Thursday, September 29, 2011

Men and All Things Mad

I'm a huge fan of Mad Men. I love the back in time feeling the show gives me, thanks to the terrific writing and the attention to detail. It's fun to spot all the retro objects - record players, Thermos jugs, nylon stockings, clasp handbags...

Darling, be a pet and hand me my kitten heel slingbacks

Plus I love watching people in suits and tailored dresses drink martinis and smoke pack after pack of cigarettes. It's the kind of thing I like to watch, if not actually participate in myself.

I'm over here in my sweats, but you guys go right ahead!

Riding on the coattails of Mad Men's success, two other shows from the same period have appeared: The Playboy Club and Pan Am. When I saw that those shows were appearing, I immediately programmed my TIVO so I could watch.

Alas, I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed. There are the nylon stockings, the cigarettes, the martinis - but something is missing. Both new series have lovely girls

and handsome actors

Mr. Squinty

but what they don't have is the level of writing that is on Mad Men. For example, the character of Sally, Don Draper's daughter, is so perfectly drawn that she has become a flesh and blood character.

Cute as a button. AND an amazing actress to boot.

The Playboy Club, however, relies on the old standby of Funny Sassy Minority Roommate and Squinty Handsome Enigmatic Guy. (The Carol-Lynne character is interesting; I'm staying with the show to see how she develops.)

One reason why we will keep TIVO'ing The Playboy Club

Oh, and my husband loves to watch the Bunnies of course, so - yeah, we'll stick with it.

 Like a jet that has had to be rerouted with no travel plan, Pan Am, unfortunately, seemed to be all over the place. Yes, there is the girl who's an artist at heart working as a glamorous Pan Am stewardess, and yes - Christina Ricci's figure is to die for. DIE for!

Hasn't Wednesday Addams matured well?

But I didn't buy in on the other story lines. Honestly, I just didn't care about the affair between the French stewardess and whoever-it-was-she-was-sleeping-with, and I didn't believe the story about the stewardess who is also a spy. 

I just don't believe that adding retro details + period costumes = great show. What's next - the 60's hospital drama? (I thought of it FIRST, NBC.)

I'll give Pan Am time. A pilot (Ha!) is a tough thing to pull off, and those period details are fascinating. Still, the producers of The Playboy Club and Pan Am would be wise to remember the most timeless element of any show: great writers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Devil's Kitchen

I have been working with Lisa Daly, my wonderful cover artist, for a few weeks now on my upcoming Kindle title, Devil's Kitchen. It's the second volume in my Crown Phoenix series, and it is the sequel to the print edition of The Night Watchman  Express.

And I'm just so excited by what she developed for me that I've been hooting and hollering and jumping around ever since I first saw it. And maybe I have dropped a few tears. And giggled in inappropriate places.

Pssssst - it's up there

By the way, Lisa is a phenomenal artist. Here is her Paper Wasp:

And her Dogbane Beetle:

 My cover concept artist, who worked with Lisa, is a writer as well as a book cover wizard. Her name is J. J. Makins, and she is the author of the novel, The King of Egypt. 

I really had a dream team to develop the cover for Devil's Kitchen with my own Mana leaning out of the frame at the bottom, underneath that mysterious house. And this post is really a letter of thanks to two lovely, talented artists.

Thanks, Lisa! Thanks, J.J.!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Team Mike

Continuing my occasional Twilight-driven Team Theme series, I've been thinking a lot about Mike lately. In the books and the films, Mike is the fella who is on the sidelines. He likes Bella too (of course) but he is a joke figure, a sidelined character. After all, if you have a huge werewolf who never wears a shirt:

Whew! Smokin!

and a cold, sexy vampire who worships the ground you walk on:

Cold as ice, but still smokin!

why pay attention to the guy who has to work in his parent's hardware store?

Nice guy, but - not so much.

Let's face it, most guys in the world are like Mike though. There just aren't that many Edwards out there. Nor Jacobs. Most guys get sick, make fools of themselves, and they don't enjoy sitting there with their girlfriends watching Romeo and Juliet, nor old fashioned musicals. After a few minutes of that, most guys would let go a belch, grab the remote, and put on Sports Center.

I don't fault Stephenie Meyer in this. She created a compelling world with vivid characters, and I admire her for it. Furthermore, she is creating impossible male characters, and women have had to compete for years with impossible females in literature. Who is really as lovely as Scarlett O'Hara? (Although I might be just as annoying.) Who can wear shoes like the ones in Carrie Bradshaw's closet? And who is as exciting as Daisy in The Great Gatsby - so exciting, in fact, that a millionnaire would throw huge, expensive parties every weekend in order to get one glimpse of her?

Daisy, in my mind, always had black hair, not blond Mia Farrow waves. Was any actress ever more miscast?

But I do wonder if paranormal romance novels can go one step further than the Twilight series. Is there a paranormal character who struggles not only with his or her capabilities but also his (or her) humanity? Could the reading audience out there be interested in Mike, as much as they were interested in Edward or Jacob? 

If you know of a book like that, and especially if you are the author of one, please let me know in the comments section. I'm always looking for a great fantasy to read - as long as it includes a little humanity.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Beautiful Prospect

I've been following the work of Dwight Okita for a while now. He has blown me away with his lovely art, amazing websites and trailers, and I can't wait to read his book, The Prospect of My Arrival. I'm thrilled, therefore, to interview him here on Fresh Pot of Tea.

Q: You are an artist as well as a writer, and I think it reflects in your work: in visual imagery, for example. How do you feel your art influences your writing?

DWIGHT: Thank you, Alison, for seeing me as both a writer and artist. I've always loved graphic design and movies, as well as working with words. Sometimes I'm jealous that a painter can share his painting with a single glance; while an novelist hands a book to someone and it takes days, weeks, for find out the reader's reaction. The visual arts allow me some of that instant gratification.

I think my fiction is influenced by my visual background also because I started out as a poet so images are important to me. Whether I'm designing a website, blog or video -- or I'm working on a novel -- I'm drawn to quirkiness and beauty, humor and gravitas. Working on the book trailer for PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL was a terribly fun intersection of both the worlds for me as it incorporates text, still image, video and music. Here's the video for PROSPECT:

Q: Every writer has difficult times and days when it is hard to sit down and complete the day's goal. What keeps you going?

DWIGHT: I am motivated a lot by writing contests and deadlines. I've done ABNA, Strongest Start Contest, WeBook and Authonomy. ABNA is the biggest fish in the sea with a huge pool of contestants, a big publishing partner, and a thrillingly structured contest. For me, (with its Strongest Start contest) is one of the best places for developing new work. The sense of an audience of writer peers gets me going.

Sometimes if I get stuck, I ask myself if I had one month to live -- what would be the last book I'd want to write and leave to the world? I also enjoy reading and analyzing books to see what makes them work and not work. I also have a huge sign on my wall about 5' x 2' that says: WRITE.

Q. Could you describe your writing process for us? How did you fully develop your concept of an embryo investigating whether he wanted to be born or not?

DWIGHT: When I worked a job full time, I often wrote on the train in the morning or while walking over bridges. Now that my time is more my own, I tend to do a lot of writing and revising from midnight to 5am. I still like doing first drafts longhand.

As for the embryo concept, I did some research on the process of childbirth, the sensitivity of babies, etc. I thought a lot about what innocence is, what experience is. How it changes you. I thought about how to get my main character Prospect into the deepest trouble possible, reflected on the importance of preserving one's sense of wonder as a way to survive.

I like naming things. Projects start when I come up with a title. Then I start thinking about the book's ending which should be the most exciting part. Where is the book headed? Would Prospect choose to be born? I knew the ending would take place at a press conference. But I have written several very different endings to this novel. I remember agents and editors saying that they wanted a more dystopian tale. Some of that came into play -- the dark and the light. At the end of the day, I'm an optimist in hopeless times.

Here is the jacket copy for Prospect, which you can buy here:
A human embryo is allowed to preview the world before deciding whether or not to be born.  To help him make up his mind, he will be able to interact with the best and worst the human race has to offer.  From a retired greeting card writer to a conservative in an increasingly liberal world.  Standing in the way of progress are Trevor Grueling who wants to derail this bio-experiment...and Trish Mesmer, the spearheading scientist who has more hidden agendas than a centipede has legs. This quirky cautionary tale is served up with equal helpings of whimsy and dread, with just a dash of hope.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Team Bella, Team Liz

I can't help liking the actress who plays Bella Swan in the Twilight movies. For one thing, she's exquisite, with that white skin and long dark hair. I also like her clothes. She doesn't totter around in shoes that resemble stilts, like some Housewives that I could mention.

Yeah, um - OUCH

I like that cool shirt Bella wore in the first movie with the sleeves that pulled down over her thumbs. She rocks the screen in normal clothes instead of impossible corsets this woman would never seriously consider.

I actually think I have that jacket in my closet. I need the mittens, though.

Liz Salander also dresses comfortably, unless she's in full gothic punk mode:

That girl rocks the faux hawk, by the way.

Oh, I nearly forgot Alice Cullen, who has perfected the vamp-ingenue look:

I'd wear that. I wouldn't LOOK like that, but I would wear it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Life and Times of A Criminal Genius

I'm lucky enough to have Michael Charton with me here today on Fresh Pot of Tea. He is the author of Moriarty: The Life and Times of a Criminal Genius. Michael grew in Brooklyn, always loved reading, and began writing in 2006

1. Your book is Moriarty: The Life and Times of a Criminal Genius. What made you write about this subject?

I am an Anglophile and have always been a Sherlock Holmes fan.  Professor Moriarty is only mentioned in detail in two of the stories, otherwise he is the vague “Napoleon of Crime.”  I could have just made Professor Moriarty a common criminal; I wanted to give him a reason.

2. What kind of research did you do for the book?

Mostly about Ireland, Boston Brahmin Irish conflict, Irish-Americans and African Americans, History of New Mexico, and Victorian Britain.

3. Did you discover any fascinating stories while you researched and wrote the manuscript?  The one that comes to mind is about how the Irish went to New Orleans between 1845 and 1860.  They went to Liverpool first and ships came from New Orleans, bringing cotton.  Passengers were taken at low rates, because they were human ballast to weight the ship down, otherwise the ship was returning to New Orleans empty.  The Irish were brought there to dig canals, in hot swampy bayous full of disease and nasty critters.  Slaves weren’t used because they were considered property, an investment, the Irishman was expendable.  Within one generation, though, the Irish were doing well (if they survived

Here is  a short excerpt -  the first chapter and Moriarty’s angry letter to Holmes.

Chapter One:  The Meddlesome Holmes is Closing In.

September 15, 1890:

I am writing down my thoughts, for I am at my wits end!  I have tried to be kind.  I have tried blackmail.  I have tried subtle threats, direct threats, but alas, to no avail!  His Boswell, Dr. Watson, writes missives to praise Holmes, while slandering me.  I can hardly get relief from the courts in my position.  I am a hunted Irishman in the English lair.  A Catholic and the descendant of great Celtic kings, persecuted and hunted like the animal the Sassenach think I am.  I abhor what Holmes has done to me.  The outrages have been building over the years and getting to be more than I can bear.
He calls me the “Napoleon of Crime.”  I take his compliment on that score; however, he does not acknowledge the other things I do.  
The orphanages I set up worldwide.  The organizations I set up to help people scattered worldwide by English evil, cruelty, and An Ghorta Morta.  The Great Hunger, which dispersed many Irishmen, me included from the land of their birth.  
Oh, Mr. Holmes, you don’t know yet how you will pay.  You and all of the so-called Great British Empire.  You will be shown how one man with I daresay a higher intellect than yours shall bring you and your arrogant Empire to its quivering knees.  For you shall be quivering.  Your arrogance will be your undoing.  I shall laugh.  I shall build a better world for all those you have oppressed by spreading the color pink over the atlases of the world.  Oh, Mr. Holmes, you have thwarted and vexed me!  With the Naval Treaty, I could have brought your rotten nation down.  You meddled and snatched it from my hands!  You uncovered my alliances worldwide!  In India, Canada, the United States Australia!  You are dogging my every step.  I tip my hat to your brilliance.  I will best you in the end though.  Your Cocaine addled brain is no match for me.  You may think me a stupid ignorant mick.  I assure you Mr. Holmes; go on thinking me not as brilliant as you think.  Maybe that will be your undoing.  You shall underestimate me.
Your companions I know are no match for me. For example, there is that ignorant buffoon from Yorkshire, Lestrade.  If ever there was a bumbling peeler, he is it!  I realize why you have a need to help the police regularly.  The Welsh idiot Jones is no better!  Inspector Hopkins, I do have respect for.  He helped to thwart me in the bank robbery.  My Red Headed League scheme.  
Now I come to your Boswell.  Dr. John Watson.  As God is my witness, I will fix him.  For he Mr. Sherlock Holmes is your voice to the British masses.  You make my life hard Holmes.  Watson makes it public and makes you a hero.  It would be a shame for Dr. Watson to meet with an accident that might ruin his hands, therefore ending his writing and his medical career and his writing.  I have to admit, I tried blackmailing him, bribing him.  I have to admit Dr. Watson is a proper British gentleman.  That and that alone, makes him an enemy as well.
Your brother Mycroft.  Don’t think for a minute I can’t get to him at his club.  I can and I shall if you do not leave me to my business.  I have been to Sicily and studied the Mafia and its techniques.  Trust me, if you don’t back off, I shall find a way.
The ladies in your life, Irene Adler and Mary Russell.  I will not harm a lady, but there are those of my acquaintance who are women and will not hesitate to do so.
You don’t realize the fire you are playing with Mr. Holmes with no one to put the fire out.  Why not leave the battle and keep the fire from burning in the first place?  
Mr. Holmes.  I am prepared to make you one final deal.  I know you will not take my money.  I have tried that through my associates.  However, I will make this deal with you.  There is no negotiation.  You must accept and move out of the way or be disposed of.  The deal is as follows:
    1. 1. You allow an Irish independence movement to thrive.
    2. 2. The British government uses its vast economic resources to pull the Irish masses out of their poverty.
    3. 3. A timetable is drawn up for Irish independence.
    4. 4. The Gaelic language is promoted and not repressed.
    5. 5. Reparations are made for An Ghorta Morta.  Mr. Holmes, as far as I am concerned, Her Majesty’s Government has blood on its hands; the blood of millions of Irishmen.  
    6. 6. The Catholic Church is designated the official church of Ireland.
    7. 7. You stay out of my affairs completely.  If you want to be a consulting detective, that is fine.  You may not, however, investigate me and Dr. Watson may not write about it if you do.  

All of these are non-negotiable.  I hope this is clear.  I expect an answer forthwith. 
If this goes on, one of us must be destroyed.  There isn’t room in the same mortal world for both of us.  I have men all over the world, ready to do my bidding.  
Who do you think bankrolled the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania?  Fenians in Canada?  Who helps to raise funds in Boston and New York?  Certain goings on in India?  There are many lonely deaths in the Irish countryside, enemies of my people.  I shall not give you specifics; however, a man of your brilliance gets the idea.  I have connections in many places.  My point, Mr. Holmes?  Think you can flee your beloved London, which I know you don’t like to do?  Think again!  I shall be waiting and plotting.  For your life, take the offer of safety, while you still can.  You have hounded me these long years and you shall not get another chance.  What will it be Mr. Holmes?  You have two weeks to make your decision.  Choose wisely.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Black Numbers

The author, Dean Lappi
 I'm lucky enough to have Dean Lappi, author of Black Numbers, writing a column for Fresh Pot of Tea today. Black Numbers is a hybrid, a book that is both fantasy and horror, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. However, if you like exploring new possibilities and other dimensions, then it is a gripping read. The book takes hold and won't let you go; I still am haunted by some of the scenes in it.
You can buy the  book here. 
Dean's striking cover.

The inspiration for my hybrid dark fantasy/horror novel BLACK NUMBERS hit me one day in a coffee shop. I sat on a comfy overstuffed chair next to a fireplace listening to people chatter all about me, and I had my laptop open in front of me. It is a setting that allows me to let my mind wander freely, and that is when the best ideas come to me. On this particular day, I had come to the coffee shop to do some free-writing, which is something I do just to see if something interesting comes from nothing.
As I let my mind wander, I thought of the fantasy genre, which has been my favorite genre since I was a little boy. I always lost myself in the fantastic stories by Tolkien, Donaldson, Anthony, Robertson, Kurtz; the list is very long of authors who took me to lands I never dreamed could exist. And as I sat in this coffee shop thinking about them, I closed my eyes and asked myself, what is the one thing all Fantasy novels seem to have in common?
That one word appeared in my mind.
Magic is the binding energy that brings together every fantasy story. But as I sat in that huge overstuffed chair on that day, I suddenly thought, "What if magic could be explained mathematically. Wouldn't that be cool? What if a spell was actually a mathematical equation?"
The idea hit me almost as a physical blow. I sat back and visualized the character of Sid (his name popped into my head immediately) and how he could use advanced mathematics to create true magic.

I immediately started typing, and I wrote 2500 words without stopping once. Those words ultimately turned out to be Chapter 1 in Black Numbers, and those first words have not changed much even after the professional edits the book has received from Fantasy Island Book Publishing before it went to print.
I wrote the novel from that first chapter all the way to the end in just three months, with the story unfolding in my head as I typed. It was an amazing experience.
Now I am writing book two in the series, called Blood Numbers, and the story is growing, the world is expanding in my head, and I can't put the words down on paper quickly enough.
As authors, inspiration strikes us all in different ways, and it is the spark that ignites the flame of a story in our minds.
Mine just happened to be a mathematical flame.
Dean Frank Lappi

(You can find more about the author of Black Numbers here.)
Dean is on Facebook, join him at this link.

Here is the book trailer for  Black Numbers:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Another Inspiration

Okay. So. I just wrote a sequel to The Night Watchman's Express, which is called The Lamplighter's Special. In fact, I shuttled off the manuscript to an editor last night, so it should be coming out on Kindle soon.

When I was writing the story, my main male character was faceless to me - shapeless. I had no idea how to make him come alive. And that's impossibly frustrating for a novelist - Toby, the character, was a huge part of the story.

Then I took my daughter to see Never Say Never. 

Now, I never related to "The Bieb." I just didn't get it. Bieber Fever was everywhere, and all I could see was this skinny kid with too much hair in his face. Thank goodness my daughter didn't have a crush on him!

That's exactly when my daughter announced she had a crush on him.

I could have seen if it was Taylor Lautner, or maybe that kid who played the werewolf on The Wizards of Waverly Place - but JUSTIN BIEBER???!!! I didn't get it.

I like the long hair. So judge me.

The kid from Wizards of Waverly Place. If you were 7, you'd like him - wouldn't you?!
In fact, she was so enamored she insisted that we sit down and write him a letter, which we did. (Justin, we're still waiting for a reply. OK? OK.) The things you have to do as a mom!

The school year wound on. Never Say Never came out. Genna begged me to see it, and I gave in. We went with a friend of hers - also crushing on Justin.

The movie started. I wasn't paying attention - I was still worrying about my book. It was going nowhere fast, and writing was becoming a chore, the kind you dread to do.

At that point I realized that the movie was pretty interesting. It was about someone like me, after all; a kid who had a passion and who was coming from nowhere to bring his creativity forward. The story of how he did that was fascinating.

My kid will die when she sees this picture. Just die.

And the kid himself was a lot - a LOT - cooler than I had thought. For one thing, he could solve a Rubik's cube in a minute, or so. (I can't do that.) He could shoot a basket from across the court and make it. (I certainly can't do that.) He worked really, really hard to fulfill a dream. (I'm trying to do that.)

Plus, I liked his mom, and his grandparents. And I liked Scooter Braun, the fellow who discovered him. And I liked the way they all almost revered the fans - handing out tickets before each show, bringing one Lonely girl up on stage to serenade her, giving away gift baskets and photo ops to those starstuck girls. 

And Justin's personality emerged - someone who was trying to be heard, to develop a voice, yet who was at the same time imprisoned by his own fame.

It hit me. My main character, Toby, would also be in a type of prison, but of his own making, sort of. Toby would have a form of agoraphobia and wouldn't be able to leave his room.

But, like Justin, he would also be smart, gifted, and attractive. He'd have that "thing" that would make my heroine, Lizzy, weak at the knees. He just couldn't leave his room in the attic.

By this point the film was nearly over. Good thing, because I was dying to get home and write. After that, the book developed smoothly, and maybe, just maybe, I listened to the song Never Say Never while I was writing it. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cover Reveal

As I whistle a few bars from the haunting melody known as "The Stripper," allow me to reveal my snazzy new cover. The concept was created by J. J. Makins, author of The King of Egypt, and the design was executed by my dear friend Lisa Daly.

Here is the front cover, about to come out in print format:

As I said in my last blog, I was lucky enough to have a dream team. I love the characters and my own little train, zooming off the top into the night.

Thanks again, J. J. and Lisa!