood from the farm he grew up on. I have a custom desk that’s U-shaped and with cabinets high enough that I can hide behind them. He installed built-in bookcases in two of the walls. I have an odd collection of toys scattered on my desk – they help me think – honest! And I also have weapons stashed about to help me write those action scenes. Let’s just say, if a burglar were to break in while I’m in my office, the guy’s toast!"

She tries to write every night when she's under a deadline, including weekends, but it doesn't always happen. She will write from 10 pm to 3 or 4 am, then she sleeps until 11 am.

"I’ve always been a night owl and hated mornings. Night time is my most creative part of the day. Plus no one is calling or texting or bothering me because they’re all asleep. Once my kids were old enough to get up and get on the bus without me, I switched over and haven’t regretted it," she told me.

"Do you hear from your readers much?" I asked her. "What do they say?"

"I hear from readers all the time. They email me and comment on my Facebook pages. Ninety-nine percent is positive – they love the books, love my characters, and encourage me to write faster. They’re inspired by my stories and have sent me poems, paintings, pictures, videos and comic strips all based on my books and characters. I’ve been interviewed by a number of them for blogs and school papers (so far, everyone who has done a paper on me has gotten an A – just saying," she told me with a wink. "And one particular dear girl even told me she was inspired by my character’s ability to overcome hardship so much she decided not to commit suicide! We have since become close friends and nothing – not awards, bestseller rankings, money can compare to that. If I never sell another book, it won’t matter because this beautiful girl is alive. After that, who cares about bad reviews? Not me." She smiled. "I respond to all my reader’s emails and comments – it might take me a month during deadline season, but I will answer."

Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for thirteen years before I sold anything. Learn the craft of writing as well as the business of writing and attend writer’s conferences and classes if you can. Consider that time an apprenticeship. Be wary of predators; if someone is asking you for money proceed with the utmost caution. Get feedback on your stories from fellow writers before submitting. Joining a critique group is very helpful. I also find that if I let a story sit on my desk for a few weeks I can pick out all the problems, typos and inconsistencies easier. And I agree whole heartily with Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He wrote, 'If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.' And don’t give up! Ever!"

About the Author:
Maria V. Snyder switched careers from meteorologist to fantasy novelist when she began writing the New York Times best-selling Study Series (Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study) about a young woman who becomes a poison taster. Born in Philadelphia, Maria dreamed of chasing tornados and even earned a BS degree in Meteorology from Penn State University. Unfortunately, she lacked the necessary forecasting skills. Writing, however, lets Maria control the weather, which she gleefully does in her Glass Series (Storm Glass, Sea Glass, and Spy Glass). Maria returned to school and earned a MA in Writing from Seton Hill University where she is currently one of the teachers and mentors for the MFA program. Her published young adult novels include Inside Out, and its sequel, Outside In, both are about the dystopian and fully-contained world of Inside. Her latest release is Touch of Power, which is about healer dealing with a plague stricken world.

Find the author online at:

website: http://www.MariaVSnyder.com
blog: http://officialmariavsnyder.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/mvsfans

Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life….

Monday, May 14, 2012

INTERVIEW: AMY LIGNOR

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Amy E. Lignor whose first book in her Angel Chronicles series, Until Next Time, was released in February.

For Amy, characters are the main thing.

For a book to be good, in her opinion, the author has to really love their characters-whether they be evil and dark or heroic and romantic. If the writer doesn't feel the characters and understand what they are going through, Amy believes the reader will know it.

"I’ve seen some situations where a writer has chosen to deliver a book with a plotline that is simply 'in vogue; at the moment, to perhaps ride the wave of that particular pop culture phenomenon that’s making money at the time. And, you can tell - the reader can always tell if the author and the characters simply don’t mesh, so the most important element is to love the subject you’re writing about," she explained.

When Amy is developing her own books, the characters are the first thing that she works on.

"I want to know what they look like, how they walk, the tone of their voice, etc. I need to know what makes them tick - everything from their favorite foods to how they would carry a sword, to their emotions to whether they are a ‘head’ or ‘heart’ kind of person. My biggest need is to know exactly what they have faith in," she told me.

After that, it's the location. Where would these particular characters go in order to do the job that needs to be done. Then, the plot comes from everything else blended together.

"Only after I’ve met and gotten to know the characters can I even begin to know what they’re going to do. I always believe it’s fate," she said. "I start with a small premise and build everything around it, but the plot is what essentially changes. You can have a complete blueprint in front of you, but when you sit down to write the tale, the twists and turns can come on you at a moment’s notice and you have to be willing to alter the plot at any given moment."

"Do you ever suffer from writer's block?" I asked. "If so, what do you do about it?"

"Okay, this may sound like I am ready right now for that mental hospital, but I swear there’s nothing to worry about (and my daughter will put me into one sooner than you think). I sit in my room, in the dark, in peace and quiet, and I talk to the characters. I ask them what they think they would do in this situation, or what’s wrong with them, etc. I figure, this is their life and I’m just telling their story, so I get them to help me through the writer’s block."

Amy doesn't come up with her titles until the end of her book.

"It has to be at the end. I need to know and be beside my characters as they go through their adventures and ups and downs, heartbreaks, etc. before I can even attempt to throw a title on it. The title is just like the cover. It’s very important and has to really sum up your entire novel in just seconds. So it always just comes to me when the characters and I say goodbye or, Until Next Time," she said.

That's the hardest part of writing for her—when she has to say goodbye. She always wants to stay with her characters. It's one of the reasons she's happy about the fact that both The Angel Chronicles and Tallent & Lowery are series—she gets to stay by their side for a long time.

I asked Amy about her writing space.

"I love emerald green; I think it is the only soothing color in existence. So I write in a room with emerald green walls, and a turbo fan in the corner because I need the noise. I lived in a city for a long time and this desert life is a little too quiet for me at times to concentrate. I have shelves and shelves of books because they’re inspiring, and I have a great big black dog on the floor who sits by my side day after day and night after night - most likely wondering what the heck I’m doing and why I refuse to shut the light off."

It's hard for Amy to find time for her own writing, because she is also a reviewer for many sites as well as writing articles for magazines, companies, and newspapers.

"I made a rule a long time ago that I WILL give two hours a day at some point in the 24-hour period to just be with my characters and get it done," she told me. "It’s a good rule, even if you’re not up for it or you’re tired from the job, kids, work, school, whatever it may be - it is SO important to give yourself the gift of time, and that’s what I’ve always tried to maintain."

"What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?" I wondered.

"I feel all the emotions that my characters are feeling, so I cry (which requires tissues on the computer table); I get mad (which means a stuffed animal has to be in the vicinity to throw, because I don’t want to hit the dog by mistake with anything too hard); and I laugh a lot - so my family tells me. Apparently, I have a very deep laugh so they join in all over the house and the dog gets really confused by that one. I also have to have that fan on - if there’s absolutely no noise I might as well turn to Spider Solitaire because my brain will have nothing to work with."

When Amy was a young adult, her favorite author, hands down, was Judy Blume.

"When her 'controversial' book, Forever, came on to the market, I remember that the library board in our town made my mother put the book into the adult section because the townspeople thought it was absolutely atrocious that their sons and daughters could read about a girl’s first love and first sexual experience," she said. "Of course, now that book is one of the most tame books ever created. YA covers every subject across the board in this day and age. As a reviewer I read about suicide, drug abuse, AIDS, sex, violence - every subject that used to be taboo can now be brought to the surface. To me, this means that at least we’re talking to our kids this time around. The violence is far worse in the world, but no one has to bury their head in the sand anymore which is way healthier."

"As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s youth?" I wanted to know.

"I’m lucky because I tried to never grow up in the first place," she said with a laugh. "I mean, I do the whole job/pay the bills side of life, but my daughter and I have always been a team. We’ve run the roads of America and lived in various cities and towns across the country, and have been able to hear people’s stories. Now, with the internet, I can do the same thing from my own home. It’s an amazing gift to be able to talk to people and see what’s going on in their lives. You can also keep up with everything from music to books to pop culture, and as long as you never forget what it was like to be that age, then you’ll always be able to understand. And for good YA writing, I think you must understand."

Finally, I asked Amy, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Please don’t quit. I’ve said this before in so many interviews, but I’ve seen so many good writers call it quits because of the fact that their query letter was turned down by agents or publishers. That really drove me nuts because, yes, it is a real pain and you need an iron will for this career, but you have to stick with it through all the ‘negative’ replies. You’ve got to remember that people like Stephen King, J.K Rowling - these writers got turned down by hundreds, but they did not throw their books into a filing cabinet and forget about it. And, thank goodness, seeing as that I could not even imagine a world where the Overlook Hotel or Harry Potter didn’t exist. Actually…I don’t think I’d want to live in that world. So, please, no matter the rejection, do NOT give up!"

About the Author:
As the daughter of a career librarian I grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL were my heroes. Beginning with my first book of historical romance which was titled, The Heart of a Legend, and moving into the action/adventure world with a series called, Tallent & Lowery, I have been very lucky.

Working as an editor in the publishing industry for decades, I am now the Owner/Operator of The Write Companion which offers all services to authors who are trying to get their work seen. I am a contributor to Suspense Magazine and various other literary publications such as The RT (Romantic Times). I am a reviewer for periodicals and websites including: Authorlink, The Feathered Quill, The Romantic Times (RT) Magazine, SheWrites.com, Random House YA and Once Upon a Romance. I am a contributor for Ruby For Women , and many of my writings have touched people’s hearts, which makes me extremely proud.

Find the author online at:

http://hellowriters.wordpress.com/
http://www.thewritecompanion.com
http://www.facebook.com/alignor
http://twitter.com/hellowritersamy
http://ww.facebook.com/pages/The-Write-Companion/137325842996847
http://www.amazon.com/Amy-Lignor/e/B001K8S37S

How does a girl choose between the one who steals her heart and the one who owns her soul?

Matt and Emily were created for a specific job. Raised and trained as the ultimate angel/warrior team, they are sent down to save, defend, judge and forgive, depending on the 'life' they've been assigned. What they don't realize is that the power of human emotions, such as love, anger, passion and fear can take over even the best of souls, causing them to make mistakes and follow paths that lead to confusion and heartache.

When the reason for their training is finally revealed, the angel/warrior team find themselves thrust into a world they know nothing about. Matt takes over the life of Daniel, a young man with a great deal of baggage. Emily becomes Liz, a girl living in a remote village who relies on nothing more than her own strength to survive. A violent storm erupts one night, and framed in the window of Liz’s establishment is a frightening face. Let in by the soul of a Good Samaritan, the two visitors bring with them a past full of secrets that could literally change an angel's path and a warrior's plans.

From murder to redemption, this angel/warrior team must find a way to keep the faith they have in each other in a world that's ripping them apart.

Friday, May 11, 2012

INTERVIEW: ALEXANDRA MONIR

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Alexandra Monir, author of the highly acclaimed Timeless. Timeless incorporates original music into the story, and since Alexandra's a singer/songwriter, she wrote and recorded two songs from the book for readers to get a 3-dimensional experience. The songs are up on iTunes.

Alexandra was the biggest bookworm in the world growing up; from the time she was two, books were her favorite things. She would "read" picture books by looking at the illustrations and making up her own stories. She didn't get serious about writing, however, until after high school.

The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, were Alexandra's favorite books growing up. Burnett's ability to tell enchanting stories with young protagonists and hints of magic influenced Alexandra's own writing. She was also inspired by Edith Wharton's novels when she was researching Old New York for Timeless.

90% of the time, Alexandra writes while listening to music in headphones.

"And it has to be headphones- I don't know why, but just listening through normal speakers doesn't get me in the zone as well!" she admitted.

Her other big passion is music, so if Alexandra's not working on a book, then she's recording or writing songs.

"Other than that, I love nothing more than traveling, hanging out with my boyfriend and friends, reading books and watching my favorite TV series and movies, trying new restaurants, and just having fun!" she said.

Timeless was Alexandra's debut and she's recently released an e-book short story in the series called "Secrets of the Time Society." She's currently working on the sequel to Timeless, Timekeeper, which is scheduled to release in December.

Alexandra told me that research for the series has been a fun combination of reading non-fiction books describing the time periods she's writing about, as well as fiction written during the time. She's also been watching movies and documentaries and visiting historical sites.

"Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?" I wondered. "If so, what do you do about it?"

"Listening to music and working out on the elliptical usually helps get me out of a rut and come up with ideas."

The hardest part about writing for Alexandra is meeting deadlines. When she's just staring a project, she writes at a leisurely pace, following her inspiration. Things change, however, once the deadlines start looming. She'll completely clear her schedule and write for most the day.

"What is your most embarrassing moment?" I wondered.

"Probably every single gym class in middle school! Those were my awkward years, plus I was never an athlete- so wearing frumpy gym clothes and having to showcase my sports abilities in front of everyone was always mortifying!"

"Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?"

"I hear from my readers every day, and it means the world to me! I love hearing their thoughts on the story and Michele & Philip's romance. A number of my readers are also aspiring writers themselves, and I love giving advice whenever I can."

Alexandra's favorite food is definitely desserts, she told me—all kinds of desserts. She's not a big fan of spicy food, however.

"Have you ever eaten a crayon?" I asked.

"I just had to answer this question because it is so random! " she said with a smile. "No, I haven't eaten a crayon, I'm proud to say!"

Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"My biggest piece of advice is to read as much as you can, both classic literature (so you can see what's strong enough to have lasted the test of time!) and also contemporary books that are doing well right now, so you can study what's working at the moment. Then, write a little every day- even if you're not working on a particular story or project, even just writing in your journal can help jog inspiration and refine your writing style."

About the Author:
At the age of 25, author and recording artist Alexandra Monir released her debut young adult novel, Timeless. The book caught on quickly, with Amazon.com naming it one of the "Best Books of the Month" for January 2011, and Barnes & Noble featuring the title in their "Top Teen Picks." The book went on to hit the Barnes & Noble Teen Bestsellers chart, and has been featured in a variety of media, from popular teen websites to The Huffington Post. Alexandra is currently writing the sequel, which publishes in December 2012.

Alexandra also integrated original music into the novel's pages, writing two songs for the book, which she recorded with producer Michael Bearden (musical director of Michael Jackson's last concert, This Is It). The songs were released on iTunes as a supplement to the book.

Alexandra currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she is at work on further projects as a writer and singer.

When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.

Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

Monday, May 7, 2012

INTERVIEW: JOHN SIKES

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes John R. Sikes, whose latest book At First Light, a collection of short stories, was released in March. His novel, A Fisherman's Son, was published by Rogue Phoenix Publishing in February. I asked him to tell us a little about the book.

"It is about a young guy who goes to sea on his uncles fishing boat the Wave Dancer. The story is made up from my personal experiences from working on the high seas as a professional fisherman. I incorporated what has happen to me over the years as his experiences at sea. I also explained how the major fisheries of the Pacific Northwest Ocean are conducted. Not only the dangers of the job but the emotions the men doing them content with. It is a harsh life but very addictive to those who experience it."

He is currently working on his second book of short stories. It, too, is mainly about survival in the wilderness, hunting and being a fishing guide in the Pacific Northwest. His first book of short stories was such a success, it prompted him to write Just After Daylight.

"Both books have a humorous side of often awkward situations I have found myself in," he told me.

He's also drafting the second book about the crew of the Wave Dancer in the sequel to Fisherman's Son.

"It is about the daily life and dangers of being a commercial fisherman. In this novel they take the boat up the inside passage and fish the Bering Sea. It comes from my personal experience of doing just that. I spent six years fishing the Bering Sea. It tends to make good writing," he said.

John took some college classes about ten years ago that got into writing. He had written some short stories about fishing and hunting, and the person who did the drawings for the short stories encouraged him to write a book. He started his first novel four years ago.

When he's bothered by writer's block, he takes a long walk and clears his mind or he'll do something fun.

"An idea will come to you when you least expect it. Stressing out about it is the last thing that will help you," he told me. "When something comes to mind write it down. You may come up with a great angle from something that does not sound so great the first time you put it on paper."

He starts notes of what he wants to write—listing the parts he wants to cover in the book. He will list the characters and the different traits that will bring them to life and try to make them individuals. He also makes notes of many different titles and, as she writes the book, one always seems to stand out by the time he finishes the book.

When he's writing, John sits at a table with a panoramic view of the mountains in Mexico where he lives. He usually gets up around two or three in the morning, writes for about four hours, takes a nap, and then writes until early evening—going to bed around nine.

"This comes from years of working watches onboard ship where we often worked six on six of for months at a time," he explained. "It has shaped my sleeping habits for life."

"What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?" I asked.

"I have always had a pack of dogs sitting around with me when I write. They tell me when we need to take a break and go for a walk. They also help me with writers block. If I am stumped I can always ask one of them what they think. They will come up with something. More often than not it is something I can use."

When he's not writing, John likes to travel, spending time in remote wilderness areas, and floating rivers in his riverboat or canoe. He also loves to cook and loves to learn new dishes or improve the ones he already knows.

His life experiences provide the majority of research for his work and, when he needs something those didn't provide, he goes to the internet and other people for the answers.

"For the book on smuggling drugs I spent a year in Mexico traveling to the places I wrote about," he said.

Writing from his personal experiences gives him an edge over other writers.

"I was lucky to live a life that most men could only dream about," he told me.

"What is your most embarrassing moment?" I asked.

"Getting real drunk and waking up in a different state."

If John had it to do all over again, he told me he would polish is work more before submitting it.

"Editors like writers who don't need babysitting," he explained.

"Ebook or print?" I asked. "And why?"

"I guess I am old school 'cause I like to hold the book in my hand. Ebooks are the future. Anyone who travels will tell you packing a Kindle or any other ebook reader is the way to go. Cost is a big factor also. I can get three ebooks for my ebook read cheaper than two books cost and buy them from whereever I am. After living in the Middle East for several years I learned that just having access to books in your language can be a problem. With the new ebooks that is no longer a problem no matter where in the world you find yourself."

John is the youngest of four boys.

"It made for a rough childhood," he admitted. "Grew up living out in the woods hunting and fishing. My father worked in the lead and coal mines and my mother was a nurse. I left home at fifteen."

Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Keep a notebook with you and any time you have a good idea write it down while it is fresh on your mind. Don't give up. It takes years to come up with a finished product. Keep your work. You may need it years later."

About the Author:Captain John Sikes has been a professional fishing guide for over 30 years, chartering off the North Coast and on the Olympic Peninsula rivers. He loves floating the rivers lacing through the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. Currently, he winters in Mexico and spends the summers on the Olympic Peninsula.

Young Jason hits the open ocean of the Pacific Northwest for the first time. In his adventure-filled journeys, he learns the ropes of fishing the great seas under the tutelage of his Uncle Buck and the old salty dogs aboard the commercial fishing vessel, the Wave Dancer. Jason's strength of character, quick wits, and bravery are called upon to help save the family business and the lives of his fellow crewmen. Will he survive his ordeals? Will he earn enough money to fulfill every teen boy's dream of buying a fast car? Enjoy this rolling sea adventure to see how he fares.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Short Story: The Bridge by Alyssa Swan


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Standing on the bridge, waiting in the dark Carolyn finally gave up hope. Tears fell from grey-green eyes, mingling with the light rain that had begun. She raised her head as bravely as she could and took one last long look at her surroundings. No one was around, no footsteps sounded on the path, the road less than two hundred metres away was eerily silent. The only sound was the rain as it fell on the water’s surface, the gravel path and the ducks as they swam to shelter from the increasing downpour. Carolyn stayed where she was, the sound of her ragged breathing almost deafening her. Her floral dress, cardigan and tousled brown hair were soon drenched. They clung to her, letting more of the night’s coldness penetrate her tiny frame. She barely noticed, her mind already transported elsewhere.

Michael, the boy all the girls wanted, had arranged to meet her on the bridge two hours ago. Her friends – jealous and full of teenage bitchiness – had teased her and told her it was an obvious prank one of Michael’s friends had set up, probably Josh. Carolyn hadn’t listened; they didn’t see the way he looked at her with his clear blue eyes, or how the corners of his mouth flicked up in more of a smile when he spoke to her, or how he always leaned into her like he wanted to keep the rest of the world out. Wanted it just to be the two of them. When she looked into his eyes she could see his sincerity, could feel his nervousness and knew they had a passionate future ahead of them. Accepting she had imagined all those meaningful things was going to be hard she realised.

Arriving ten minutes early she had fed the swans and ducks the stale bread from her house and watched the children who played nearby with kites and footballs. She had fondly imagined their children playing there in ten years time and wondered if they would still live in the area. What they’d be doing career wise, before she shook the thoughts from her head. She had always done that, got ahead of herself. She chided herself as she watched the mothers collect their children to take them home for dinner. Carolyn had wished she had had something more to eat through the day but she’d been too excited to contemplate anything other than what tonight would bring. She tugged at her hair and pulled at her clothes as she looked around nervously. He was ten minutes late.

When he was half an hour late she began panicking that she was at the wrong place. The bridge in the park he had said; there was only one of those and she stood on it in plain view. She had told herself that everyone knew boys’ timekeeping was diabolic and Michael would be there as soon as he could. To pass the time she had began rehearsing topics and conversations they could have. It would turn out they had the exact same taste in music and films; they would like the same TV shows and books. By the end of the date they would be entwined together in mind, body, heart and soul. Then the sun disappeared behind the line of fir trees, taking more of her hope with it.

The dog walkers came and went, still there was no sign of Michael. Carolyn had taken her heels off by then, her feet hot and sticky, and no doubt smelly. She knew then he wasn’t coming but still she was unwilling to give up. She had cursed her stupidity at not exchanging numbers with him and started imagining the hurtful things everyone would say at school tomorrow. The sparse lighting in the park came on, but the lamps either side of the bridge had been vandalised. She was alone in the increasing darkness. She knew her phone display could provide some light to see by, but she hadn’t wanted to see. To see that Michael had still not come and confirm her foolishness for believing for one second he would. As the first raindrop hit her shoulder, the first silent tear slid from her eye.

Carolyn didn’t know how long she stood there letting the rain penetrate her skin and clothes. It could have been seconds or minutes before the dog came over to her, sticking his even colder nose up her leg. She looked down at it, a brown Staffordshire bull terrier and wondered if those big brown eyes lied like Michael’s baby blues did. They certainly cried to her soul like his had.

“Tyson!”

He happily turned to look back at his owner. Carolyn continued looking down at him smiling, lost in her thoughts once again. Dogs were loyal and affectionate; they might run off but they came back to those they loved. A dog wouldn’t have stood her up. This dog Tyson wanted to cheer her up, to play with her, to give affection. Carolyn loved dogs, always had but since her cocker spaniel Bonnie died two years ago she hadn’t had one of her own.

Running footsteps stopped a few feet from her, Tyson’s owner out of breath. “Carolyn, what are you doing out here in the rain?”

She looked up at the boy’s face. He looked vaguely familiar and older, cute too, but she wasn’t going to fall for that trick again.

“It is Carolyn isn’t it?” He shook his head as he realised it didn’t really matter at this juncture. He briskly removed his baseball cap and puffa jacket. “I live just over there. Come on, we’ll get you warmed up then you can tell me what happened.”

She nodded as she allowed him to put the cap on, drape the coat over her shoulders and begin leading her across the grass to his garden gate.

She stopped abruptly as something occurred to her. “My shoes!”

“Don’t worry, Tyson already has them. They may be slightly slimy now but I’m sure Mum can remedy that.”

He had a pleasant easy laugh, nice smile. She liked him instantly. His arm around her was nice, too; she could feel the heat emanating from him, mingling with his deodorant.

She leaned into him. “I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes staring blankly at the grass ahead of them as she felt the wetness of it on her bare feet.

He pushed her away enough so he could give her a quizzical look. “Whatever for?”

She looked at him; he had rain dripping from his floppy fringe. “You’re getting wet on account of me and my stupidity.”

“No, I’m getting out of taking Tyson for a half a hour walk in this rain when I’d rather be home in the warm.” He smiled as he let go of Carolyn and opened his garden gate for her and Tyson to run through.

“James, what are you doing...oh, hello there.” James’ mother got up from the table and stared confusedly past Carolyn to James who was dripping slightly on the patio threshold.

“Hello,” Carolyn said sheepishly, removing the cap and puffa that had fooled James’ mother into thinking she was him.

“I’ll put the kettle on; you’re both soaked through.” She smiled serenely at Carolyn. “Graham!” she yelled, turning her face more towards their lounge.

James’ father humphed, putting his newspaper down. “What?”

“Fetch some towels from the airing cupboard. James and his friend are soaked; better bring some clothes too.”

Carolyn took a hesitant step towards James’ mother. “Thank you but you needn’t go to so much trouble on my account.”

“Nonsense, what would your parents say if they found out I’d let you catch pneumonia?”

Carolyn glanced over at James; he scratched his head and whispered from the door, “Mum’s a bit of a worrier.”

James’ mother turned and wagged a finger at him. “I heard that and it doesn’t hurt to be cautious, young man.”

Carolyn liked James’ parents; they seemed warm and loving, unlike hers who, in her opinion, should have divorced years ago. She sighed heavily as she compared James’ parents to hers. Hers would have been rude to any guest she brought home and certainly wouldn’t have fed and clothed them while their clothes went through the dryer. Carolyn was even handed the remote and told to curl up with Tyson on the sofa. Tears ran down her face as she wished her family were more like James’.

“Hey, hey, hey, no need for that; he’s a jerk whoever he is.”

Carolyn smiled at James as she realised she had forgotten all about Michael and his baby blues. “He sure is; I can’t believe I fell for his lies. He’s not the reason I’m tearful though. Your family are so nice, you’re lucky to have them.”

He leaned towards her, cheeky smile upon his face. He whispered, “I know, but I don’t want them to know that I know. They’ll get big heads.”

Carolyn laughed as James’ mimicked their heads expanding then exploding. Tyson got up and licked her face, apparently happy to see her happy. James’ parents retreated to their room soon after that, leaving them tea and scones to scoff. They chatted and laughed for what seemed like hours, learning that they had similar tastes in both literature and music.

“Come on, boy, you need a walk,” James said finally as they both fought tiredness.

Tyson whined as he reluctantly got off Carolyn’s lap.

“Sorry, Ty, but I have to go home, too. Maybe I’ll see you again soon.” Carolyn said, checking she had everything she came with and nothing more.

James held the patio door as she stepped out of the house. “I think mum and dad would be devastated if you didn’t come visit again soon. I of course would like you to too.”

“Then I will. You can try and teach me Calculus or something.”

“You’re on. Come on, let’s get you home.” He turned and saw her uncertainty, sighing he held out his hand and smiled handsomely.

She smiled taking it. “Okay then, but just to the bridge.”

About the Author:Alyssa Swan lives and writes in London, England. She enjoys creative pursuits and draws inspiration for her stories and novels from those around her and closest to her heart. Some of her short stories have been published in Shadow Fiction, Pill Hill Press and Oysters & Chocolate.
The Bridge
by
Alyssa Swan

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

INTERVIEW: MINDY HARDWICK

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Mindy Hardwick, whose latest book Weaving Magic has just been released. She will be giving away an e-book copy of either it or Stained Glass Summer to one commenter—winner's choice.

Mindy spends a lot of time with her characters, getting to know them. She interviews them and has done collage boards where she sits down with magazines and cuts out pictures to represent the characters' looks, tastes, interests, or hobbies. When she's finished, she hangs them on her bulletin board to remind her of them while she drafts the story. The plot starts to emerge as she gets to know her characters.

"For example, in Weaving Magic, one of the questions I asked main character Christopher was, 'What’s in your closet?' His answer became a main scene near the beginning of the book," she explained. "I asked Shantel what her bedroom looked like, and her answers helped me set up two scenes which all take place in her bedroom—one between her and Christopher!"

Authentic characters are the most important thing for Mindy in terms of writing.

"I will follow a plot anywhere, as long as the characters are real and respond consistently. Authentic characters also means the character’s voice should be real and distinctive to that character. Character voice can be hard to capture, but when I’m writing or reading YA, I want to feel like I am inside that character’s head and reading their diary and they are telling me their deepest thoughts, hopes, wishes, secretes, and fears," she said. "I’ve also come to love secondary characters who are not cardboard, stock characters but have their own quirks and stories. Secondary characters can be challenging because I don’t want them to override the main character’s stories! But, I do want to set down a book and say, 'Mmmm…now, I wonder if the best friend has a story!' In Weaving Magic, secondary characters Michael and Marissa also have a YA romance story, and I’d like to develop that into a novella."

Mindy has been writing since the second grade when she wrote her first picture book story about her cat Sunshine. However, she's been calling herself a professional writer and selling her writing for seven years.

"As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s youth?" I asked.

"I run a poetry workshop with teens in a juvenile detention. You can see some of the teen’s poems at www.DenneyPoetry.com. Many of my writing ideas evolve from the poetry workshop including Weaving Magic. For example, there is a scene in Weaving Magic in which main character, Christopher, is in a juvenile detention center poetry workshop. He has a big realization about his Dad in that workshop. This scene was inspired by the real life poetry workshop. Weaving Magic has elements of my own story, too. I also dated a young man who was a teen in recovery and I attended some open AA Meetings with him."

Mindy is currently working on a children's chapter book series as well as a YA novel told in flash fiction. The young adult novel is based on the poetry workshop and includes short vignettes told through the point of view of the teens in the detention center workshop as well as short vignettes from her own teenage years.

"Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?" I wondered. "If so, what do you do about it?"

"One of the best things I’ve learned is to stop writing when I’m in the middle of a chapter or scene. Then, I’m eager to get back to writing. The other trick I do is I work on multiple projects. I write articles, short stories, and novels. When I’m stuck on one, I flip to one of my other projects which helps my brain relax and the other story starts to flow again."

When she was a teen, her favorite books were the "problem novels of the '80s."
,br> "These were real-life, contemporary stories about characters facing things such as teenage alcoholism, scoliosis, parents getting divorced, etc. In my own life, my parents were getting divorced and I didn’t feel it was something I could talk about at school," she told me. "But, in my YA novels, I found out how characters overcame struggles. I still love contemporary stories about characters facing and overcoming real-life struggles and that is what I write too!"

One of the books that influenced her the most was Cynthia Voigt and her series, Dicey’s Song and Homecoming.

"I loved Voigt’s stories as a pre-teen, and after I’d written a couple drafts of my novel, Stained Glass Summer, I realized there were a lot of similarities between Dicey and Jasmine," she said. "Both characters had parents who abandoned them, both characters go to live with another relative in the extended family, and both characters are survivors. I’ve always said Jasmine and Dicey would be great friends."

Her first short story, "Hurricanes," was published in an anthology titled Summer Shorts by Blooming Tree Press. It was based on the first summer her parents were divorced and she went to visit her dad. The story is about twelve-year-old Jen who visits her Dad and a hurricane strikes the area. The story shows Jen’s grief over her parents' divorce, coming to terms with that grief, and learning that she and her dad are a lot alike—they both like to take risks."

"What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?" I asked.

"When I was writing both Stained Glass Summer and Weaving Magic, I took classes in stained glass and weaving. I had a really hard time with stained glass, but weaving I enjoyed, and eventually bought a small table loom and like main character, Shantel, wove scarves to give away as gifts!"

Mindy always enjoyed reading and her parents were both journalists, but it never occurred to her to be a writer.

"I wasn’t accepted to the high school newspaper staff, and I didn’t realize that there was a career behind those young adult books I loved! One of the reasons why I love talking to kids at schools, and give a Creative Writing Scholarship at our local high school, is I want teens to know that writing books is a career path!" she told me.

Getting the first draft on paper is the hardest part of writing for Mindy.

"The blank page is so intimidating—especially if I’ve just finished the editing process for a polished manuscript. It’s hard to go back to the beginning again!" she admitted. "One of the best things I’ve learned about first drafts is to write fast. I participated in NaNoWriMo for a couple years, and I discovered that the best course of action for a first draft is to set a word limit or page count each day and power through it! Don’t edit along the way. Editing shuts down that first draft discovery process."

"What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you ever received?" I asked.

"The best piece of writing advice I received was to learn to write short stories. After my first semester at Vermont College, Norma Fox Mazer came up to me and said, 'Spend this semester on short stories.' Sharon Darrow was my advisor for second semester and we worked on a short story around the epiphany moment of my novel, Stained Glass Summer. This was very helpful in that this work taught me the craft of writing a short story, and also helped me focus on my novel in a small, short segment. I sold short stories for six years before I sold my novel!"

About the Author: Mindy Hardwick is a published children’s and YA writer whose books include: Stained Glass Summer and Weaving Magic. She facilitates a poetry workshop with teens at Denney Youth Juvenile Justice Center and is the editor of their poetry blog. . Mindy is included on the Washington State Teaching Artist Roster and worked with the youth of the Tulalip Tribe in the 2011 New Directions Music and Art Prevention Program. Mindy holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is a member of SCBWI. When she is not writing, Mindy enjoys art journaling and is training her dog to be a Therapy Reading Dog.

Find the author online:

Website: www.MindyHardwick.com
Blog: www.mindyhardwick.wordpress.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/weavingmagic
Twitter: @mindyhardwick Teen Poems From Behind Bars: www.denneypoetry.com

He loves magic. She loves romance. But the biggest illusion is the one Shantel and Christopher perform together. Sixteen- year- old Christopher fights to stay sober while fifteen-year-old Shantel struggles in the aftermath of her mother’s death and seeks refuge in a fantasy world. But the unacknowledged roots of their problems refuse to stay buried and soon, the two are headed toward a deadly magic trick. Can Shantel and Christopher move beyond magical illusions to find love?