PaperBackSwap Blog


Archive for March, 2011

Author Interview—Monique Honaman

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Monique A. Honaman is the author of The High Road Has Less Traffic, a straight from the heart, inspirational and humorous guide to navigating love relationships and divorce. In the book, she shares her personal journey so that others can learn from it…but make no mistake, this is not some dry self help book.  This is a pull-no-punches, tell-it-to-me-straight and make-me-laugh-through-the-hard-parts read.

Thank you, Monique, for sharing your story with our PBS members.

PBS:      Have you ever written anything before? Why did you feel compelled to write this book?

I did feel compelled to write this book about taking the high road after I was forced to make a similar choice myself when I experienced a relationship implosion of my own, and suddenly found myself staring down the face of divorce. I quickly came to realize the kind of pain and destruction that divorce can inflict on others, especially on children. I decided that I would take my experience and turn it around to help other women who were in the same situation. I began to counsel women facing relationship troubles and divorce, and before I knew it I was fielding calls and emails weekly from women who were friends, or friends of friends, or friends of acquaintances. I found that there were certain pieces of advice that resonated with my newfound circle of friends. I decided to package my experiences and insights into a book that summed up my personal philosophy: that the high road has less traffic, less breakdowns, and more room to accelerate toward your destination. Given a choice, the high road is the best path to take in life, especially when dealing with marriage and family!

I love to read and when I was going through my divorce, I was looking for that book that would be that “girlfriend” who would really lay it on the line for me – who would be funny, raw, honest, smart, let me cry, and make me laugh. I couldn’t find that book, so I guess I took matters into my own hands. While I had written business articles in the past, I had never written (or attempted to write!) a book.

I sat down one night and just began outlining chapters of advice that told my story and how I dealt with my divorce. I thought about all the things I wish I knew, or all the things that people were calling me about. Things like how to tell your kids, how to tell your friends, why telling your mom is one of the hardest things to do, who you need to include in your support network (like a CPA and your gynecologist!), how to hire an attorney, how to adjust to those times when your kids are gone for the first time, how to find forgiveness (I joke about how I went from dropping the F-bomb, to finding a more powerful F-word in forgiveness!), how to start dating again, and how to learn more about yourself so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Before I knew it, I had 22 chapters outlined and it went from there. It was cathartic for me, and it’s been so helpful to others.
 

PBS:    While the idea behind the book is how to take the high road while navigating a divorce, it is actually full of information and ideas about how to manage a marriage and never actually reach that point. Comments?


Yes! When I began to write the book, I envisioned my audience would be women going through divorce. As it evolved, the thoughts began to encompass words of wisdom about maintaining healthy relationships, thoughts about the power of forgiveness in any context, thoughts about being true to yourself, and thoughts about taking the high road in every aspect of life. The response that I have received from both men and women, single, married and divorced, young and old, has been incredible. There are certainly portions of the book that are really relevant to anyone.

One of favorite pieces of feedback came from a married man who told me he read the chapter on making sure you do the little things in marriage. He told me how he made coffee for his wife the morning after reading my book and brought it to her as she got ready. She was thrilled. His message was this: it only took my 5 minutes, but the payback was tremendous. Another married woman told me as a result of reading the book, she and her husband had sat down and really discussed their finances and were able to make some joint decisions about saving and spending. Their communication improved greatly!

PBS:  What advice does your book have for women who are on the fence about what to do or who are facing the hard decision of making this huge change in their life?

My advice is this: relationships are hard work and need to be tended to on a daily basis. You can’t get lazy. Divorce is difficult. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s hurtful and damaging. I am not a proponent of divorce. I encourage people to make sure that they aren’t rushing to the decision to divorce. Often times people can rebuild their relationships, and frankly, make them stronger than they previously were because of renewed communication and intimacy.

On the other hand, there are those marriages which are clearly over. In those cases, I encourage both parties to ‘take the high road’ in dissolving the marriage. No matter how hateful or bitter things have become, these two people were at some point in love enough to exchange vows and get married. Too often divorce leads to low road behavior which is negative and hurtful to all involved … the husband and wife who once pledged true love, any children who may have been born from this marriage, the extended family, the friends … the ripple effect is tremendous. Taking the high road is the best way to get through this situation and still be to look at yourself in the mirror!

PBS:  We’ve all heard the saying “nice guys finish last”? Some might feel that taking the “high road” is just another example of women being expected to the “nice” one and not assert themselves or stand up for what they need. What are your thoughts on this?

I disagree! Taking the high road does not imply being a door matt that others can walk on. Finding forgiveness doesn’t mean you aren’t going to hold the other person accountable for their actions. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for certain behaviors. What is does mean is that you aren’t going to stoop to low-road behavior as well. Taking the high road means engaging in behavior that allows you to look in the mirror every day for the rest of your life knowing that you did what is right by yourself, your family and your friends. Being nice does not equate to being a doormat. You can be assertive, stand up for your rights, and take the high road all at the same time. This is not mutually exclusive behavior. I argue that you accomplish a lot more in life by treating others with respect and kindness, than with low road behavior.

PBS:  What advice can we give our children now, especially daughters, to help them later should they ever be in these types of difficult situations?

Great question. I don’t think anyone ever marries with the expectation that they will find themselves divorced in the future. That being said, 50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. The high-level advice I give to my children is that they need to always take the high road and be honest in everything they do. The practical advice that I will give my children is that need to constantly work on their relationships, that they need to always maintain some level of awareness of their financial situation, and that they need to maintain marketable, employable skills.

PBS:   If you find yourself already on the “low road” in a divorce situation is it too late to move over to the “high road”?  What happens if you are trying to stay on the “high road” but fall off from time to time?

It is never too late to get off the low road and switch lanes to the high road! It will make you feel better! People often tell me that it’s hard to stay on the high road when their partner is engaging in low road behavior. Yes, it is! But, if you stay focused on what’s important to you, you can avoid getting sucked into that behavior as well. I’ve found that focusing on being a strong role model for your children is often the motivation that people need to get on, and stay on, the high road.

Every study out there about how children of divorce fare in the future highlights the post-divorce interactions between their parents as being indicative of how well they cope with being “children of divorce” in the future. To me, that was all the motivation I needed to be sure that my ex- and I handled the divorce, and our post-divorce communications, in a high road manner. We will be forever bonded by our two children and they don’t want to see their parents not getting along constructively. The guilt that comes along with that is huge, and I don’t want my kids, who are innocent bystanders in this divorce, to have to deal with those emotions. The reality is that we now have to co-parent together, and it’s much easier to do that when we are able to communicate about our children constructively.

PBS:   Looking at you now, so pulled together and happy, it is hard to believe you ever hit the low point you describe…how long did it take you to reach this new, good place in your life?

Yes, I am incredibly happy now, and in a way I never imagined. And yes, being blindsided by divorce was clearly my low point. I was incredibly bitter, angry and hateful. I was emotionally fragile. It was difficult to concentrate. These are all incredibly natural feelings that every person has to navigate through. Kind of like Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of death and dying, I believe there are natural stages of emotion that every person going through a broken relationship must also deal with. I also believe that there isn’t a specific timeline as to how long these stages must last. Some people go through these faster than others.

We can probably all think of someone who is holding onto a grudge for something that someone did to them at some point in the past. They can recall every single detail of the ‘infraction’ and they relive it and rehash it every day. That is so tiring and burdensome. It holds you back and keeps you locked in the past. And frankly, the person against who you are holding the grudge is moving on with their life and completely unaware (or doesn’t really care) that you are stuck rehashing this every day. It’s only hurting that person, not anyone else.

As I looked in my life, I did see a few people who had been ‘wronged’ in the past who had never made that decision to forgive. Decades later they were still holding onto bitterness and anger and I knew I didn’t want to live that way. I knew I would have to find forgiveness in my heart in order for me to heal and start moving forward. The decision to forgive was absolutely life-changing for me. Holding onto the anger and bitterness was only hurting me. Nobody else, just me! I learned that forgiveness is a selfish act. I made the decision to honestly find forgiveness in my heart and I felt better. I didn’t need anyone else’s approval or blessing to forgive. I felt the burden lift. I went from being consumed with anger, to being able to see the future and think more logically rather than so emotionally. Carrying around negativity and anger are not attractive features that inspire people to want to hang out with you! I know I would never have started dating and remarried if I hadn’t found forgiveness and begun to move forward with positive momentum.

PBS:   Was the decision to remarry difficult for you? What were your fears?

You would think the decision to remarry would have been a difficult one for me, but actually it wasn’t. When I met my husband, I immediately felt such a strong connection and we communicated so well, that any fears I had (and I did have them!) were immediately discussed and dismissed. You can’t (or rather, you shouldn’t) go through a divorce without turning the mirror onto yourself and learning more about who you are and what role you played in the demise of the marriage. This can be really difficult to do. It can be painful and raw, but it’s so important. I had taken a deep, introspective look at myself, what I contributed to relationships, and what I wanted out of relationships. Entering into a new relationship, and subsequent marriage, I was incredibly clear on what I wanted, and the importance of keeping that connection alive. I tease my husband now that I don’t keep things bottled up … any emotion I have gets expressed immediately … what I like, what I don’t like … and I encourage him to do the same. That level of communication is very healthy for our relationship.

PBS:   Do you have a mantra or personal pep talk you give yourself when things get tough?

Yes! I live by many mantras. I love quotes, and I have signs all over my home expressing certain thoughts that I choose to live by. In fact, every chapter in my book starts with a quote relevant to that chapter. Readers have really responded to these quotes and often email me telling me how much a certain quote has really spoken to them.

One of my favorite mantras that I rely on every day is: “I can’t control what happens to me, I can only control how I react to it.” My kids each have a plaque in their room that says: “Integrity is doing what is right even when no one is looking.” Lastly, I have a strong faith and love the verse from Jeremiah 29:11 that says “’I have a plan for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Please add your comments!

Monique will be reading the comments and respond to specific reader questions. We will choose from the comments to award 2 lucky winners an autographed copy of The High Road Has Less Traffic. Winners will be chosen at random.

Congratulations to Kaoru Y. and Adrienne!  They will both receive an autographed copy of The High Road Has Less Traffic!  Thanks for your comments…..

The High Road Has Less Traffic is available for purchase in the PBS Market

www.highroadlesstraffic.com

Musings, Memories and Miscellany from our MoM’s

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Today our Featured Member of the Month is: Jade K. (Jade4142).  Jade was named Member of the Month in October, 2010.

In 1959, my brother Randy went to school, and I envied him! There, to that brick building strode my brother, to gather and, I knew even then, discard vast amounts of knowledge while I sat home having sugar water tea parties with my dolls! I was green!

He announced at dinner some few weeks later that he was learning to read. I seethed. He scorned his baby sister and his younger brother, for we were not learning to read.

Said younger brother, Brad, moseyed off to find out how fast a tissue would burn, when stuck into the gas flame of our mother’s stove.

I said to Randy, quietly, “Then teach me.”

He eyed his baby sister speculatively. He felt quite indignant that there were uneducated people in his house and it was that small boy’s way to simply fix what was broken.

“It’s hard,” he told me solemnly. “It’s a lot of work to learn to read. And you have to do it the right way, in order.”

I simply nodded. It was far too important to me, to argue or even take the chance that he might not teach me.

I wanted to learn to read. I saw my parents read. I saw my older brothers read. There were things in books that made them smile and sometimes made my mother cry, and sometimes, when it was in the newspapers, it made my mother and father argue. I wanted to know what it was.

Randy took the challenge. At the lofty age of 5, a boy who actually attended school for half a day, he undertook to share some magic skill with me that would make the gibberish in the newspaper and in books, make sense.

I learned to read when I was 3, and I remember even now that moment when the gibberish on the page became words. The world became in that moment, and I became. I became a child who could read. And I found the magic in books, and I laughed, and I cried, and sometimes I discussed what I’d read with others, who argued with me.

My mother’s mother, who had long been a school teacher, heard the news with joy! And she began a lifetime of buying me books. She sent them to me, brought them to me, and had them sent to me. She told me about a place that simply overwhelmed my young mind; the library!

I was a child with a world of treasures. Then I was a teenager with a library that was the envy of every friend who enjoyed reading.

And then I was an adult. And my mother passed on and left me her home. While I emptied it of those things that I did not wish to keep of hers, I put most of my things in storage and got my own house ready to sell.

In May of 2007, my brother Brad, who had never developed any interest in reading, went with me to my storage space to start moving me into Mom’s house. I opened the storage room door and smelled what every book lover instantly recognizes as the stink of mildewing books.

Half an hour later, I, a small woman with a visceral scorn for violence, said to my brother, “If you say that one more time, I promise you, I will beat you to death with that sofa.”

What he had been saying for half an hour was, “They’re just books. Calm down.”

I was not calm, and I would not become calm. Every book but the last Gram had bought for me, two months before she died in 2000, had been in that storage space. Every movie, every audio book, and every printed book I owned but for that one book, was destroyed by a leaking storage space. I was unhinged. I was enraged. I was sunk in black grief. I flung moldy boxes toward the front of the storage space, saying words that only my brothers have ever heard me say. I tore soggy boxes open and dug through stinking black books, hoping that just one had survived the water.

None did.

In 2008, having just purchased a replacement book on a site, I went to their wanted posts and discovered one that said, “If you want free books, go right now to PaperBackSwap.com. You can get free books there.”

I was intrigued. I knew what I was spending on books. I went to the site and registered. I read in the Help Center and clicked on things to see what would happen. When I felt pretty comfortable with the site, I listed some books and requested some books. That was in March of 2008.

Now, in March of 2011, there are no books on my wish list, and my Excel document, created in 2007, titled, Books To Be Replaced, is blank. More than 700 of the books I lost in 2007 were replaced right here on PBS. Gram had bought me hardcovers, and they’d all had dust jackets. Many had been first editions. I replaced them with hardcovers that had dust jackets and were first editions. Right here on PBS.

But the fact that all my books have been replaced doesn’t mean I’m done with PBS. A dear PBS member sent me a link to a site that lists authors of murder mysteries, one of my passions, and their main characters, plots and books published. I am once again a woman on a mission! And PBS will see me through that one, too. I’m choosing one book written by each new author (new to me, anyway) and I will read that single book by each author. If I love what I read, I’ll order the rest, and of course, some will go on my wish list.

The love affair of the century began in March of 2008. PBS and me!

 

If you have any nominations for Member of the Month, submit them to us here.  Your nomination will not “expire”–anyone you nominate will have a chance at getting Member of the Month if enough nominations accumulate over time. Each month the person who has the most votes accumulated when the Newsletter goes to press gets to be Member of the Month and gets a newsletter mention and a nifty MoM icon to wear on profile and forum posts with pride.  So go for it! Tell us who’s helped you in the Forums, who’s been a great swapper, who in your opinion is a credit to PBS.  We are keeping a list of all the nominated members.  Who knows–one of them might be YOU!

Romance Review – Confessions of a Vampire’s Girlfriend

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Confessions of a Vampire’s Girlfriend by Katie MacAlister (writing as Katie Maxwell)

(Ben & Fran #1 & #2  Got Fangs & Circus of the Darned)

Review by Cynthia F. (frazerc)

Publication Date: 11/2/2010

Pages: 368

Fun read!

Confessions of a Vampire’s Girlfriend‘ is an omnibus edition of two very funny young adult novels published under McAlister’s pen name of Kate Maxwell: Got  Fangs? and Circus of the Darned.

Got  Fangs?

Our heroine is Fran, a 16-year-old girl who thinks she’s a freak. Yes, I know most 16-year-olds think they’re freaks but Fran is definitely not your average girl. She’s 6 feet tall and, in her words, built like a linebacker, her parents are divorced, her mother is a witch (for real, not the kind most teenagers think of), and then there’s the fact that she has to wear gloves all the time since if she touches you with her bare hand she gets a quick visit to your head.

Since her father has just picked himself up a trophy wife he has sent Fran to stay with her mother. So Fran is now stuck in a trailer with her mother traveling around Europe as part of a ‘GothFaire’.  Some very odd people are part of the fair – including magicians who can do real magic, a psychic with a dead boyfriend (really dead, like a couple of hundred years dead), and a demonologist who dresses, talks, and behaves like Elvis.  Her best friend at the fair, is Imogen, a 400-year-old Moravian woman reads palms and rune stones.

Our hero is Benedikt, Imogen’s younger brother. (Younger, but not that much younger.) Benedict is a ‘Dark One’, a soulless vampire. Unlike many of the more popular vampires, ‘Dark Ones are truly cursed. Not their fault, in most cases, as their curse is the result of something an ancestor did. But there is a cure, if a Dark One finds his Beloved and bonds with her he gets his soul back.

Benedict has been searching for his Beloved for almost 300 years. He plans to love her and protect her and decide what’s best for her. Then he meets Fran, and she is his Beloved, but she’s not too sure about the love thing, is not impressed with the protect part and he better get over the idea of making her decisions.

So here’s never-been-kissed Fran, with an instantaneous super hot boyfriend she’s not sure she’s ready for, with baggage she’s really not prepared for, and a white witch mother who is really unhappy with the thought of her 16-year-old daughter dating the soulless undead and the power to do something about it.

The plot is pretty light involving Fran solving the thefts at the fair, acquiring a very old horse, and being forced to read palms at the fair to earn the horse’s upkeep. Of course there is the part about Ben dying, or the part where she and Imogen beat up a demon, and the part where Fran learns that a Mississippi kiss is better than an Iowa one… (Read the book for an explanation of that one. Oh, and don’t worry about Ben, he’s sort of immortal.)

Circus of the Darned

Fran is still at the GothFaire which has now moved to Sweden and joined with a group known as the Circus of the Darned. These folks are not average either, since they are part of a religion that still worships the Norse gods.

During this story, Fran acquires a necklace imbued with the power of Loki, raises a group of thousand-year-old Vikings who think she is a goddess and want her to get them to Valhalla.  Along the way she has to take the Vikings shopping, meets the goddess Freya, who is annoyed at being called from a party in Venice, motorcycle riding Valkyries who have been staying at a resort in the Mediterranean, and Loki who wants her horse (don’t ask why) and his necklace back. In the process she gets herself cursed by Loki (but she keeps her horse and the necklace), her Vikings get sent on to Valhalla, and her romance with Ben advances a little.

The sequel to these two books is called ‘In the Company of Vampires’. It is not a young adult story, though it is certainly Ben and Fran’s story.  It is also #8 in the Dark One series published under her Katie McAlister name.

Dark One

1. A Girl’s Guide to Vampires (2003)

2. Sex and the Single Vampire (2004)

3. Sex, Lies and Vampires (2005)

4. Even Vampires Get the Blues (2006)

5. The Last of the Red-Hot Vampires (2007)

5. Bring Out Your Dead (2006) (in Just One Sip)

6. Zen and the Art of Vampires (2008)

7. Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (2009)

8. In the Company of Vampires (2010)

9. Much Ado About Vampires (2011)

Interview with Author Jeri Westerson

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Jeri Westerson is the Author of the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Series, which includes Veil Of Lies,Serpent in the Thorns, The Demon’s Parchment, and her newest book, Troubled Bones, due for release in October 2011. Thank you very much Jeri Westerson for providing us with this interview!

And a very special thank you to Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty) for doing this interview with Jeri Westerson for us!

 

 

Jerelyn: I would like to thank historical mystery writer Jeri Westerson, who has graciously agreed to be interviewed for our own PBS blog, and for also agreeing to participate in the discussion of her book Veil of Lies which will be our June read-along book in the Historical Fiction Discussion Forum.

You have coined the term “Medieval Noir” to describe your work. Would you tell us about this?

Jeri: When I set out to write this series, I knew that I would have to have a different kind of hook for the medieval mystery. What was going to set mine apart from the others out there? So I took a look at the kind of books I liked to read, and besides historical, I liked the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Dorothy Hughes. The stilted prose, the tough guy dialogue, the hard-hitting action. It all sounded like a lot of fun to put into a medieval setting. Now THAT was a book I wanted to read. So I set about figuring out how to do it so it wouldn’t be anachronistic. And then I had to come up with a catchy name to call this hybrid, and “Medieval Noir” fit the bill.

Jerelyn:  Is there any particular reason you chose late 14th century London as your canvas for this book?

Jeri:  There were a lot of interesting things going on at this time. First, there was the boy king, Richard II. He came to the throne at ten years old. His father, the Black Prince, would have been the king but he died before he could achieve the crown. So we have a monarch who succeeded to the throne with a lot of promise. But as is the case with many a king who was crowned as a boy, the reign does not go well. In 1399, Richard was deposed and murdered. An unhappy end to an unremarkable career. But during the time of his reign, is the ongoing hundred years war, knights jousting, the amazing statesman the duke of Lancaster on his campaigns, and the age of Geoffrey Chaucer where English is spoken not only by the common man but by the nobility, a language flowering into its own. So in the background of Crispin’s life on those mean streets of London is all these other events that get to creep into the plots.

Jerelyn:  Who Is Crispin Guest and how did he reveal himself to you?

Jeri:  As soon as I decided I was going to write a “Medieval Noir,” essentially hard-boiled detective fiction set in the Middle Ages, I knew I needed a strong protagonist that would take the reader through many books in the series. I was looking at the tropes of the hard-boiled detective: a tough-talking loner often down on his luck, good with his fists, and a sucker for a dame in trouble. So I knew I needed a fellow like that. I also wanted a man who could read and write, had a facility with languages, could fight with the best of them, and always fell for the wrong kind of woman. The idea of a knight seemed perfect, but to give him enough angst, he needed to be a knight who had lost it all, who had to re-invent himself in the poorer end of town. And then I started researching John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster. Here was a man eminently qualified to lead a kingdom but who didn’t seem to have any ambitions to jump the line of succession. But there were certainly rumors about him doing just that. And when I read that, I knew I had my man Crispin and his reason for losing his wealth, status, and knighthood. He will have been caught up in a conspiracy to put his beloved mentor John of Gaunt on the throne and convicted of treason. Once all that fell into place I knew exactly who he was.

Jerelyn:  Your books often deal with religious relics and medieval prejudices and superstitions. Why is this?

Jeri:  It seemed like a fun thing to do. When I started writing this series, I had come off of about ten years of writing historical fiction that editors didn’t want to buy. I was writing the stories I wanted to read, and I didn’t want to read about the Tudors ONE MORE TIME. After a few years of this, a former agent recommended I switch to writing medieval mysteries as the mystery market was much bigger than the historical fiction market. I had never written a mystery and didn’t have a clue (pardon the pun) on how to write one. So I went to one of my favorite hard-boiled books, THE MALTESE FALCON, and literally took it apart scene by scene, arc by arc, to see what made it work. And I liked the idea of what Alfred Hitchcock called the “McGuffin,” the object that propels the plot, that everyone wants to get their hands on. And it seemed to me that if I added a “McGuffin” to the books, not only would it give me focus, but it could serve as an interesting side note to the plot. Because sometimes the relic or venerable object is vitally important to the plot, and sometimes it isn’t. I didn’t want to fall into something formulaic. This way it can generate all sorts of plot angles.

And let us not forget that this was the age of faith where religion was an intimate part of a medieval person’s everyday life. They are surrounded by the sounds of church bells calling monks and nuns to prayer. The bells marked the hours. Religious festivals marked the seasons. Superstitions went along with all this and so it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone to take communion one moment and consult their astrologer the next. It makes for interesting ways to bend a plot and for commenting on contemporary issued while couching it in a medieval setting.

Jerelyn:  I love Jack Tucker. Did you always see Crispin with a side kick?

Jeri:  No. As a matter of fact, Jack was going to be in the first book and then sort of show up occasionally and that was it. But my agent really liked him as a character and readers did, too, so he gets more to do. And he has become important to the arc of the stories. He provides someone that Crispin can bounce ideas off of and occasionally rescue from peril. And we get to see him grow up throughout the series offering a balance to Crispin, which shows Crispin internally growing right alongside him. You see, for me, the books are all about the characters whose lives get interrupted with a murder mystery. I’m far more interested in them than I am in the mystery.

Jerelyn:  What are the unique challenges you face writing about crime-solving in a medieval setting?

Jeri:  Well, I don’t have to worry about forensics. And in a way, it’s far easier. It takes time. He can’t just pick up a cell phone and call someone. He has to walk all over London and Westminster if he wants to find out something or ask a question. And instead of pulling guns, people pull daggers, so there is more intimate encounters when it comes to choosing violence or not. Crispin has to rely on his wits far more than he would have to if a lab gave him the answers. And there is no police force either so he is essentially on his own, going into places he doesn’t belong. He gets beaten up a lot for it. But he often gives as good as he gets.

Jerelyn:  What are the challenges you have when interweaving real historical people into your plots?

Jeri:  You have to make sure that the history is first. That is, you can’t be changing the history to suit the plot, and so if real people make an appearance in your book it’s a good idea to know where they are at any given time. The duke of Lancaster, for instance, was only supposed to be a walk-on character in the first book and that’s it. But he wouldn’t go away and subsequently shows up in all the books. But I’m writing number five right now which is set in 1386 and he is out of the country until 1389. His presence is important to Crispin’s conscience and his whole reason for being a detective, the Tracker, as he is called. I can’t have letters from Lancaster in Spain to Crispin in London—that wouldn’t be emotionally dramatic enough—but that means we move his son Henry Bolingbroke into the role Lancaster would have played. It always makes the plots more interesting when you must follow the history.

Jerelyn:  Your fourth Crispin Guest book Troubled Bones is due for release in October. What is up after that?

I’m working on number five, called BLOOD LANCE, which will involve a bit of jousting, which I love. That book should come out in 2012. And then after a brief break, I’ll be working on Crispin number six, called SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, which should be released in 2013. (Are you loving these titles? I hope so!) In the meantime, my agent has my manuscript for a brand new medieval series about thieves and con men called OSWALD THE THIEF, a much more light-hearted fun and funny series, a sort of Ocean’s 11 in the Middle Ages. I hope to sell that to my publisher so we’ll have two medieval series out there. Ideally, they’d be released six months of each other so readers can have one fun read while waiting for the other.

Jerelyn:  As a member of PBS I love the community of readers I found here, what are your impressions of PBS?  Do you see a book trading site as helpful to you?

Jeri:  I was briefly a part of another group called Bookcrossing that left books around on park benches and in other public places for strangers to pick up and enjoy, so I get the concept. I think book trading and libraries are all a good idea in any economy. How else are most people to learn about new authors? I’ve found authors I like to read, too, that way. That being said,  there does come a point where I hope readers will buy NEW copies of their favorite author’s books, because that is the only way for authors to get paid for their work and for publishers to see profits. If publishers don’t see profits from authors then they don’t offer them contracts. So I’ve always seen libraries and book sharing sites as advertisements and enticements to readers to find and love new authors, but certainly not the end all.

Jerelyn:  Do you think social media is having a positive effect on getting your work spotlighted?

Jeri:  It’s very hard to quantify blogging, and going to libraries to speak, or social media sites. How many books does one sell from any of these outlets? You can’t tell because it’s not necessarily about impulse buying. These things have a cumulative effect. But, I do know of specific sales I have made by using social media sites like Facebook (Crispin has a page there so go ahead and “friend” him www.facebook.com/crispin.guest). I also know of sales made by those viewing my book trailer. Book trailers, ads, my character’s blog, all of these things provide added value to readers so they see they are getting far more than merely the novel-reading experience. That is important to some readers, not important to others. But I did learn from one book group I visited, that the more there was out there for readers to learn about me and my characters (like the book discussion guides I offer on my website), the better. I try to provide that.

Jerelyn: How do you feel about e-readers, do you think they will be the death of printed books?

Jeri:  No, I don’t. Readers still like the tactile feel of a book. They like to see them on their bookshelves at home. They like to get books signed by authors. By the same token, the convenience of an e-reader can’t be beat, especially if you travel or have difficulty holding a book because of physical ailments. I think they’re keen, though I don’t yet own one. There is room for both. I know people who own e-readers but they still buy print books. Libraries like print books (and that’s where the money is for publishers—sales to libraries). We still use pens and pencils even though we have tons of ways digitally to write. There’s room for both.

JerelynI always wonder about how a writer becomes a writer.  Is there an author or book that made you think “I have got to do this!”

Jeri:  It was more a case of “How can I make a living and stay at home with my toddler?” The arts were all I was interested in. I could do three things well: perform, draw, and write. I wanted to be an actress and aimed all my energy in that direction while in school. But I also always drew and I also always wrote stories for my own enjoyment. I never pictured a career in art or in writing. True, in high school I did write for the school newspaper and even became news editor, but I did that because it was way more fun than taking English Comp!

After being in plays in college I set out for real world auditions and decided that this often humiliating endeavor was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I switched majors to art, because I realized designing all those programs and posters over the years had a name: graphic artist. I got my degree and freelanced in Los Angles for the next fifteen years or so and semi-retired to have a baby. After my son was about two I thought I’d get back into design but during my retirement the whole industry had turned to computer graphics and I couldn’t afford the computers or the lessons. I thought I’d become a novelist, the other and last thing I knew how to do. My husband was surprised because he never knew I wrote novels (it was something I did in secret), but I showed him the pile I had written and started researching the industry and set to work. Naively I thought, “How hard could this be?” Fourteen years later, I knew. That’s when I finally got a publishing contract. In between those years that I wrote novel after novel without a contract, I also became a reporter (so that journalism thing paid off). And that performing thing paid off, too, because I became a soloist and choir director for a local church for a number of years as well. You just never know what you are going to need along the way in life!

Jerelyn:  What was your favorite book as a child?

Jeri:  I had several. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE because I loved good and interesting illustrations; THE CANTERBURY TALES (the child’s version) because I loved the Middle Ages; MY FATHER’S DRAGON series by Ruth Stiles, because of the fantasy (while other little girls were collecting unicorns I was collecting dragons!) Later, when I was a teenager, it was THE LORD OF THE RINGS series because I never knew there were such books out there, this whole world-building experience that joined Celtic and Norse myths with a magical world. The first novel I ever finished when I was sixteen was a Tolkien-esque quest fantasy.

Jerelyn:  Do you have an author that is an “auto-buy” for you?

Jeri:  Arturo Perez-Reverte. He writes literary fiction with all kinds of twists, supernatural or something else. Prose is to die for.

Jerelyn:  I would again like to thank Jeri Westerson for taking the time to be interviewed for the PBS blog,  To read more from Jeri please go to.  www.jeriwesterson.com; you can see her blog of history and mystery at www.getting-medieval.com; and you can read Crispin’s blog at www.crispinguest.com. You can also friend Crispin on his Face book page or follow her on Twitter.

I would also like to tell the members about the read-along of Ms. Westerson’s book Veil of Lies on the Historical Fiction Discussion Forum in June.  Ms Westerson has agreed to join us to answer your questions.  So watch the forum for details.


Please add your comments! We will choose from the comments to award a lucky winner a autographed copy of Jeri Westerson’s book, The Demon’s Parchment. A winner will be chosen at random.

There are also 2 additional prizes from Ms. Westerson for 2 more lucky members who comment. Good luck to all!

 


Mystery Monday – Slow Burner

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Slow Burner by William Haggard

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

From the 1960s to the 1980s, William Haggard was an English writer of what he himself described as “suspense stories with a political background.”  Critics regarded him as one of the best writers in the genre of espionage novels, with the Sunday Express calling him “the adults’ Ian Fleming.”

A novel Haggard wrote in 1958 was Slow Burner, about the leakage of nuclear secrets. It introduced his series hero , Colonel Charles Russell of the fictional Security Executive, a shadowy unit connected to Military Intelligence. Russell ‘s Paul Drake is the highly skilled investigator Major Mortimer. Their conversations about cases rely on logical deduction and they toss around adverbs like “ex hypothesi.”  Like a don, but shrewd, Russell asks searching questions and Mortimer slices away with Occam’s Razor. So, it’s rather talky. “His plots were first-rate, his world-weary characters were slyly intelligent and manipulative, says thriller writer Christopher Fowler, “but a great many scenes ultimately consisted of men arguing in offices.”

But what conversations! His dramatic plots are played out by powerful figures in the public and private sectors. Haggard’s experience living and working overseas and in government gives his stories a genuine atmosphere. His executives, scientists, ministers, bureaucrats, and operatives of various stripes maneuver according to their own self-interested motives and schemes. The constant buzz of “What’s in it for me” lends authenticity.  Very much the old-style conservative like John Buchan, Haggard values objective acumen, discretion, and intelligent realism. Haggard’s protagonists  respect competence even in adversaries and detest crass behavior.

Mystery critic Robin Winks, in Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays (1988), notes: “What has given Haggard his readership is his unwillingness to shed blood unnecessarily, his sympathy and insight into all of his figures, who are seen less in the traditional roles of villain and hero than as actors in a stylish drama in which all are motivated by a reasonable self-interest, and his subtle, ironic, detached voice. His books are not for the impatient.”

Musings, Memories and Miscellany from our MoM’s

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Today our featured Member of the Month is Greg (VOSTROMO). Greg was named our Member of the Month in January, 2011.

Hello, minions. — I’m sorry, that was rude. I meant to say “prior minions.”

I’ve been asked, as your former higher-up and current lower-than, to say a few words about my experience as a PBS Member of the Month. I can assure you it was no picnic — no siree, I had to pay for my own food throughout the entire month. I did lose seven pounds, so there’s that. But even a cupcake would have been nice. Just saying.

Anyway, I was thrilled to discover I’d been nominated, never mind chosen, as a MoM, because I never really thought the whole mass-hypnosis thing was viable. But that turned out to be the best 1-hour class I’ve ever taken. And the cookies at the Y are pretty good, if you get there early.

As it happens, I found out about my election not through the PBS newsletter, which I read every… never or so… but from the personal messages and 500-thread-count CMT posts, which were extra-special because they matched my overpriced bedsheets so nicely.

When I joined PBS back in the pre-Kindle days — imagine, there are people being born now who will never know the thrill of dropping a book from a great height, like a tree branch which just happens to be extremely close to my ex-girlfriend’s bathroom windowsill, and having it not break! — I was a mere piker who, having lived in New York City and spent many a bedusted afternoon sidling through the Strand Bookstore, had only — get this — six hundred unread books on his shelf! I know!! Now, after almost 4 years of near-constant Wish List finessing, I’ve lost count, because my eyesight isn’t what it was and I really have been trying to catch up on all the laundry.

There are a few standard questions which Team PBS has suggested as starting points, so let’s take them just so:

1. How long have you been a PBS member?

I joined PBS in January of 2007, not that it’s really any of your business. I can’t say the day stands out in my memory as particularly noteworthy for any other reason, which is to say it’s unique, since most of my days are unstoppable festivals of unceasing amazement and wonder. Or maybe that’s Clooney, I’m not sure. Yeah it probably is. Oh I remember — I was drinking my morning Folger’s and checking out Lolcatz when I got an email from the President of Namibia telling me I’d won US$4,500,000 in the Pan-African Lottery. Again, kudos to the Y for those awesome classes! I was making out the transfer-fee check when I saw something about PBS on some or other website for People Who Are Cheap And Unashamed, and thank goodness I noticed it because I almost sent out that check! I mean without a stamp or anything! Yeesh!

2. How has PBS impacted your life. What does PBS mean to you?

PBS has impacted my life in some positive and negative ways, to be frank. I’ve certainly enjoyed virtually-meeting the faithful in the Forums, and trying to get them to learn to spell – there are limits, after all, to what hypnosis can accomplish even with the internet – and getting a book in the mail fairly bristles with pleasurable anticipations and frissons of, er, frissonation, I guess. And certainly I’ve saved a lot of money over retail prices. But to be fair, there are downsides: my butt falls asleep now much more than it did before, because I can’t reach the keyboard without sitting down; worse and ironical, I think I’m actually reading less because I can never decide what to start next, so I just go back to the Forums and wait to fall asleep. I know a lot of people post “tell me what to read next” threads and such, but I’m not sure I want to relinquish control to anyone who lives near a Y, if you take my meaning.

As for what PBS “means to me”, I think it stands for “PaperBack Swap” – yes?

3. Did you read as a child? What was your favorite book growing up? What book impacted you most as a child or young adult?

I did read as a child, though I found I enjoyed books much more if I read them using my skills as an adult. Sounding out words phonetically gets tiring, and seems unnecessary for the letters in Penthouse.

The first book I remember reading on my own is a book I wish I could remember more: some YA novel about a kid racing cars with his dad – that’s all I remember, except for a vague, indescribable but definite mental picture of the cover – and I’d give anything to find out what it was and re-read it now! Except my Pan-African Lottery money, and anyway I’m still waiting for that.

If I had to pick a favorite book read while “growing up” (a meaningless concept if ever I heard one!) I’d probably say Harriet the Spy. But the short stories The Problem of Cell 13 and The Lady or The Tiger? made as big an impression on me as anything ever since, at least after my sub to Penthouse ran out.

4. What is your favorite or most meaningful book read as an adult?

You mean, other than Penthouse? Well, as I’ve noted a few times in various CMT threads I’m very hesitant to single out specific items as absolute favorites or most meaningfuls because I think the cumulative effect of time has a huge impact on what and how much one appreciates any type of artistic work – you are a different reader every year! I also find there is a gap between what one may consider best and favorite – certainly, to switch media for a moment, Citizen Cane is among the best and most meaningful films ever made, but it can’t hold a candle to Kung-Fu Panda in rewatchability. I can say with confidence that Moby Dick, Song of Solomon, and Ninety-two in the Shade are among the novels I consider to bridge the gap quite well; I’ll never forget The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy but I don’t know if I want to re-read it all that often. I loved Catch-22 and Something Happened and Rabbit, Run and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The City and the Stars and of course I could go on and on and on, like I always do anyway.

Certainly the works of Alexander Pope made a tremendous impression on me, and I have striven ever since to give up any hope of achieving real wisdom.

Lastly, I will single out Studs Terkel’s Working as having had a particularly strong impact on me, because it affected my sense of place in the world profoundly, reading it as I did at the start of my musings about such things, which never end.

5. What are you reading now?

I’m ¼ of the way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while I’m enjoying it, I had no idea how old-fashioned in scope and style it was. I haven’t read such a detailed work since How to Hypnotize Everyone in Your Neighborhood, and even that was only six pages long with illustrations. Actually the contract with the Namibian Lottery Council was pretty complicated, but of course who reads contracts, am I right?

6. What would you like the PBS members to know about you?

My middle name is the single initial X. Or that’s my dad’s name on my birth certificate, I always get those two confused. Damn.

If you have any nominations for Member of the Month, submit them to us here.  Your nomination will not “expire”–anyone you nominate will have a chance at getting Member of the Month if enough nominations accumulate over time. Each month the person who has the most votes accumulated when the Newsletter goes to press gets to be Member of the Month and gets a newsletter mention and a nifty MoM icon to wear on profile and forum posts with pride.  So go for it! Tell us who’s helped you in the Forums, who’s been a great swapper, who in your opinion is a credit to PBS.  We are keeping a list of all the nominated members.  Who knows–one of them might be YOU!

Fantasy Friday – Lies of Locke Lamora

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The Lies of Locke Lamora by  Scott Lynch

Review by Bowden P.  (Trey)

The Lies of Locke Lamorra isn’t a good book. It isn’t a great book. It’s a really good book! I’ll admit it has some flaws that keep it from being a great book though.

Lies is about the adventures of Locke Lamorra, priest of the Crooked Warden (God of Thieves) and leader of a gang of second story men called the Gentleman Bastards. He’s also a near mythical con artist called the Thorn of Camorr, who preys upon the greed and gullibility of the nobles of Camorr. Normally, committing a crime against the nobility of Camorr simply isn’t done, because of the Secret Peace between the ruler of Camorr and the leader of Camorr’s underwold. The book is also about how Locke became a Gentleman Bastard, his friend Jean Tannen became one as well, the City of Camorr, its history and how all of these interact to make life interesting and adventurous for Locke, Jean and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards.

There are many characters involved – the Thiefmaker, Father Chains, Calo and Galdo Sanza, Bug, Capa Brava, Nazca Brava, her borthers, Don and Doña Salvara, and the Grey King all play prominent roles. However one gets left out in all the reviews I looked at: Camorr.

As readers, we get a fair amount of history through Chains education of the young Locke and info dump flash backs, that tell us how things came to the current state of affairs. I was particularly taken with the emergence of independent brothels, the tale of handball and revenge and why killing a Bondsmage is an incredibly bad idea. All of these little things give us the character of the city and its inhabitants. These become very important in how it shaped Locke, the Gentleman Bastards and the Grey King, just like a parent shapes a child’s personality and worldview.

All of these things are part of the arsenal of Chekhov’s guns that Lynch places in the book. From the alchemical gentling of animals and people, the plague that orphans Locke, how Capa Brava came to power and kept it, to the Pennance Day gladiatorial bouts against sea life and the professional gladiators that fight in them and the Secret Peace. All of these are hung, and eventually used.

Camorr’s character is also worth exploring. Its obviously inspired by Medieval and Renaissance Venice (and maybe, Merovinge). It is a center of shipping, drawing off the wealth of trade routes and industry. It has wealthy nobles and merchants, an organized police force and a secret police force. It also has Elderglass towers, skyscraping fortresses of the Eldren where the elite of the nobles make their homes. They’re also all but invulnerable to what humans can throw at them. Camorr is a vital and bustling place. It’s also a brutal one, with weekly hangings (including children), no organized charity, disappearances by the government, gang violence that is beyond the pale and regular gladiatorial bouts against vicious carnivorous sea life. It’s an interesting place. Not one I’d want to live in, but I don’t mind visiting though.

I liked the characters that were fleshed out, specifically Jean and Locke. I liked Locke for all that he is mostly larceny and nerve. He’s also human with flaws. He loves a woman that’s a thousand miles away from him because of their relationship. He’s loyal to a fault. He also has a mind like a broken backed snake and is greedy enough to attempt stealing the stars from the firmament. And, he can’t fight worth a damn. He’s not an omni-competent hero, but very competent within his vocation.

My biggest gripe with the character of Locke Lamorra is that in the early portions of the book, he seems overly favored by the author. He’s wonderful, the best conman in the world who’s got a gang at his back and pulling off the most successful con ever. This is eased when the Grey King and the Falconer take him down several pegs and take away what he values most.

Jean is interesting. He looks big and soft – like the scion of a merchant house, a scholar or a noble. He’s also very good with numbers, able to do complex sums in his head and likes to read. He’s also the muscle of the Gentleman Bastards, being both a brutally effective fighter and possibly a chosen of the Lady of Long Silences (the Goddess of Death). He’s an interesting mix of traits and feels real – sort of a two fisted Meyer Lansky.

Now, the book does have weaknesses. Many of the characters never move beyond brief sketches, particularly Nazca, Calo, Galdo and Bug. This is a weakness because we’re supposed to emphasize with Locke and Jean when horrible things happen, and they take vengeance. Because of the lack of depth, it felt forced. Another is the opposition. The Falconer particularly rankled me, because he is a mustache twirling villain. Or perhaps a child with a magnifying glass and an ant hill to torture. At his best, he’s petty, spoiled, thin skinned and never has been thwarted at anything before. Then he meets Locke… This isn’t something I’d expect from a mercenary mage. I’d expect a higher level of professionalism.

The Grey King is better though. He has reasons for what he does. In his own mind he is a hero for what he does and those reasons make sense for that. But then he goes well beyond what is expected from his actions and it takes him into the irredeemable. Still, he’s a sketch only gaining life near the end.

It also badly fails the Bechdel test. There are no female lead characters at all. Oh, Doña Salvara and the Countess Amberglass emerge in the last third of the book, but not soon enough. Worse, they spend their time talking about the Thorn of Camorr…

Still, it is a really good book, easily worth four stars.

Likes:

●        The fleshed out characters of Locke and Jean.

●        The city of Camorr.

●        The fight scenes.

●        Locke and Jean’s apprenticeships in the Gentleman Bastards.

●        The sheer number of Chekhov’s Guns scattered through the novel.

Dislikes:

●        The fact so many of the characters away from Jean and Locke never became more than sketches.

●        The Falconer. Yeah, he’s fun to throw peanuts at, but I’d have expected better.

●        The lack of strong female characters.

●        Apparent meta-ficitonal elements with Locke seeming like a Marty Stu.

Suggested for: Fans of the Merovingean Nights series, The Sting, Vorkosigan series, The Golden Globe and, maybe, The Name of the Wind. Also for fans of heroic rogues and thieves.