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Friday, 22 September 2017

Interview: Stephen Clark

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an author of thrilling political fiction? If so, you're in luck, as indie author Stephen Clark is here to tell you all about life as an author as he releases his novel Citizen Kill.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I’m a former award-winning reporter who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington bureau of FoxNews.com. I grew up in the suburbs of Philly and I currently reside in North Jersey with my wife and son.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always had a passion for writing, from my journal entries as a kid to the church plays I wrote as a teenager to working as a journalist as an adult. I didn’t consider writing a novel until I left journalism behind. Then I wondered what took me so long.
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Image: Stephen Clark
Tell me about Citizen Kill.
Citizen Kill tells the story of a covert effort to finally end the War on Terror after the president loses her son in a devastating explosion. Her administration authorizes the launch of a CIA program that targets for assassination U.S. citizens suspected of radicalizing Muslims. Among the recruits is Justin Raines, a suspended operative determined to redeem himself after a botched assignment overseas. But when he is assigned to kill a mysterious Muslim educator that he believes is innocent, he grows disillusioned. Now he must find a way to prove her innocence and derail the program before they both are assassinated.
How do you get inspiration?
I was inspired by then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s declaration in 2012 that it was constitutional for the government to kill U.S. citizens overseas without any judicial review if they were deemed a terrorist threat. Holder’s remarks came after a U.S. drone attack killed an American-born Muslim cleric in the Arabian Peninsula. Given my experience covering national politics at FoxNews.com, I thought it would be fascinating to write a story that took that policy to its logical conclusion.
Writing political fiction must require a lot of research. How do you go about the research process?
Even with my experience covering politics, writing this book required extensive research. I voraciously devoured news reports on domestic terrorists, international terror groups and U.S. counterterrorism efforts (the FBI probably has a thick file on me), and CIA memoirs, including Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy by Lindsay Moran. Although the character for the nation’s first female president was not based on Hillary Clinton, her memoir, Living History, provided me with a strong frame of reference for an ambitious woman living in the White House.
What draws you to writing thrillers?
The thrill, of course! Seriously though, when executed correctly, there’s no greater feeling in the world than to build suspense to an incredible climax and end a story on a satisfying note. Much easier said than done, however.
What’s your writing process?
I start with a basic outline of the story, including the cast of characters and what happens in each chapter. Then I flesh out the details as I research the characters and the story. Once I reach a minimum word count, I celebrate the completion of the first draft and prepare for the rewrites.
stephen-clark, author
Image: Stephen Clark
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Without question, rewriting is the hardest part. Maybe not the first or second rewrite. But after several rounds of retracing the same ground, examining identical passages line for line, it becomes a form of sadistic torture. As most of us know, rewriting is essential to producing our best work. But it’s also the leading cause of writer insanity.
Which authors inspire you?
That’s quite a long list that goes back years starting with Albert Camus and includes James Patterson, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. In recent years, Gillian Flynn has inspired me to start reading psychological thrillers, a genre that I’m now obsessed with, like so many other readers.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Yes. Don’t bother wasting your time writing a novel for money, fame or recognition. Most books fail; most authors toil in obscurity, and the road to traditional publication is paved with rejection. If you want to write a novel, do it only if the passion is burning so deep that you have no other choice.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Again, that’s a long list that goes back years starting with The Stranger by Albert Camus. The only book I’ve read in recent memory, however, that I could not put down or stop thinking about from the first page would be Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To make a boatload of money, gain international fame and to be recognized as the voice of my generation. LOL. Just kidding. My main goal is to improve my craft with each book and entertain readers with thought-provoking and memorable stories.
What are you currently working on?
A psychological thriller centred on a deadly police shooting that sets the shooter on a collision course with the victim’s family.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished The Passenger by Lisa Lutz. Next, I’ll be reading Storm Shelter by JL Delozier and The Green Reaper by Elizabeth Fournier, both fellow label mates.
Citizen Kill is available to buy now. For more information about Stephen and his work, check out his website.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

How Does a Writer Undertake the Research Process?

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The journey of every novel begins somewhere. For me, it was a photograph on the wall of a Singapore museum where I was a guide. Two young Chinese people - one a man, the other a woman - were getting married in Singapore dressed in the elaborate costumes of China’s Qing Dynasty which had disappeared three decades before.

Through my training programme with the Friends of the Museums of Singapore, I had learned that for a century, a young Chinese coolie fresh off the boat could be selected (if he was intelligent and could speak a southern Chinese dialect, read and write Chinese script) to marry the daughter of a rich local merchant who had lost all those attributes over the centuries of foreign life and now spoke a local patois called Baba Malay and needed fresh blood to invigorate his family and reconnect to a China long forgotten by their Peranakan (locally-born) Chinese families spread throughout Southeast Asia.

Who could not be intrigued? She and he, the two in the photograph, looked entirely the same, yet for decades these two people would have been completely different. He would not have been able to speak to her, nor she to him. He would not have understood anything of her culture, nor she his. And why would a young, clever man not have jumped at such a marriage? For him, instant status and wealth, a docile wife and a new prosperous life. All too tempting, a way out of poverty and misery in this hot and alien British land.

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Image: Dawn Farnham / Faye Rogers PR
All right, I was hooked. So where to go from there? I needed conflict for the Chinese hero. I needed an impossible love affair which would supply tension for the Chinese man and his true love, a Scottish woman, fresh off the boat who meet long before these arrangements are made; who meet the night they both arrive, from the distant ends of the earth on an English schooner and a Chinese junk.

My research then began in earnest. I spent hours in the National Library of Singapore, researching the coolie trade, prostitution, trade practices in early Singapore, triads, opium farms, Peranakan customs and culture. I read all the first-hand historical accounts of the colonial government of the time. I found out what colonial women wore in the 1830s and how they did their hair.

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Image: Dawn Farnham / Faye Rogers PR
In the National Archive of Singapore, I found the first map of the town drawn up in 1824 by George Coleman, the colony’s architect. Singapore’s streets in the Civic District haven’t changed at all and I could walk that map today. Through old paintings of the town, I discovered George had a Dutch/Armenian mistress and he had built her a beautiful house.

There is a lot of reading, but most of it gets left out of course Only the fascinating details which give colour to the story remain in the final edit, but most historical novelists do masses of this kind of research. It is actually part of the great pleasure of writing historical novels.

Dawn Farnham is the author of The Straits Quartet as well as numerous short stories, plays and children’s books. A former long-term resident of Singapore, Dawn now calls Perth, Australia, her home. Learn more about Dawn on her website. The Red Thread is available to buy now. 

Did you know how much research goes into writing historical fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Interview: Layton Green

I'm sure you will all be happy to join me in welcoming author Layton Green to the blog today for a chat about his life, his writing and his recently released novel The Spirit Mage.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Well, I’m currently a full-time writer, but I’ve had a few jobs along the way. I attended law school in New Orleans and was a practising attorney for the better part of a decade. Before that, I was an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door to door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there.
How did you first become interested in writing?
A little bit by accident. While I was working as an attorney, I set out to write a novel that I felt I needed to write. Not because I was a novelist (I had never written a word of fiction, outside of my legal briefs), but because I had a story I wanted to tell. During the process of fumbling through that first novel, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that writing novels was what I had to do with my life.
Tell me about The Brothers Three.

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Image: Layton Green
I started with the idea of ‘what do I really want to read?’ I love epic fantasy, I love fantasy novels that transport characters from our world to another world, and I also love urban fantasy. I decided to meld all three, and the world building - the alternate-reality New Orleans - just sort of took off. After the brothers reach the new world and team up with a dangerous adventuress and her band of mercenaries, The Brothers Three follows a classic quest motif, a journey to an abandoned keep, and it’s the first in the series (The Blackwood Saga). There will be five in total.
How do you get inspiration?
I’ve never really had a problem with that. Never short on ideas, never had writer’s block. Whether the ideas and words are good ones, well, that’s much more complicated! That said, I often stumble on a thorny plot point or character issue, and I find that traveling, or even driving a long distance in my car, helps see me through.
What draws you to writing fantasy?
It was my first love as a reader, and I will always love the genre. It’s hard (impossible?) to be a writer of a certain genre without being a super-fan. As a reader, I love the imagination involved, and as a writer, yeah, I love stretching my imagination to the limits. The battle scenes are also fun because of all the various magic and weaponry involved. One can get a lot more creative than with a shootout!
layton-green, author
Image: Layton Green
Do you find it hard to avoid common stereotypes of the genre whilst writing fantasy?
It is a struggle. It’s risky to eschew them entirely, however, because readers expect certain stereotypes, or tropes, of the genre. The trick is to use them in a novel manner, which I’ve tried hard to do.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The first fourth of a book, especially the first book in a series. You have to turn an idea into a fully-fledged reality, invent characters that come to life on the page, and jumpstart an airtight plot. Once the first fourth is done, it’s still a mental challenge to finish, but I find that the initial section is the hardest.
Which authors inspire you?
That’s a very, very long list. Here’s a few on the fantasy side: Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, R.A. Salvatore, China Miéville, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joel Rosenberg, Madeleine L’Engle, Roger Zelazny, and Lloyd Alexander.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
In terms of craft, read as much as you can, write every day, and hire a great editor early on (regardless of whether you plan to self publish or seek out a publisher).
What are you reading at the moment?
The Passage by Justin Cronin and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Donaldson.
The Brothers Three is available to buy now. For more information about Layton and his work, you can visit his website.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

How Online Dating has Widened the Pool of Potential Partners

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Image: Lorna Holland
In the past, it would be usual to meet your partner at the pub, while out with friends, or through work or possibly a mutual friend. Of course, these are all still great, perfectly valid ways to meet new people, but in today's digital environment, there is a new kid on the block - online dating.

Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of online dating, there are new dating sites springing up all over the place. From a Southampton dating site to an Aberdeen dating site, there are local, specialist and niche sites to cater to every individual taste and personal preference.

It's a Match

Of course, the influx of dating sites has meant that there are now more ways than ever for people to get themselves noticed and get put in front of the right people. Almost like applying for a coveted new job, the best dating sites will analyse each individual's profile before matching them with similar people.

But does this take all the fun out of dating?

Personally, I think it doesn't. There is no question that online dating has made the whole concept of dating far easier - from providing quick ways to meet new people to helping the shy (or lazy) people among us easily put themselves out there, finding a date has never been easier - in theory, at least.

Nowadays, we can easily hop onto our preferred local app or website and be bombarded with a flood of potential partners within mere seconds. For example, a Shropshire dating site may seem like a particularly niche requirement, but for those looking for a quick and easy way to meet like-minded people within their local area, it can be a goldmine.

New Possibilities

This increased ease and convenience has also meant that people are getting to know others outside of their usual area. Depending on the distance you are prepared to go to meet your soulmate, it is entirely possible that users of a Norfolk dating site could encounter compatible matches on a Bedfordshire dating site. After all, when it comes to matters of the heart, distance means nothing.

From a personal point of view, online dating has opened my eyes to the wealth of possibilities waiting outside of my usual day-to-day life. Over the years, I've tried long-distance relationships and dating guys outside of my local area (get used to spending all your money on travel costs!), both of which opened me up to brand new ideas from an entirely different perspective. Having said that, I'm now perfectly content settling down with a man from the next town over - I guess I've done my share of fishing. But you know what? There's nothing wrong with ending up back in my home pond.

* This is a sponsored post.

Have you got any online dating stories? Share them with me in the comments below!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Interview: George Bachman

Today author George Bachman is stopping by the blog for a quick chat. Interested? Read on to find out more!

How did you first become interested in writing?
I've been interested in writing for as long as I can remember. There's never been a time when literature and technology weren't twin loves.
Tell me about Spellcaster.
Spellcaster is a fantasy set in an alternate fin de siècle England. It revolves around Christine, a socialite plagued by a debilitating illness and the paranormal visions that cause them. During the London Season her older sister Allie, the family heir, seeks a husband among the titled but impoverished Englishmen.  
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Image: George Bachman
Meanwhile, Christine searches England's occult underground for answers. The only witch who can help is another impoverished aristocrat, Lady Kinloss whose social standing and finances have taken a hit because of a scandalous affair with Lord Serton. Unfortunately for Christine, Kinloss won't help her unless Christine cajoles Allie into marrying Serton so that the illicit pair can share Allie's dowry and inheritance. Christine must choose between betraying Allie and saving her own life.
What draws you to writing fantasy?
Reality has too many rules to abide by. I love creating new worlds and then trying to persuade my readers of their verisimilitude.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Dialogue. Persuasive dialogue is the single most difficult part of the whole business.
Which authors inspire you?
It varies from story to story, but for this book: Mark Helprin, John Crowley, and Edith Wharton were the chief inspirations.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
My Riverdale Shakespeare or my annotated Alice books. For single works, this week it's Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
None beyond being read and hopefully appreciated.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Independent cinema, particularly from Asia.
What are you reading at the moment?
Michael Shea's The Autopsy and Other Tales.
Spellcaster is available to buy now. For more about George and his writing, you can visit him on Facebook.

Will you be reading Spellcaster? Let me know in the comments below!