Big Books to Read on the Longest Day of the Year

Summertime is the best time to read. With the weather finally getting nicer, we’re called to our back porches, parks, and beaches to enjoy the summer heat. But us readers know that these hours spent outdoors are a perfect time to read our books. What better way to spend the longest day of the year with a super long book? If you’re looking for a big book, look no further. These eight novels might seem too long to tackle, but they’ll also keep you intrigued the entire time.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 827 pages long
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – 1007 pages long
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara – 720 pages long
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – 1006 pages long
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke’s magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.

English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – 1020 pages long
LATTICING one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?

A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.

It’s also very, very funny.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – 848 pages long
It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas – 803 pages long
Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – 925 pages long
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Author: Simone Jung

Building a world based on kindness, joy, and writing

This, as we all know, has been a hell of a year. But one thing this year has brought us is the opportunity to create new systems and build the world we want. For much of my life, I’ve been trying to do just that. I even gave my world a name: LoriLand. When things in the “real” world frustrated me, I would declare, “Well, in LoriLand, teachers and artists make the most money,” or, “In LoriLand, critical thinking and empathy are part of every core curriculum.” (Sometimes I would get asked pesky questions such as, “Who makes all the judgment calls?” To which I would answer, “Me! It’s called LoriLand, after all.”)

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that kindness, happiness and the arts are some of the things I care about the most. At the end of 2017, as a way to see if anyone else was interested in a mash-up of these three things, I came up with the idea of the 30-Day Writers Happiness Challenge: 30 days of daily, five-minute happiness prompts for writers. I put up a Facebook post, added a page to my website, and waited to see what would happen. And within two weeks, with nearly zero promotion, 500 writers from around the world had signed up.

Turns out it wasn’t just me who cared about this. It was a lot of us.

With this in mind, the Writers Happiness Movement was launched earlier this year. It’s based on two unwavering beliefs: that kindness, inclusion and joy matter and that the written word is one of the most powerful ways to promote courage, empathy and ferocity of the heart. The idea of the movement is to create more happiness for each individual writer, while making the world a better place for all writers.

Here’s how it works: The Writers Happiness Movement offers a plethora of free happiness tools created specifically for writers, all open to everyone without cost. These tools are designed to help writers access more joy, more writing time, and more spaciousness for and around our writing and our lives. They include online writing retreats, online yoga/meditation/breathwork for writers, and weekly 5-minute Writers Happiness exercises. Over a thousand writers have participated in these so far! There also are microgrants, little infusions of cash meant to cheer a writer on. Two of these tiny grants, currently $25 each, go out monthly to writers nominated by a friend. The only requirements are that the nominee has to be some kind of writer and also has to be someone you think is a good person. If you want to nominate someone, you can do so here.

As the movement grows, there will be larger grants, residencies, fellowships, and — the big goal — retirement homes and co-living spaces that are free to writers, completely paid for by the Writers Happiness Movement.

How is this funded, you might ask? Well, it’s LoriLand, so it’s funded in a way that I think is healthy for humans and the planet: through an alternative, community-based, open-handed economic structure that has kindness and equity at its root. While all the happiness tools are free to everyone, if someone would like and is able to, they can become a patron of Writers Happiness at $5/month. This funds the programs that require money. Becoming a patron of Writers Happiness is similar to becoming a patron of an individual artist, except that instead of supporting one writer so that writer can keep creating, you’re supporting programs designed to build a world where all writers can keep creating.

This is meant to be both a revolution and a refuge. There’s nothing you have to do to be part of the Writers Happiness Movement, other than be who you are and write what you write (and sign up for it, of course). Because who you are and what you write are exactly what our world needs.

There are so many people right now consciously choosing kindness over fear. Choosing love over anger. Choosing to write and create even if it sometimes seems impossible. This is a home for all of us.

Let’s rewrite the world, one writer at a time.

Author Bio: Lori Snyder is the founder of the Writers Happiness Movement. She’s also a writer, a long-time yoga teacher, leader of the Splendid Mola Writing Retreats, and a great fan of all things gritty and glittery at the same time. Her debut middle grade fantasy, “The Circus at the End of the Sea” — which is her love letter to delight, the ocean, and Venice, California — is out with HarperCollins in fall 2021. You can find her, and the Writers Happiness Movement, at www.writershappiness.com.

 

Christmas Movie Matchup: All your Christmas movie favorites paired with festive books to read


by Angela (@angelareadsbooks)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time for all the festive Christmas movies and books! If you are anything like me, you have Christmas movies going and a Christmas book in hand, with a cup of hot cocoa and some cozy socks! I have my list of must watch Christmas movies, and I’m sure you do too. If you are looking for read-alikes for all your favorite movies, look no further. I have you covered with a list of 10 Christmas movies and 12 books similar to those favorites. With plenty of time to spend at home, this will keep you busy all season!

The Family Stone (2005) + In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren
For many of us, our favorite part of the holiday season is the time spent with family. And all the quirks and traditions that it brings. The Stones in The Family Stone might be one of my all time favorite movie families. And one of the things truly special about this movie, for me, is their home. I always think of the Stone family home as being its own character in this movie. If you are looking for the same antics and warmness of The Family Stone, with a sweet love story try In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren. Family friends gather together in a Utah cabin each year for the holidays. You will fall in love with these families and the cabin they share together!

The Holiday (2006) + New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews
Wishing you could travel over the holidays? Get swept away to Evergreen Lodge in Vermont with sisters Tess and Lauren. New Year’s Kiss by Lee Matthews, though a YA romance, reminds me of The Holiday because this time of year is the perfect time to make a change and get out of our comfort zones. And these characters do just that! And who doesn’t love a story that ends with a New Year’s Kiss??

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) + Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd
The Grinch, but make it romance! I’m a Grinch purist and only recognize the 1966 television special, a true classic. In Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd, Olivia is an intern for Asher McGowan, resident grinch of the office. Through a series of events she decides they must enter a fake relationship so he can prove to his ex how happy he is now. And Asher is definitely the grinch to Olivia’s holiday cheer! Will his heart grow 3 sizes this Christmas??

Elf (2003) + A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday
Who doesn’t love a fish-out-of-water romance set in New York City? Princess Marie of Eldovia might not be an elf or from the North Pole, but she’s lost in New York and needs taxi driver Leo’s assistance! She needs a personal driver, and he of course is willing to show her around town. A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday is a modern fairy tale about a tough New Yorker from the other side of the tracks who falls for a princess from the other side of the world.This sweet, sexy romance will have you laughing!

Die Hard (1988) + An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
There is a lot of debate whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (I’m team #NotAChristmasMovie). If you are looking for a book light on Christmas with a little bit of action and suspense, try An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow. Set in Alaska, this book has a little bit of Christmas and a lot of steam. Workaholic Erika takes a vacation in Alaska and ends up partnering with Reed’s search and rescue team. Your heart will be racing in more ways than one with this book, and there’s plenty of snow for all the snow-lovers!

You’ve Got Mail (1998) + Her Christmas Cowboy by Jessica Clare and Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman
So if we are counting Die Hard as a Christmas movie, I’m adding my all time favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail to the list. I chose two books for this matchup, as they each highlight different elements of this classic movie. If you are looking for a Christmas love story with rival businesses, try Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman. Sparks fly between Sari from the coffee shop and the new baker next door, Gabriel. A fun adversaries-turned-lovers Christmas romp! And if you love the secret admirer and letter writing elements of You’ve Got Mail, Her Christmas Cowboy by Jessica Clare is just what you’re looking for. Cowboy Caleb has always had feelings for school-teacher Amy. This Christmas, Caleb volunteers to be Santa to Amy’s Mrs. Claus. He’s also been leaving Amy secret admirer Christmas gifts. When she discovers who her secret admirer is, will she be swept off her feet?

Serendipity (2001) + Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes
Every holiday season needs a little serendipity. While Emma is selling back a bracelet from her now ex-boyfriend at a local pawn shop, she comes across the watch she gave to her college boyfriend Fletcher many years earlier. There is no such thing as coincidences, and this sends Emma on a journey to rekindle the romance with her college sweetheart. Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes is brimming with holiday cheer and is perfect for fans of Serendipity.

Love Actually (2003) + A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan and Home For the Holidays Sara Richardson
Love Actually is the quintessential ensemble cast. If you are looking for similar books, I have two recommendations. A Winter in December by Sarah Morgan centers around the White family gathering in Colorado for Rosie’s wedding. With a beautiful cast of characters, this book is the perfect combination of Christmas, a family drama, and romance. Home for the Holidays by Sara Richardson is the story of the three Buchanan sisters coming home for the holidays to Aunt Sassy’s house. This Christmas each sister will discover what they truly want and need. These two books will put you in the Christmas spirit and have you cheering “love for everyone!”

The Family Man (2000) + A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale
Working too much got you down this Christmas? Have no fear, you can refind Christmas magic this year. The Family Man and A Christmas to Remember both center upon workaholic men that need to refind Christmas joy, and LOVE! A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale is a beautiful story about the magic of childhood Christmas memories, the strength of family and falling in love when you least expect it.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) + Why I Held Your Hand by Augusta Reilly
Looking for a Christmas love triangle? Look no further than Why I Held You Hand by Augusta Reilly. The mountain town of North Powell hopes to become a tourist destination, so Laura Delaney hires a marketing team to assist her. Not only does she begin a relationship with David, she also falls for his nemesis Spencer, too. With two men in Laura’s life, which one will she choose?

Hope your holiday season is filled to the brim with festive books and movies. Come and chat with me on bookstagram about your favorite book and movie matchups so I can add to my ever growing stack. You can find me at @angelareasbooks!

Spooky season approaches! Prepare with one of these atmospheric books

Guest post by Sydney from Bookpals (@bookpals)

It. Is. Spooky. Season. Raise your hand if Halloween is your absolute favourite holiday of all time? Yes. Yes spooky babies, I see you and I am here for you.

Why do we love Halloween? For me it’s a potent cocktail of pure nostalgia (grade school halloween parades yes please), inappropriate-for-my-age-horror-movie viewing (sure dad, let’s watch Alien 3, I’m only 8 years old) and an unabiding love of dressing up has been brewing and bubbling my whole life.

Young Sydney one hundred and ten percent believed in ghosts, goblins, witches and gremlins. Did I start a Ghostbusters society at my elementary school? Yes. Did I make a Witch Business at age nine with my best friend complete with business cards? Also yes. Did I borrow the same book on poltergeists over and over again from the library and bother my mother incessantly with “facts” about gremlins? Hard yes.

I was a spooky kid. I loved weird and wonderful things even though they absolutely scared the pants off of me. I don’t think I’ve grown into a particularly spooky adult, but my love of Halloween runs deep and true. Here’s some books to get you in the spooky mood (as if you would need help…)

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Vic McQueen is able to find lost things in a way even she doesn’t understand. One day she finds something she shouldn’t have and has a life-changing run in with terrifying Charles Manx. She manages to escape but Manx never forgets a face, especially one like Vic’s. Sure his dad is the kind of horror but Joe Hill wrote a book that genuinely creeped me right the heck out and was quite well written.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Girls have always disappeared from the island of Sawkill Rock, but nobody talks about it. New girl Marion crosses paths with Val and Zoey and between the three of them, they’re getting to the bottom of this (no matter how little each of them wants to be involved) This reads like a very enjoyable scary movie and gave me the shivers a few times

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
A New England girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with some dark magic to win their 1989 season. Not particularly scary but definitely spooky and absolutely worth a read (plus 10/10 for fall atmosphere)

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
You won’t find this short story collection in the horror section at your bookstore but trust me, some of the wild creations that come from Jemisin’s mind could easily wind up there. You meet monsters (human and non), dystopian futures and some truly scary witches.

The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James
Carly’s aunt Viv disappeared in the middle of the night in November 1982 after working the night shift at the Sundown Motel. Carly wants some answers about her aunt’s disappearance and in her search for the truth finds herself working at the Sundown, with the exact same shift as her aunt. Will Carly suffer the same fate as Viv? Fans of the supernatural and true crime will find things to like.

Sydney is one half of Bookpals, a Canadian bookstagram duo. She works full time as a midwife and loves Halloween, ’80s movies, bad dancing and her three cats.

Tips for Virtual Author Events

Want to feel terrible about yourself? Plan an event at a bookstore for your book, show up to the store in your fancy writer’s outfit, and quickly realize that nobody is there to see you except for the bookstore owner and a bored staff member the owner forces to watch your reading.

This has happened to every writer I know and, while it makes for a ruefully amusing story years later in your career, these lackluster events are terribly inconvenient for yourself and the bookstore – particularly if the store ordered copies of your book, and is dedicating an evening to you in place of someone who would have drawn a better crowd.

Of course, now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, writers need ways to promote their books outside of in-person events. For years, I’ve run a reading series in D.C. called “Noir at the Bar,” an event where 8-9 crime fiction writers take turns reading stories at a bar (for more about the series, including its national origins, check out this article in CrimeReads). I was recently inspired by my friend Alex Segura, who runs the Queens NY Noirs at the Bar, to move my series online and re-name it. It’s now called “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” and we’ve had wonderful success since it debuted in April – media coverage, attendance in the hundreds, and the series has garnered a devoted following.

In the process, I’ve learned some important thing about putting together a virtual event:

Make It Bigger Than You

You might be tempted, particularly if you’re launching a new book this year, to have an event solely focused on your work. I get that. And it makes sense, particularly if you already have a following. If you don’t, then make sure you have a “draw” for your event. For example, ask a better-known author to join you in conversation. Or, if your book has a natural fit with an organization, reach out to them and ask if they have a virtual series you can be part of (you should already know this, to be honest, and really should be asking if you can take part in an existing series). Make sure there’s a reason people will tune in…people outside of your own circle of fans, friends, and family. 

Organizations and event planners have been scrambling these past few months for ways to keep their membership engaged. Make your event an enticing fit for them, and they’ll be excited to include and promote you.

Know the Software

Likely, everyone reading this has used Zoom for online meetings and gatherings, and it’s a terrific platform. But it’s not the only one. For “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” I use Crowdcast, a site particularly suited for readings where one presenter after another takes the stage. And even though, like Zoom, the site is fairly intuitive, I still take pains to make sure that every writer’s microphone and web cam are working prior to an event.

There are always going to be glitches. Make sure you have a backup plan, and expect to be nimble. Viewers expect glitches, but there is a definite shortage of patience if these problems persist. It’s much easier, after all, to click off a site than it is to walk out of a reading.

Dare to Flair

There’s nothing more boring than an author reading their work. Most writers are famously introverted and not exactly gifted presenters. The last thing anyone wants is to go to a reading where someone is staring down at a book and muttering for an hour. BORING.

Add something fun to your event. For this D.C. series, I have musical interludes where a local jazz star (the fantastic Sara Jones) sings noir-themed songs. And a local mixologist, Chantal Tseng, puts together a custom cocktail for each event (based off one of the books) and gives a quick demonstration of how to make it. Sara and Chantal have become the stars of the series, and an added element viewers greatly look forward to. And both women have suffered the sudden halt of their livelihoods – cancelled live events and closed bars. It’s nice to do something where they have the chance to resume their craft.

Local Media Wants to Know

I mentioned that event organizers have been scrambling for content to share with their members; the same is true with your local media, especially reporters who cover local events. Nothing is happening anywhere and, if you have an interesting angle for your event, you have a wonderful chance to get some attention for it. The D.C. Virtual N@B series has received coverage from DCist, the Washington Post, and NPR – media that, traditionally, had been impossible for me to attract to the in-person events.

Work with a Bookstore

Even in good times, independent bookstores have it tough, and the current economy is leveling local businesses. Every event in my reading series is in support of a local DC/MD/VA bookstore, and the bookstores have responded warmly to this effort, with promotions and dedicated event pages. My region, in particular, is fortunate to have a strong bookstore presence, one that is enthusiastically supportive of its local writers, and this is an opportunity to do something for them.

And it doesn’t hurt, of course, for these local bookstores to be familiar with your name, and to consider you an instrumental part of the community.

You’re getting something out of this, to be sure, but you’re doing something for others at the same time. You’re bringing a sense of distraction and escape to people who desperately need it. Never forget that. It’ll give your event a sense of purpose and determination viewers will recognize and appreciate.

To learn more about D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires series, visit https://eaymarwrites.com/noirbar/. To learn more about E.A. Aymar and his upcoming novel, They’re Gone, written under his pseudonym E.A. Barres, visit https://eaymarwrites.com/novels/theyre-gone/.

Books Forward author Tori Eldridge uses Asian-Pacific pride to promote representation in literature

I can’t imagine a better place to grow up as an Asian-American, Pacific Islander than Hawaii. Our island community is predominantly Asian and mixed-race, so most of the kids I went to school with had dark hair and lovely shades of brown skin. I fit in perfectly.

My mother is Chinese-Hawaiian, my father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and they met and married in Tokyo, where my sisters were born. I came along over a decade later and was born and raised in Honolulu. There weren’t many full-blooded Hawaiians, even then, so being part Hawaiian was and is a source of pride. And with over 50 percent of the population identifying as Asian, being almost half-Chinese was common.

Things were quite different when I moved to Illinois to attend Northwestern University. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. In fact, less than 4 percent of the student population was mixed race and less than half a percent were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Fortunately, my self-image had been set in Hawaii, and I carried my Chinese, Hawaiian, Norwegian heritage proudly with me when I moved to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for 36 years. Rather than feeling isolated by my extreme minority, I’ve felt kinship to everyone because of my mixed race.

I was able to share my heritage and mixed-race experience while writing my debut novel, “The Ninja Daughter.”

The protagonist Lily Wong is a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja in Los Angeles with “Joy Luck Club” family issues. I drew heavily from my own Chinese-Norwegian culture and experience as a fifth-degree black belt in the Japanese art of the ninja to write her story. But I also drew from the experience of my Chinese-American friends and fellow ninja.

Although my character and I are undeniably close, Lily is definitely not me. She is her own powerful person, plagued by doubts and demons, defined by family, and fueled by purpose.

That said, family and heritage are also deeply important to me.

I can trace my Hawaiian roots to 1783, during the reign of King Kamehameha. The kānaka maoli — native Hawaiians — are generous, beautiful people with a culture, rich in song, dance, and storytelling. Hawaiians are our own race of people with native language, customs and ancestry. But modern Hawaii culture is an amalgamation of many, especially those from Asian countries.

My Chinese ancestors were early pioneers on the island of Maui and, along with all the other first-wave Chinese settlers, contributed to its modern culture, language and commerce. The people of modern Hawaii are a mixed plate. This is evident in our fusion of food, clothing and our Hawaiian Pigeon English. Unlike other forms of pigeon English, Hawaiian Pigeon is a legitimate creole language — fully developed and taught to many children as a primary language. Although it incorporates many words from the native Hawaiian language, they are not at all the same. Although both have their place, I am happy to see a resurgence of our beautiful aboriginal language.

In the midst of this deeply ethnic environment, my father infused me with stories and wisdom from his own North Dakota upbringing and Norwegian heritage. Naturally, I wanted to celebrate this with my protagonist, Lily Wong.

It meant the world to me that my parents lived long enough to know I was writing a novel — and now a series — that would celebrate their heritage.

Asian and Pacific Islander representation in literature and media matters. Not only is it vital to see ourselves and identify with positive role models, but it’s important for everyone of all ethnicities to expand our awareness of each other. This is how people learn to appreciate and connect with one another.

I love that Lily Wong’s mother is an immigrant from Hong Kong, that her father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and that her ninjutsu teacher was born and raised in Japan. I love that my son fell in love with a woman from Hong Kong — after I was well into writing the first draft of “The Ninja Daughter” — and has married this wonderful woman into our family. I love how my art has not only become an expression of my life but a means to delve even more deeply into my ancestry and identity. I am honored to celebrate all of this during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Tori Eldridge is the Lefty-nominated author of “The Ninja Daughter,” which was named one of the “Best Mystery Books of the Year” by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and awarded 2019 Thriller Book of the Year by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her short stories appear in several anthologies, and her screenplay “The Gift” earned a semifinalist spot in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer and dancer on Broadway, television and film. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised in Honolulu, where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the U.S. teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection.

Why Even Internet Addicts Need a Publicist

I confess– I spend more hours than I want to admit online.  Yet as a debut novelist, I needed a more extensive network of media contacts I could call upon when I released Things Unsaid a year ago.

Yes, all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their books. You will be a writer without a readership without good marketing and publicity. Reaching readers to make them aware of your book requires a team effort, and the publicist is part of the author’s team. You have to be realistic about what you can do on your own, and what requires a helping hand.  Publicists provide:

  • research on social media strategy
  • introductions to  brick-and-mortar bookstores with a cult following,
  • book award contests and book review opportunities.
  • chances to write columns for online magazines.

The competition is fierce for a small number of slots from traditional media. Coverage is a brutal blood sport and newspapers, radio, even television increasingly have limited outreach in a cyberworld. Furthermore, traditional media coverage may feel very good when it happens, but it doesn’t necessarily move the needle all on its own. The authors who work best with a publicist are those who understand what they’re up against, but feel positive about how much there is they can do.  It will take some time to see the effects of an effort and there are no overnight successes. Effective marketing yields increased momentum for your book.  In contrast, publicity is more about getting people to recognize who you are in a world of oversaturation and elevates you above the rest of the chatter.

“I don’t want to ask for reviews.” Yet that’s the job. You avoid reaching out to friends and family yet again to come to a bookstore event or write another review for another website. You have to constantly pitch. I hired my partner JKS Communications three months before launch date with a lengthy Excel spreadsheet of blog sites I had already contacted for possible reviews of Things Unsaid. I needed someone to help with the heavy lifting.

The first thirty days after publication can feel a bit surreal. You expect something to be different, affirmed, if not sanctified, by the rights and privileges of publication.   You should be happy and enjoy this major accomplishment. But when you visit your local indie bookstore, you notice there isn’t even a copy of your book on the local authors bookshelf.  Everyone starts to ask when your next book is coming out and you’re exhausted because there hasn’t been time to write while you’ve been promoting this book.

Book clubs may invite you to speak and plan to borrow copies from the library or buy used copies on Amazon. A year after the release of the book, your royalty check won’t even pay one month’s electric bill. Before you know it, they’ve remaindered the rest of your books they have in inventory.

Your publicist is there to support you through that period too, when post-partum-publication depression sets in.  Success will take longer than you think and your publicist is a touchstone to that reality and managing expectations.  She can also be a shoulder to lean on when you are just plain tired of the task at hand.

Marketing and publicity never really end—but with the right publicist you can start out of the gate prepared for what lies ahead and energized by a partner who knows what you are going through.   The timeframe for success stretches over years rather than months. It can be a slow burn, or even a simmer.

Thank you,  JKS Communication!  “Successful marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.”


 

DIANA Y. PAUL is a former professor at Stanford University. Her short stories have appeared in multiple literary journals, and she is the author of three nonfiction books, Women in Buddhism, Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China, and The Buddhist Feminine Ideal. She lives in Carmel, California with her husband and loves to create mixed media art. She is working on her second novel, tentatively titled A Perfect Match.  Visit her author website at: www.dianaypaul.com Twitter: @DianaPaul10

Villains: You Have to Love Them (at least a little) to Make Them Engrossing

We thriller writers are consumed with creating the perfect villain, but as we all know it is easier said than done. As former romance novelist and current literary agent Donald Maass states in The Fire in Fiction, villains, antagonists, bad guys, femme fatales, or whatever one wants to call them “are frequently cardboard. Most are presented as purely evil.” Which is not a good thing since most people find pure evil dull, unbelievable, and predictable and so, too, do fiction readers. So how do you do what very few authors seem to have the chops to do and create the perfect villain? An antagonist that your readers will remember long after you’re gone, or at least find captivating enough so that they don’t roll their eyes or, God forbid, actually put down your latest thriller?

In six words, you have to love the bastards. I don’t mean that you have to want to fall on your knees and propose to your villains or whisper sweet nothings in their ears, but you have to care deeply about them. More importantly, you have to empathize with them and feel their pain at every turn. Remember that Lucifer was an angel once. Hannibal Lecter was a promising young medical student from an aristocratic Lithuanian family long before he began his career as a gourmet cannibal. And as murderous stagecoach robber Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) said in 3:10 to Yuma, before shoving Peter Fonda’s lawman character Byron off the edge of a cliff to his death for bad-mouthing Wade’s mother: “Even bad men love their mommas.”

There are thousands of books and blog posts on how to create memorable and believable antagonists. These resources will tell you that you have to full flesh out your villains by making them well-rounded, complex characters. To do that, the usual gimmicks are to give your villains at least a few virtuous qualities, to make them point-of-view characters and reveal their inner desires and motives, to present them as equally formidable or even more powerful than the antagonist, or to humanize them by showing that they love and are loved by others or by making the characters around them even more morally reprehensible. All of these techniques are great, and I use them myself quite often, but there is a far simpler solution. I believe it is a matter of projecting your own personal, deeply held emotions into your villains—your most intimate hopes and dreams, fears and phobias. In the process, you cannot help but love the dangerous, lawless, corrupt, or immoral bastards you create (if only a little) because you have made them utterly authentic and credible from the very emotions that you yourself have experienced.

After all, we have all felt joy, happiness, and love just as we have experienced the sheer agony of defeat and feelings of raw jealousy or been subjected to the harsh reality of being invisible, passed over, or mistreated by others. With our villains, it is a matter of projecting these types of emotions into their actions and worldview. We have to truly see things through their eyes by tapping into the visceral feelings we have experienced firsthand in our lives.

In my standalone political thriller, The Coalition, my primary antagonist is a femme-fatale assassin code-named Skyler, who has been raped and abused by men and channels her lust for vengeance into increasingly dangerous male-only assassinations. To maintain her cover and continue to evade capture, she has cleverly convinced the world’s intelligence and law enforcement community that the sniper it seeks is actually an infamous Spanish male assassin named Gomez. At first glance, Skyler would seem to be an unsavory character, a treacherous and predatory professional assassin that would be hard to empathize with and thus provide a liability to the novel. And yet, James Patterson praised The Coalition for having “a lot of action and suspense and an unusual female assassin” and Foreword Reviews said that “Skyler is unique” as “the standout character in this taut and fast-paced political thriller.” Similarly, Donald Maass said of the novel and our female killer elite: “Reminiscent of The Day of the Jackal…with a high level of authentic detail. Skyler is a convincing sniper, and also a nicely conflicted one.” Ultimately, what makes Skyler an intriguing villain to Patterson, Maass, and others is not her cleverness, beauty, or professional expertise, but because readers connect with her on a gut level. This connection is due to the emotional damage she has undergone and the conflict she feels inside. Though I am not a professional assassin, a woman, or an Italian (at least not that I know of), in creating Skyler I projected deep and authentic emotions into her character based on my own feelings. In the process, I made Skyler the character that people remember and care most about in The Coalition.

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I took a similar approach to my villains in Blind Thrust: A Mass Murder Mystery and Cluster of Lies, Books 1 and 2 of my Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series. In Blind Thrust, the antagonists to Cheyenne environmental geologist Higheagle are the Quantrill brothers, owners of the largest hazardous waste disposal company in the U.S. As Forward Reviews states, “The nuanced portrayal of the Quantrill brothers in particular humanizes characters engaged in what some deem a field hazardous to the environment. The two men are jovial, sly, and eager to please. Marquis deftly injects nuances of shrewdness into all his characters, each portrayed as an intelligent person with whom it is easy to empathize.” Foreword Reviews honored the book by naming it a Foreword Reviews Book of the year (Honorable Mention) in the Thriller and Suspense category. In Cluster of Lies, the two antagonists thwarting Higheagle are a leading real-estate developer and an elderly businessman, and again reviewers recognized that I hadn’t short-thrifted my villains or my heroes. “Some characters ooze humanity, even when least expected, while others are rife with vile plans and entitlement. But each is written with a distinct voice and focus, making them credible even if they aren’t always likable.” I would argue that the antagonists in these books engage readers not because they are clever, formidable, powerful, or occasionally humane—but rather because I have instilled in them deep emotions that we can all connect to as human beings.

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In other words, I loved the bastards. At least a little.

You should care deeply about your villains, too, and instill in them the powerful emotions you have felt in your own life. As Donald Maass says in Writing 21st Century Fiction, the key to writing great fiction is to make it highly personal and fill it with the conflict, emotion, and intensity that you yourself have experienced in the highs and lows of your own unique life. If you do that, then readers will remember your villains and your works for years to come.


 

Samuel Marquis is a bestselling, award-winning suspense author. He works by day as a VP–Principal Hydrogeologist with an environmental firm in Boulder, Colorado, and by night as the spinner of the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, the Nick Lassiter International Espionage Series, and a World War Two Trilogy. His thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, and Next Generation Indie), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). His website is www.samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Chelsea Apple at chelsea@jkscommunications.com.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone

Today, I’m discussing the cover of my latest Ellie Stone mystery, Heart of Stone (Seventh Street Books, June 16, 2016). Readers judge books by their covers. They may not choose the book after skimming it, but they certainly pick it up in the first place because of the cover.

Covers attract attention in a variety of ways. The artwork creates mood through images, colors, fonts, and other elements of design. These are the covers of the first three Ellie Stone novels. The amazing Jackie Nasso Cooke of Prometheus/Seventh Street Book designed them all.

What do we see? First of all, there is a consistency in the layout: a clean font, and similar placement of the text. There’s also the thematic repetition of women’s clothing: shoes and gloves. Jackie strives to maintain the same design basics for each cover to build a look, a branding that readers have come to associate with the Ellie Stone mysteries.

One of many advantages of being published by a press like Prometheus/Seventh Street is that they are willing to discuss cover ideas with their authors. That doesn’t happen at every publishing house. Since the Ellie Stone mysteries are set in 1960-61, the marketing folks told me they wanted a stronger nostalgic look for the Heart of Stone cover. They wanted readers to recognize the era instantly.

From the moment I plotted out Heart of Stone, I knew what kind of cover I would like to see. A summer lake with mountains in the background. Ideally, there would be a wooden dock and perhaps an Adirondack chair. And the item I wanted more than anything else was a discarded women’s one-piece bathing suit that matched the early sixties era. But the perfect image proved to be elusive. The art department considered thousands of photographs, looking for just the right one.

They found lots of docks with lakes, mountains, and Adirondack chairs. But they didn’t look anything like 1961. And there were no bathing suits, except those filled with women.

We tried other ideas. I liked this one, but it wasn’t quite right. No lake, mountains, or bathing suit. And no nostalgia.

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This one was perfect to illustrate the nude bathing that runs through the book, but the title would have been lost against the text in the image.

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Jackie explored several other themes that might fit, but no one was satisfied.

This one is beautiful, but it looks more like a young-adult novel cover. A little too wholesome.

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Here’s an idyllic Adirondack lake, and it has a nostalgic look. Nice, but still no bathing suit, no mystery, no fun. And the orientation is landscape, which in this case wouldn’t have worked for a cover.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

Time was running short. We were in danger of having to send out the reviewer copies with no cover art at all.

And then, eureka! I stumbled across the photo below on a stock photography site. It took some imagination to picture the final cover, but I knew Jackie could turn this into a gem. First, we’d need to cut it down to fit a portrait orientation. Then we had to get rid of the hat and flip-flops. They didn’t fit the period. But the rest of the photo ticked all the boxes: the dock, the lake, mountains, and bathing suit. The splash in the water was gravy.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

 

Using Photoshop, I made a crappy mock-up and e-mailed it to Jackie to get her thoughts. She responded almost immediately with the comment, “This one is a contender.” I was thrilled.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

But my version was far from acceptable. Jackie went to work, removing the hat and shoes, and correcting the color. We wanted a faded Kodachrome look to give it more of a retro mood. Here’s the concept she came up with.

I loved it. Everyone else seemed to be on board as well. But my brilliant agent, William Reiss of John Hawkins and Associates, thought the dock looked a little empty. He said he’d like to see something else there to set the period. He suggested a transistor radio. Jackie worked her magic, found the perfect radio, and slipped it in. It was a home run.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

 

And so the Heart of Stone cover was born. It’s sexy without being sexist. It’s fun and consistent in style with the covers of the previous books in the series. It even features an article of women’s clothing. And it evokes the appropriate time and suggests the nude bathing I wanted. If Heart of Stone fails to set the world on fire, it won’t be the fault of the cover.

Heart of Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery arrives in stores and online June 7, 2016. (Seventh Street Books)


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James W. Ziskin is the Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-nominated author of the Ellie Stone mysteries Styx & Stone, No Stone Unturned, Stone Cold Dead, and Heart of Stone. Look for Cast the First Stone in summer of 2017.

This post was originally published on Killer Nashville.

Publishing is Personal

I was recently at a conference where one of the other speakers, an author with her first book out, said she doesn’t blog. She said she put out a monthly newsletter, but she didn’t like blogging so she doesn’t do it.  OMG, radical rebellion – she doesn’t blog! What happened to the rules? One must blog, one must run Facebook ads, one must Tweet!

I am well into the process of launching my first legal thriller, and as any newly published author knows, there is more to do than can be done. No matter how large the staff or how many contract vendors one engages, every opportunity cannot be mined. There is also more available than most can pay for. How does a newbie in the publishing world decide which avenues to explore and which to leave for the next author or the next book? How does a writer new or experienced select the marketing items where they can wisely spend their time and money?

I went through my process by trial and error, at first slinging mud to see what would stick. Early on, I realized that I was going to drop from exhaustion and never have time to finish the next book. Two major things came to the fore that helped me to narrow my focus and discover my personal path to publishing.

First, I hired an expert who kept up with the latest trends, and second, I started paying attention to what I enjoyed in the process. This sounds simplistic, just hire an expert and do what you like – but it’s not that easy.

With regard to the expert, I began my pre-launch process with an enthusiastic, but inexperienced advisor who cost a third as much as my current advisors, but who thought that every idea was a great idea. I followed this enthusiasm for a time, ordering promotional items, buying advertising, and wasting time on things that sold no books, got me little exposure, and drained my energy and my bank account. When I began working with a new publicist, I found that just by nature of the contract process, we explored what was important to me, what would be emphasized, and the strengths that both the advisor and I had that supported my launch. When we executed the contract, we followed a plan we had laid out in advance, without adding new tasks every time we saw a shiny new distraction.

Ok, you may say, “I’m on a budget or I’ve decided to do everything myself.” Same here for part of my campaign. Next, I evaluated each of my virtual staff members and re-assessed my ability to monitor and manage them.  For the things I was keeping in house, I broke the plan into parts and looked at each one individually. I had a mental talk with the part of me that wears the publicist hat, then put on the social media hat, etc. until I went through each member of my internal and virtual team to assess what was working and what was not. I thought about what I or the consultant was good at in each department and set limits based on my honest response to that assessment.

Second, I looked at the tasks I hated doing and either delegated them to someone else or eliminated them from the publishing plan. My personal process brought me to a few conclusions. For example, I love to cook and have a recipe included as part of the story in each of the Texas Lady Lawyer novels, so I did a free Cookbook of Southern Recipes that I give to readers in exchange for subscribing to my mailing list. I also included wine in DOLLAR SIGNS as a part of the plot, so I partnered with wineries for book signings and paired books and wine in my newsletter to promote other authors. These items might be time consuming and feel like work to others, for me it’s play. Next, I looked at social media. I originally thought that Twitter was the place for me, but through the process, I realized I could make a more personal connection on Facebook and chose that method to interact. I designed memes of the best quotes about my book and put those up in a rotation so that I always had someone else praising my novel.

These realizations led me to the point of doing the things that fit my personality best. I began to make genuine connections with winery owners, other authors, and readers with similar interests. I found that when I signed books in another town, I found readers through these mutual interests in addition to reading.

I prepared a presentation entitled Legal Issues For Authors that I use to give a free talk to any writer’s groups that request it. (A similar talk could be given on lighthouses, childcare, ghosts, etc.) The presentation allows me to talk about a subject in which I specialize – law, and combine it with an area that I love – writing. It allows me to make a personal connection with other authors who are also readers, and allows me to feel I am giving something to my community.

All of these time consuming activities, and many others too numerous to mention here, feel less like chores and more like play because they suit my personality and allow me to show my strengths. They also eliminate the black box syndrome where all the information goes in mixes around and comes out the other end in a mysterious fashion. I can actually see the target with this new method and assess whether I hit the bullseye or fall short.

And, to answer your inevitable question, yes, I do blog.  But, I blog about things that interest me – travel, photography, cooking, what’s going on in my real life. Not only does it follow my internal compass, but it provides a more organic and satisfying way to move through the publishing day.


 

Manning Wolfe is an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas. She writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first book in her series featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is “Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King.” A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.

This post was originally published on Murder by 4.