Friday, June 10, 2016

"If it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it"– Interviewing Sue Barnard

Today I'm  very honored and thrilled to interview  Sue Barnard, the author of The Ghostly Father, Nice Girls Don't, and The Unkindest Cut of All. 
Sue and I met on twitter many years ago. We started our writing career almost at the same time, and it's been fun to watch our books being picked up and published!

Hi Sue, before we get down to the real author questions, tell us a bit about yourself. 

  • Where are you from? 
Originally from North Wales, but apart from three years at Durham University I’ve lived most of my life in and around Manchester, UK.

  • Cat or dog?
I’m fond of both, but don’t own either.

  • What’s your favorite dish? 
That varies according to the seasons.  At the moment, it’s fresh asparagus.

  • Your favorite subject at school?
I enjoyed most of them, apart from sport, which I was (and still am) rubbish at.   I didn’t like art very much either, but that could have been because we had a rubbish teacher – one who wasn’t interested in anyone who wasn’t already a budding artisic genius.  So out of a class of 29, at least 28 of us were doomed to mediocrity before we’d even picked up a pencil.   Even now, more than 40 years later, that particular sense of failure has never really left me.

I particularly enjoyed languages, and went on to read French at university.  When I try to speak French I’m often asked if I’m from Belgium, and I’m never sure whether to be flattered or offended.

  • Tea or coffee? 
Tea on waking (we have a teasmade by the bed!), tea with breakfast, coffee mid-morning, coffee after lunch, tea mid-afternoon, coffee after dinner (provided it isn’t too late – otherwise it would keep me awake at night).  

  • If you watch TV - What’s your favorite crime show?
Jonathan Creek, written by David Renwick.  It’s a perfect blend of quirkiness, ingenuity and humour.

  • The last movie you saw?
Florence Foster Jenkins, about the life of the great(?) singer.  Funny and moving by turns.  Highly recommended.

  • Last book you read? 
Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, by fellow-Crooked Cat author Jennifer C Wilson.  It’s a refreshing new take on the story of King Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.

Okay, now that we know more about you let’s talk about the author part.

  1. When did you write your first story, and what was it about? 

If you exclude all those compulsory Composition exercises at school, my first attempt was a short story in the whodunit style.  That was more than 30 years ago.  I found it recently, re-read it, and cringed.  Enough said.

    2. Your first published novel was The Ghostly Father. In it you give the Romeo and Juliet story a totally new twist. How did you come up with that idea? 

I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet but hated the ending.  But a few years ago I came across one of those lists of Things You Should Do Before You Die, and the one which leapt off the page and grabbed me by the throat was Write The Book You Want To Read.  The book I’ve always wanted to read is the version of R&J in which they don’t fall victim to a maddeningly-preventable double-suicide.  

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.

   3.What has changed for you since you’ve become a published author?

In terms of my day-to-day life, not very much.  But it has meant that I can now describe myself as a writer, and can give a positive answer to the inevitable question Have you had anything published?

   4.Has it lived up to your expectations?

If by that you mean “Have I Earned Millions?”, then the answer has to be No – but unless you’re one of the very lucky few, it’s very hard to make a fortune (or even a living) from writing.  Having said that, the rewards in other respects have been overwhelming.  It’s really satisfying when someone – especially a total stranger – tells me how much he or she has enjoyed what I’ve written! 

5.What advice would you give your younger self? Would you encourage a young Sue to become a writer?

Yes, I would – and I’d tell her not to leave it until she’s the wrong side of 50!

   6.Which authors influenced you most? 

Shakespeare (obviously), but also John Wyndham, Joanne Harris, and my dear friend and mentor Sally Quilford, who taught me everything I know about writing romance.

   7.How do you feel about giving away books (Kindle) for free as a marketing technique? Have you done it yet, and were you pleased with the outcome?

I haven’t given away any of my books for free; my publisher doesn’t do that.  But we have had promotions in which the Kindle versions of the books have been reduced in price for an introductory or limited period, and those have been reasonably successful in terms of increasing sales and raising the books‘ profiles.

I must confess I’m a bit wary of totally free promotions; I can’t help wondering if their overall effect is to undervalue the work of the author.  One writer once told me that someone had said to her, “I really want to read your books, but I’m waiting for them to become free before I download them!”  Shocking, I know – but apparently there are people out there who always want something for nothing, and there is a strong risk that free promotions will simply fuel that kind of greed.

   8. What are you working on right now?

I’ve just blown the dust off a long-running poetry project.  Don’t stay in specially waiting for it to be finished, though.

     9.Where can we buy your books?

The paperbacks are all available from Amazon.  The e-books are available from Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks.  The links are here:

The Ghostly FatherAmazonSmashwordsKoboNookApple iBooks
Nice Girls Don’tAmazonSmashwordsKoboNookApple iBooks
The Unkindest Cut of AllAmazonSmashwordsKoboNookApple iBooks

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Flamingos, Fireflies, and GREAT NEWS!

My new novel, For the Fireflies, is being released via my NEWSLETTER! We're eleven chapters in, but it's not too late to catch up!

Also, there's a MAJOR announcement in this weeks newsletter. 
The subscription form is right here, in the right-hand column of the blog! 

Welcome to Key West!
At last, the family is reunited.
While Josh can’t believe his parents bought an RV and drove all the way from Brooklyn, Allie can’t wait to be on the beach and feel the surf on her feet. Standing there, she wonders about Earth, Saturn, and the universe in general…
Meanwhile, Claude is surprised to learn who Joshua’s father is. Will it change their friendship, and how will Annabelle react when she hears the news?
Enjoy the sunset,

~ Mariam

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Memories of 9/11, Flamingos, and New Hope.

Most people in and around Manhattan couldn’t walk away from the city after 9/11, they had to stay and deal with what happened on that day. 
For those who remained, the sorrow may never pass, the memories may never dim, yet life goes on the same way Spring follows Winter. Everywhere, tiny buds of new life blossom into renewed hope for the future. Buildings are rebuilt, babies are born, and the music of the city flows through the canyons between the skyscrapers.

In the same way, Jon and Naomi get to see New York through their daughter’s young eyes, and they finally find the courage to return to the house and the city where they were so happy.
What does all this have to do with flamingos? You'll have to read Chapter 10 of For the Fireflies to find out!

Here's a short excerpt:

Raising his head, he seemed to shake off a heavy cloak. “Then something happened, and I never wanted to come back here, ever again. Your mom and I had to, though, because of the musical. But we never stayed any longer than we had to. Now, though…” 
Smiling at her, he let his hand glide over her braids. “With you here, it’s like I can look at it with fresh eyes, with your eyes.” 
Allie tried to imagine it: Was he somehow sitting inside her head, a mini version of Dad crouching somewhere behind her eyes, and using them like glasses? 
“A bad thing happened in this city not long after you were born, Allie.” He put down his coffee cup on the table by his elbow. “It drove out the memories of the good times, and left only black and dreary days in their place.” 

(psst… the signup form for the newsletter is right here, at the top of the right-hand column! Sign up, read the novel!)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Flowers and Blue Skies

Let me share this lovely day with you.

My walk today took me past the magnolia tree again. Sadly, all its wonderful blooms have gone, and it looks tired and limp like it was to a wild party and now is suffering from a murderous hangover.

There are other blooms out now though, like this beautiful azaleas (maybe they're rhododendrons, don't ask me!):

And this dandelion, totally ignoring the park fence and growing where it wants:

A bit farther down the road, and there are more azaleas (or rhododendrons):

And lilac. Have I mentioned how I love lilac? I could smell the sweet scent of this tree from far away.

There were some violets, too, but they were too deep in shadow to get a good photo of them.
Did you notice the blue sky? The beautiful sunshine?
It's definitely spring here!

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Starry Night

Last night I was trying to explain description to a friend. You know what I’m talking about, right? Description is when your characters see something and describe it to the reader. Or when you, the author, want to describe something to the reader. It’s what you do to get whatever you want to describe getting across? Is it enough to say the ocean was blue and rough or the trees were tall, and the mountains were high? The reader will know what you mean, but will they enjoy reading it? Will it transport them to that place you’re trying to create in their minds?

   Ah, give me a second. I think what we have here is the difference between showing and telling! I know that this has been discussed in many, many, many blog posts before but perhaps I should add my own version. 

   Don’t tell me what you saw. Show me what you felt seeing it. Do you know Monet? Or any other impressionist painter? Gauguin, van Gogh, Turner.  
   When you think of their paintings, do you see a thing first, or the mood the artist was in?
Think of van Gogh’s Starry Night. Stars don’t really look like that.They’re not visible to us as great wheels of light in the night sky; and we rarely get to see the Milky Way. What van Gogh shows us is his impression of stars in the sky, reality filtered through his mind. He shows us the light of the stars that he imagines

   What those impressionist artists did with their paintings, we authors strive to do with our writing. We want to take our readers with us on a journey through our fantasies, we want to show you the world as we see it. That ocean? It’s not just blue and rough. It breathes, and throws tantrums, it talks back to the sky, it dances with the beach. I throws its salty spray onto our faces to lure us into its waves, it tells stories from other continents, from its long trek around the globe. Writers must look beyond the obvious. We reach for the soul of things, and try to bring it out into the light.

   A forest is a forest, and its trees are tall, but it’s also a living thing. It has its own scent, its own air, its sounds and mysteries.

We writers look through the veil of reality, we seek the deeper meaning, we prod and wheedle and tap until it’s revealed to us. We peel away layers of fabric, of the mind, of feelings, until we get to the root of things, and then, when we’ve looked at it for long enough, we bring it forth and present it to the world. 

The trees stretched all the way into the sky, their highest branches reaching for the passing clouds. Rain dripped through the foliage, moving from leaf to leaf ever downward until it came to rest on the mossy ground. The air was rich with scent, a heavy perfume of earth, dampness, cedar resin.

   Or you could say, of course, the trees were tall. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

For the Fireflies – a sequel to the Stone Trilogy!

Did you know that I'm writing a novel exclusively for my newsletter subscribers? 

It's a sequel to the Stone Trilogy, and it tells the stories of Joshua and Allie, Jon and Naomi's children.

If you want to read along, sign up for my newsletter! At this point we're releasing a new chapter every Friday.
I promise that you'll NEVER be spammed! You can find the subscription field right here >>>> at the top of the right-hand column of this blog! 

I'm sharing the opening of the novel with you to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

It was early morning when he left.
Dawn had barely crept over the tops of the trees, and the world was silent save for the lonely cry of a loon, piercing the mist over the water.
His backpack in hand, guitar case over his shoulder, he followed the driveway through the property until he reached the road. At the gate, he stopped to look back. 
Pausing, Joshua drew a deep breath. One more step, and he’d be outside. He’d be free of his past; now just another stranger lost in the world.
Once they realized he wasn’t going to show up for breakfast, his mother would go to his room, and find the note he’d left on his pillow. It wasn’t a long letter, but she’d understand right away. She always did. She always knew.
Hoisting his backpack, Joshua moved forward, the sun at his back, the empty road ahead.
It didn’t take long for a driver to stop. He thought it was hilarious that something as mundane as a milk truck would aid him in his flight. 
“Where to?” the driver asked, his shoulders shaking in rhythm with Gloria Estefan’s “Conga.” 
“The airport. I have an early flight and didn’t want to make anyone drive me. I was pretty sure I could catch a ride.”
“You got lucky then.” He was wearing a muddy-blue baseball cap ringed with sweat stains that resembled waves as they crashed on the beach. “Where are you headed?”
“New York.” Would his family find his friendly chauffeur? How much information was it safe to give away? A grin tugged at Joshua’s lips. As if it mattered. “I have a new job waiting for me.”
The man shot him a dubious glance. “I’m only going into Kleinburg. How are you going to get to the airport? You’re not going to hitchhike all the way, are you?”

“I’ll take the bus.” Another lie. Yes, he was going to try to hitch a ride, but not toward the airport. He wanted to cross the border on foot, or as a passenger in the car of a friendly stranger. He has certain no one would expect that of him. His parents would check the airports, heliports, car rentals, maybe even the train station, but they’d never imagine that he’d set out on foot. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Remember when I promised you photos of the magnolia tree across the street?
Well, here they are! The tree is in full bloom.
The owners were sitting outside on their front steps, enjoying the lovely spring day, when I stopped to take the pictures. I asked if it was okay and they replied, "Of course! Go right ahead!"
I think they're quite proud of that tree.

And if you ask me, with good reason.

When that magnolia tree bursts into bloom the entire neighborhood knows that it's finally spring.

I also found some bluebells (and yes, this time they're really bluebells!)

And the forsythias are out in full force!

And I found some pansies.

Hope you enjoy spring as much as I do!

Oh–and here's a recording of the nightingale that lives in our backyard! Don't worry, the video is black (because it was made during the night, duh) and the quality isn't the best. I made it with my iPhone. But you can still hear the nightingale!