Dear Future NY Times Best Sellers,
I’ve been where you are. You want to give up before you’ve even started. Writing a whole book seems like an impossible accomplishment. But let’s say you get to finish one. Oh the horror! You need to find an agent… talk about a needle in a haystack. Let’s just throw the towel now, right? Let’s get a nice secure well paid job and turn off your imagination and creativity. Let other worry about these things.
Well Future Amazon 100, don’t give up just yet. Keeping writing, the more you write the better you get. You will develop your own style and you will get comfortable in one or several genres. Don’t sell out, write what you want to write about not what is trending. You’ll stand out more. Leave Jane Austen alone! I’m serious… you can write your own love stories.
Lastly, the word of publishing is changing. Have faith in your work, find yourself a nice group of writers for advice and support, get a great editor to make you sound talented and never stop believing in your books no matter what. And…Future USA Today Best Seller, you already have a believer in me.
Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba.
TITLE– Bird Of Prey – Sémya Slotin Mystery #1
SERIES – Sémya Slotin Mystery
AUTHOR – Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba
GENRE – Mystery Romance
PUBLICATION DATE – October 7th 2013
PUBLISHER – Ever After Edition
COVER ARTIST – Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba
This was supposed to be an easy case…
Sémya Slotin had spent the last three years living in London with her best friend Polliannah Koch staying away from solving cases. After Hawaii, she was taking a break from puzzles, cases and mysteries that could potentially get her killed. Instead, she had been doing her second and third favorite things, drinking and selling expensive vintage wines and having earthshattering sex with the mysterious, sexy, beautiful but ever so secretive Josh Heinz. Life in London was good….until her funds ran out. Too much wine drinking, not enough wine selling!
When fashion designer and adoptive mother, Annika Slotin, summoned her back to Paris to hire her for what Sémya considered being the easiest case of her amateur sleuth career, all she could think of and seeing was money signs and a well-deserved Cuban holiday once it was solved.
What Sémya didn’t see was her stumbling on the fresh corpse of supermodel Johanna Cartier. She didn’t think that male model turned fashion designer Julian Marais-Caldwin, who also happened to be Sémya’s ex, would be suspected of brutally murdering her. Johanna was his girlfriend, his muse and he loved her. Sémya didn’t see the dead bodies piling up or the conspiracy theories.
Sémya was a little rusty. But then again, it was supposed to be an easy case and she was going to solve it. One vintage wine at a time… Sémya Slotin was officially back in business!
Polliannah knew that Sémya would go all Nancy Drew on her tonight. After playing nice with a few guests from the fashion house, she discreetly slipped to the hallway and gestured her to come with her. “I just need to see what’s going on over there?” she whispered as she was removing her shoes.
“Is this not a felony?” she asked Sémya. And she wasn’t going to remove her shoes! Sémya frowned back. How could it be a felony, they are not breaking and entering. They are already inside the house. Every step she was taking was making a sound. “Sorry,” she whispered when Sémya hushed her for the fourth time.
“This house is a maze,” she said opening the third room. It was yet another bedroom, another empty bedroom. She looked around, and apart from the furniture, the place was empty.
“What are you searching for?” She whispered.
“Something…anything. I’ll know when I see it,” Sémya muttered back. “Hide here,” she said when they heard footsteps. She left the door slightly opened so they could see. Johanna was at the edge of the corridor with the gorgeous man they saw at the beginning of the party.
“She’s cheating on Julian?”
“Hush Polli, I want to hear what they’re saying,” she told her.
“Because you have dog hearing?” Polliannah said. The man smoothly passed his hand around Johanna’s waist but she removed it. “Okay maybe he’s just a grabby guest?”
“No, he’s completely invading her personal space. She’s just being careful,” Sémya said.
“Peter! Not here, not now.” Johanna said before moving away.
Peter stayed behind and looked their way. They both held our breath until he walked away. “And now I found it,” she smiled. They quickly sneaked back to the party.
“So are you going to tell Julian?” Polliannah asked her.
“Tell him what? That she was talking to some bloke?” She said as she put her shoes back on. “This is Eileen Clarke,” Sémya told Polliannah when the bubbly blond woman joined them. “You’re late but you look lovely tonight.”
“Nice to finally put a face to the name, Polliannah I presume.” Eileen blushed and turned her attention the younger woman who was next to her. “And this is Emma Blum, Johanna’s assistant. She organized this entire shindig for Miss Cartier. I just got here but everything looks great!”
Emma looked a little shaken. “Are you alright Emma?” Sémya said.
She looked away for a bit but smiled. “I’m fine. Who’s up for a tour?”
Polliannah looked at Sémya, they just had their own private tour. Eileen looked very excited about the idea. They all nodded back. “Shall we?” Emma said.
CHARACTER BIOS & DREAMCAST
1 $25 GC amazon, iTunes or BN
10 Kindle Copies of The Plot Thickens, Bird Of Prey first sequel
ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE
Meet Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba
The Author, The Blogger, The Cheeky Reviewer
“My life journey is like my playlist, amazingly unique but full of contradictions with surprising joys with every song…”
I was born in Quebec City, Canada from Gabonese parents but grew up in Paris and Libreville the Gabonese capital until the age of 18. Are you yawning yet? I am…
I moved back to Canada in 1999 after high school in Libreville to study Cinematography and Digital movie production in Laval University in Quebec then The International Academy of Design and Technology in Toronto. After graduating in 2003, I decided to sell my soul to the corporate world and worked in the Benefit Outsourcing Industry for seven in Toronto before reconnecting with her first passion writing.
“A teacher told me in high school that people didn’t read anymore so I decided that I would make movies instead…so that didn’t stick…”
I finally went back to school to study creative writing at Georges Brown College in 2010 and 2011. I started to write The Coulda Woulda Shoulda Song Series as an assignment and finished Book One in late 2011 before moving to London.
And the rest as they say is history… Almost two years later, I’m in London and wrote three novels: This Could Have Been Our Song! A coulda woulda shoulda ballad… (Book one) currently available on amazon and soon in iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Nobles and Smashwords. The sequel This Would Have Been Our Song! Catchy tune and dancers tales will be release in January 2014. Bird Of Prey, my first mystery novel will be release in October 7th, 2013 on paperback before its wide release in November 25th, 2013. It will be followed by The Plot Thickens (a novella) in January 2014 and Polliannah Got Married! in April 2014 or earlier.
STALK DANIELLE HERE
Writing the Second Draft
New writers are often encouraged not to worry about editing themselves when they first sit down to put words on paper (or on computer screen). The first draft is “the vomit draft,” they are told. Just get it down, that’s the important part. Let the words flow, write down whatever it is that comes in to your head, just keep going till you get to the end. Then put the work in a drawer (some kind of metaphysical computer drawer) for a few weeks or months, so you can edit it with a clear head. Or something like that.
The problem with this advice, as good as it may be, is that it assumes two very important things: One, that writers are able to recognize problems with their own writing simply by putting the work away for a few weeks, and, two, that writers will be able to come up with solutions to those problems and make those necessary changes.
Friends, those tasks are a lot harder than they sound. There’s a reason that publishing houses employ professional editors; there’s a reason indie writers are strongly encouraged to hire freelance editors; there’s a reason that even professional Hollywood screenwriters are often kicked off of projects that began in their own head. I’m not saying this to scare you away. I’m telling you this because if you’re at the editing stage, and you’re feeling stuck – that your book is possibly the worst thing ever written in the history of man – it’s completely natural. (If you think your first draft is perfect right down to the semi-colon on page 173, that’s an issue as well.) It’s probably not as bad as you think, but you’re right – it’s not ready to be evaluated by agents or publishers, or uploaded to Amazon if you’re going directly indie. (Even indie authors are obligated to make their work the best it can be.)
I highly advise you to hire a freelance editor once you’re convinced you can’t make the work any better on your own. Before that step – or in lieu of it, if you’re short of funds – try to get as many beta readers as possible to read the book and offer constructive feedback. You don’t have to listen to everything that everyone says, but if a few of the readers are saying the same thing, that’s advice you should probably take.
Before that, though, you do need to take a crack at the manuscript on your own, as frightening as that may sound. Where to start? It’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint the exact problems in our own work. Often, we read it and are left with the disquieting feeling that something’s wrong, that things need to be changed, but clueless about exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. Fortunately, like happy families, problems in works of fiction tend to fall along similar lines. Here are the obvious things to check for and fix when evaluating your first draft:
- The story is too episodic. Your protagonist has a goal, and the novel is the story of the steps she took to reach the goal. Either she wants to better her life, or she’s experienced an upheaval and just wants things to get back to normal (or a little better.) Each plot point gets her closer or further from her goal. In an episodic novel, however, the protagonist doesn’t have a goal. Things happen for no particular reason; events are disconnected from each other. Some plot points can be removed completely without affecting the end of the book. (It’s okay to have sub-plots, but they are called sub-plots for a reason… they need to impact the main plot.)
How to fix this: Tape this sentence onto your laptop: My protagonist wants X, but Y keeps getting in her way. Then do a strong rewrite to strengthen everything that deals with X and Y but jettisons all the other letters in the alphabet. Yes, this is a heavy, frustrating rewrite, but you’ll have a better book as a result.
- Your protagonist is passive. This can be a difficult one to diagnose, because passive in this case doesn’t mean inactive. Is your protagonist in charge of her own life, or does she just react to things around her? Some degree of reacting is inevitable, but referring to the point above, your protagonist has a goal. She must take actions to achieve that goal. If all the actions are happening to her – she wins the lottery; she’s chosen at random to be a Bachelor contestant; a Hollywood agent plucks her from a drugstore stool – she is a passive character. Your heroine has to act and set in motion the things that happen in her life.
How to fix this: Rearrange events so that she acts to make them happen. Maybe she follows home that Hollywood agent and blackmails him; maybe she bribes a Bachelor producer. This fix isn’t really that tough – once you develop an eye for seeing what’s active and what’s passive behavior, it’ll become a habit.
- The narration violates the rules of point of view. Briefly, if you’re writing in first person, your narrator can’t describe events that happened when he wasn’t there or thoughts of people other than him. This is also true for third person that is limited to the protagonist. The most complicated point of view is when the writer decides to include several characters’ view points. If you chose to do this, please check out a book that describes how. It’s too easy for your book to end up a confusing mess of different characters shouting for their stories to be heard.
How to fix this: The easiest way to avoid this problem is to write in first person from your protagonist’s point of view. If you must have more than one protagonist, alternate chapters and points of view. Never switch point of view in a paragraph.
- Your supporting characters are unbelievable. Supporting characters are the stars of their own lives. They don’t know they are trapped in a book about someone else. Too often newbie writers create supporting characters – the mom, the best friend – that exist solely to give the protagonist advice. This leads to boring, conflict-free scenes.
How to fix this: Create a compelling life and back story for these characters. These events don’t necessarily have to make it into the book, but they will enrich the character. And have them disagree with your protagonist, often and vehemently. Conflict is the backbone of a scene, not coffee and a sympathetic shoulder.
- Your tone is inconsistent. In today’s publishing climate of genre-mixing, just about everyone is adding comedy or horror or salsa to a standard women’s fiction drama. Comedy, it seems, is the most popular seasoning, and the most difficult to mix in with heavier fare. Sometimes a person is making jokes when they fear for their life and it works because that’s the character’s defense mechanism; other times it just comes off as strange. Janet Evanovich can have Stephanie Plum cracking wise when her car blows up, but it’s a challenging skill for the rest of us to develop.
How to fix this: The easiest fix is to keep your comedies funny, your tragedies tragic, your dramas dramatic and your mysteries mysterious. If your main character insists on being funny, be strict about making sure that humor does not leak into the narrative voice.
Keep these points in mind while you go through your first draft. Read it quickly, take notes but don’t start making changes until you have a plan in mind. Everything’s easier with a plan.
But wait… I didn’t say anything about proofreading, finding typos, copy editing, sentence structure, or the serial comma. Please don’t worry about any of those issues until you’re ready to tackle your very last draft. There’s no point in worrying whether a sentence takes a comma or a semi-colon if you switch points of view three times in the same paragraph.
Remember, someone once said that writing is rewriting. Then they crossed out the last word and changed it to “editing.” There are people who think the editing stage is actually easier than the writing (the words are already there!) and people who’d rather chuck the whole thing and start over with a new story.
Finish your project. Dive in and do the hard work. Not only will your writing be better for it, but that sense of accomplishment will carry forward to other aspects of your life.
KEEPING SCORE is in sale this week for 99 cents!
When her son wanted to play travel baseball, Shannon Stevens had no idea the worst competition was off the field…
When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.
And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.
About Jami Deise…
A lifelong resident of Maryland, Jami Deise recently moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, along with her husband Tom, son Alex, and dog Lady. A baseball mom for over 10 years, “Keeping Score” is her first novel. Jami is an associate reviewer at www.chicklitcentral.com and a generalist reader for an NYC-based literary agency. Along with women’s fiction, she loves all things horror and watches too much TV.
Keeping Score is on sale for 99 cents this week!
on Amazon (Kindle/paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E6GHQYM
on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/340759
Writing in a Tsunami
When I was younger, before I had a husband or kids or a mortgage, I had many restrictions on writing. What time of day was appropriate, among countless other conditions. Before I was married, had two kids, and got swallowed by my house, how many works of fiction do you think I published? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
I make my living as a copywriter and ghostwriter of nonfiction and, more recently, fiction. So, yes, I published more than thirty works of nonfiction before I turned thirty-five, but for some reason, I could never get the fiction out. I had the “ideas,” I just never met the specific, ridiculous, “ideals” I set up for myself to actually do this fiction writing:
* at night, but not too late
* only Tuesday through Thursday (need to party all weekend, and then recover!)
* need to write on a clear head (see above)
* but also need to do some considerable drinking of wine to get the words to flow…
* need absolute quiet
There were about 20 others, but you get the idea. If I could not write in the ideal situation, I could not write. That cost me about fifteen years.
I finally came to realize that I was never happier than when I ran dialog and plot lines in my head, and I knew I had to get them out of me. But how could I possibly have time to write–with a job and a freelance business and a house and two small kids to take care of? I had to make the time. If it meant waking up at 4am or scratching out notes while I waited for the kids at the bus stop, I had to find those stolen moments, because in them was my whole reason for being. (I wrote so much of The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything longhand at the bus stop, and sometimes could even be found with my laptop smushed between me and the steering wheel. True story.)
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me–that I’m some super over-achiever. I’m not. I’m actually quite lazy. (Really, you should see my house.) But I came to realize that if I wanted to be a writer, if I really wanted to be a writer, I had to force it into my life.
Now, when people ask me about my writing process, I can honestly say it’s like writing in a tsunami. There are always kids swirling around–my daughters and their friends. And debris. Lots of debris. There are a million tasks that can’t be put off every day (plus a million others I ignore). My writing environment is noisy and sort of dirty. But all the restrictions are lifted now. And now that I know there are no ideal conditions for writing, I’ve been writing my face off–I’m shooting to release three novels in 2014! Why not?
All I’m saying is if I can do it, you can do it. When you really want to do it, you will. Just remember:
- There is no such thing as an “ideal” time to write. Let writing come when it comes. Don’t give it restrictions; it will resent you. Embrace it. Let it climb into your lap whenever it needs a cuddle. It will reward you.
- Keep prepared. Carry a pad and pen with you at all times. If you wake up in the night with an idea, sit up and scribble it down. Don’t be lazy. If you get an idea in the shower, step out of the shower, drip over to the sink or toilet or wherever that pen and pad is and jot it down. (Note: Ballpoint pens are your best bet in this situation.)
- Your muse does not judge you. Your muse is not a fussy houseguest. Your muse wants to hang out with you in your PJs in your messy living room and drink wine and watch Lifetime TV with you and giggle with you. If you view your muse more like your pal and less like your mother-in-law*, you’re going to have a much more relaxed relationship.
- It’s now or never. You can spend your whole life talking yourself out of writing. I meet people like this every day. I nod at the excuses of why they’d love to but just don’t have the time. I hope some day, like me, maybe they’ll see that they do. Life is short. If you have dreams, live them. If you want to be a writer, write.
* Just for the record, I use this “mother-in-law” thing as a broad-stroke, sort of cliched example. I have an awesome mother-in-law. (But I still clean for her. Not really for any one else.)
Thank you to Burning Embers author Hannah Fielding for guest blogging today!
Confidence for Writers: Believing in Your Book Idea
I’ve wanted to be a writer since childhood, and at a tender age I began writing stories to impress my governess and parents, and later to amuse my peers (it’s amazing how popular writing romance stories can make you at a strict convent school!). But it was always books that held the biggest fascination for me. My house was full of them. I devoured them in single sittings. I knew I wanted to be a book writer when I ‘grew up’. But the problem was, finding the Big Idea.
My first novel was Burning Embers, and the idea for the novel danced about in my imagination for a long time before I finally put pen to paper. Why? Partly, I needed to find the time to write, and the discipline. Partly, I needed to research the setting, Kenya in the 1970s. But mainly, I needed to believe in the idea enough to go for it.
So how do you do it? How do you take that idea that’s teasing you, keeping you awake at night, causing you to zone off in a daydream any time of the day, and commit to it? How can you say to yourself, ‘This is it! This is the one! I’m going to run with it!’?
I don’t have a magic answer. But I have written five novels now, and I have come to a place where I no longer doubt a book idea when it forms . Here are some ideas to help build confidence and take you from dreamer to doer:
- Write up the idea. Plan the book. Look at it from every angle. Start to make it real, not just something locked up in your head.
- Share the idea with someone you trust, such as a family member or a friend whom you know loves books in the genre. Brainstorm together. Be open to feedback – and especially to encouragement!
- Research the marketability of the idea. Has it been done before? Is there a market for it?
- Research elements of the story. Test how you feel. Is your excitement growing? Is the idea blossoming?
- Put the idea away. Try to let it go. Struggling? Well, that’s a good indication that you love this idea.
- Read lots of books, both in the genre you want to write and outside of it. Toni Morrison once said, ‘It there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ Are you feeling that way about your book? Do you feel bereft because you can’t read it?
- Think about spending many, many hours lost in the story in your mind. Does your stomach plummet at the idea? Or are you itching to begin?
Finally, you reach a point where you write – because you must write! But importantly, once you’ve believed in your book idea enough to write it, you’ve got to hold on to that belief forevermore! Through the publishing process, and – crucially – through the marketing process. Your book is your baby. No one should love it more than you, its creator.
Maybe your book won’t be a bestseller. Maybe not everyone will love your Big Idea. In truth, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you believe in it. Because then every moment and every drop of energy you dedicate to your book is worthwhile. Then, when you are old and grey and your eyes drift to the book – your book! – on the shelf, you’ll be filled with pride.
And – most excitingly – you’ll have the courage to believe in a whole new idea when you’re ready, and you’ll do it all again. Because you truly are ‘a writer’.
Hannah Fielding bio
Hannah Fielding is a novelist, a dreamer, a traveller, a mother, a wife and an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: she writes full time, splitting her time between her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.
Please welcome Facebook Jeanie author Addison Westlake to CLP!
I’m a chick lit writer. My books are filled with young women finding themselves and discovering love with lots of bumps in the road and pratfalls along the way. But back when I was in my early to mid 20s in the middle of dating craziness, bouncing from one hilarious bad date to the next, I wrote serious stuff. I wrote political essays and research papers.
Now that I’m in the next phase of life—happily married with young kiddos—what do I write about? Twenty-something characters fumbling around trying to figure out who they are and whom they’re going to end up with.
It’s got me wondering: do you have to be out of a phase of life to write about it?
I was an English major in college and I remember studying James Joyce. So much of his writing is set in Dublin, all about the Irish in Ireland. But he left Ireland at the age of 22. After his last visit at age 30 he never returned, yet he wrote about it the rest of his life. I recall a writing teacher posing the question—did Joyce have to leave Ireland to write about it?
Now, far be it from me to compare my lighter-than-air comedies to the likes of Ulysses. But maybe the same principal applies? I can certainly see how it works in extremes. If you’re in the middle of solving a murder mystery in real life you probably don’t have time to be writing one.
It makes me wonder, what is the typical profile of a romance or chick lit writer? For me, now that I have some distance from the all-consuming question of Is He The One???—not to mention How Do I Look In These Jeans???—I’m finding it really entertaining to write about that time of life. It still feels fresh enough that I can conjure it up in vivid detail. Yet I have enough emotional distance to really see the humor in mistakes, the hilarity in bad decisions.
For example, back when I was on a first date with a man who never took off his sunglasses inside of a dark restaurant, it didn’t seem that funny. I remember the hour-long meal felt like it lasted a whole day and I prayed I didn’t run into anyone I knew for fear I’d die of embarrassment. Now, I love that I went on that date. I haven’t used that scene in a book yet, but it’s bound to happen.
How about you? When you write, are you drawing on stuff that’s happened recently, in the past, or perhaps you write about things you’ve never experienced at all? How much of what you’re writing about do you need to know first-hand? Is writing best when we’re describing what we’re feeling in the moment, or reflecting back on something in the rear-view mirror? I’m curious, are we all just like Joyce?
Please welcome What Remains author Philip Leslie to CLP!
I hate writing first drafts. There’s nothing as intimidating as the blank page. Actually there is: a whole wad of blank pages. Various tactics I’ve adopted to get past this intense dislike (more accurately, fear) have included writing a draft of a novel entirely in dialogue, with the narrative reduced to stage directions for fleshing out later; and constructing novels out of umpteen short sections. This latter method, which is the equivalent of building a house out of Lego, enabled me to add new material piecemeal, anywhere in the book, completing the story from the inside out, as it were, rather than ‘knitting’ it from page 1 onwards.
Plotting is not something I find easy. My preference is for books (and movies) that are light on twists and turns. I’m always irritated when former lovers and long lost relatives turn up (I’m talking books and movies here) and cause ripples in the status quo. Thus, when I have an idea for a book or story, characters and setting come first; giving them something for them to do is an afterthought.
From the start I’ve written first drafts in pen on paper. I’ve tried inputting straight onto typewriters, or into Word/Pages, but with limited success. One ballpoint-and-paper book I’ve been working on and have put to one side for the time being is a prosimetrum, in which sections of prose are mixed with poetry. It’s unlikely to be published as it’s a load of tripe, but so far I’ve spent two and a half years on it, writing for writing’s sake. Every one of its poems began life as a handful of words which sprouted new and different words with each rewrite. Some of the poems have had fifty complete revisions, and yet they’re still not ‘quite right’. Similarly, the prose has grown and shrunk and grown back again dozens of times. But that’s where the fun comes into writing: getting it to the point that it does feel ‘right’. Eventually I might end up recycling sections of it in other projects. I’ve done that before.
If I hate first drafts, I do love rewriting, as I hope the above paragraph demonstrates. I rewrote ‘What Remains’ several times, not including the revision for publication. Of course, what I ought to have done was plan it meticulously before setting down a single word, but seeing the mountain fro a distance, as it were, would have made it even harder to ascend. The great and late novelist Diana Wynne Jones gave me some guidance many years ago, when I’d just finished art college and was aspiring to be a fantasy writer. She advised me to speed up my writing method, which at the time was too slow, resulting in a loss of momentum. She told me to scribble down the first draft as quickly as possible and then devote my time to making the completed draft as perfect as I could. It’s a method that suits me, although it wouldn’t do for everyone.
Philip began writing poems and stories in his teens, inspired initially by Dylan Thomas and Henry Williamson, later by Faulkner, Joyce, Ted Hughes and Muriel Spark. At art college in South Wales he was a core member of the creative writing group run by poet in residence Gillian Clarke. Novels followed, and the inevitable rejection letters. In 2001 he won a consolation prize in the Bridport Writing Competition with a short story. The following year this was adapted by a theatre company and given a dozen performances at the Edinburgh Fringe. A full-length novel, ‘The History of Us’, was published by Legend in 2009 and shortlisted in the fiction section of East Anglian Book of the Year. Philip is also a composer of amateur woodwind music with a number of titles in print. He and his wife live in Cambridgeshire.
Buy “What Remains” Now
When did you know writing was for you?
I’ve been writing stories since before I can remember, but it was only in my late teens and early twenties that I started to seriously entertain the idea of writing a novel and becoming an author… it then took about 10 years before I could actually sit down and write a whole, complete novel!
My new book, Izzy’s Cold Feet, is about a girl who’s on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. She has had a traumatic childhood, and is very confused about the man she’s about to marry. It’s (hopefully!) sad, funny, and romantic with some twists and is written in the first person. My first book, Amy & Zach, is about a British girl, Amy and an American guy, Zach, and they take it in turns to share their story with the reader. They both have a secret and it has a few twists and turns.
What was the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Finding time to write. Getting a work, social life, family life and writing life balance can be tricky. I’m very lucky that my husband is willing to take on more of his fair share of household chores in order to give me more time for writing. I also find that I write about 25% of a novel and then start thinking about something new. I have to force myself to focus on one thing at a time and finish each project before starting the next!
What does your daily schedule look like?
I get up early and write, go to work (I work in marketing communications), come home and cook, then write some more, walk my dog, read or watch some television and then early to bed. It’s busy but I love what I do.
What would be your advice to aspiring writers?
Ooh good question! Probably to dedicate more time to my writing. I sometimes wish I’d done all this earlier; but then I know my writing is better than it was 10 years ago. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, back then!
Movies: Love Actually, Definitely Maybe, and The Holiday at my favourites right now. Books: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and Chasing Daisy by Paige Toon (in fact any books by either of those authors are my favourites). I’m a sucker for a feel-good romantic comedy with a happy ending, as you can tell!
What is your biggest guilty pleasure food wise?
Milk chocolate. I have to ration myself.
What is your must have beauty product?
Beauty serum. I’m not a big make-up wearer and don’t spent tonnes of time or money on beauty products but I love that stuff.
What is in your purse?
It’d be easier to answer what isn’t! Money, lip gloss, antibacterial hand gel, tissues, my kindle, keys, spare contact lenses, painkillers, pens, old receipts, a notebook, hair ties, earphones, and a bunch of other useless objects!
Who is your writing inspiration?
There are so many people who inspire me: other writers (including those mentioned above), my father (who also likes to write), but most of all, my husband, who encourages me and cheers me on.
Who is your favorite literary character?
Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice. She was fun, modern, and didn’t care what other people thought of her.
Oh I have a few! One of them is Zach Braff. I met him last year, and he was very friendly and sweet.
Thank you so much for stopping by Chick Lit Plus, Sarah Louise Smith!
About Sarah Louise Smith
Sarah Louise Smith lives in Milton Keynes, UK, with her husband, two cute cats and a loopy golden retriever. She has an extremely lovely step-daughter and spends most of her free time writing, reading, cooking, and taking long walks.
She’s the author of two chick-lit novels: Amy & Zach and Izzy’s Cold Feet, both published by Crooked Cat. Read Sarah’s blog at: www.sarahlouisesmith.com.
Blurb – Izzy’s Cold Feet
One bride to be. Three ex-boyfriends.
Izzy is engaged to Greg, who is everything a girl could want.
The trouble is – all she can think about is the men she loved before she met him: sexy Ewan, the first love of her life; dependable Jason, who loved her more than she deserved; and irresistible Dexter, who broke her heart…
Then there’s the fact that her sister has been missing since Izzy was twelve. After such a traumatic childhood all Izzy wants is a normal, happy, settled life, but love is never simple.
In the week leading up to her wedding day, Izzy is forced to ask herself who she loves the most. And, given the choice, who would she want to spend her life with?
Sarah’s website/blog: www.sarahlouisesmith.com
You can purchase the paperback or e-versions from all the usual online book sellers.
Amazon UK: TBD
Amazon US: TBD
Sarah Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahSmith16
Sarah Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahlouisesmithauthor
Where to find my first novel, Amy & Zach
(read more about it: http://sarahlouisesmith.com/my-books/amy-and-zach/)
Would have to be the Star Wars trilogy. I’m crazy about action movies.
To be honest, I don’t have one.
My children offer a plethora of writing inspiration. I’m also inspired by nature and everyday occurrences.
This is tough because I personally hate wearing make-up, I prefer the natural look. I guess I would have to say lotion.
What advice would you give yourself ten years ago? Any words of wisdom?
I would tell myself not to wait so late in life to write. Not to push myself so hard and to try and relax and have more fun.
How to be a respected writer in three easy lessons
Someone (who shall remain nameless to avoid any confrontation in the bedroom) once told me love was a figment of the imagination, nothing more than a chemical reaction… an electric impulse. Maybe that’s why I strive so hard to create that moment within the pages of a book. I want a romance so epic the non-believers are converted before the final page is turned. But my very own significant other scoffs at the idea, making gagging sounds as I read the pages of my book aloud. Is that any way to act in the presence of a professional writer? An esteemed author of fluffy romance? I think not.
Being a writer is hard work! I’ve followed the basic rules: 1) Spend the entire day lounging in pajamas, while 2) Conferring with the voices in my head, and 3) Living vicariously through the main character as I fall madly in love with my imaginary hero. And according to most of the literary greats, you should attempt this while half-sloshed.
So in a moment of defiance during this childish argument, I told him I’d decided to become a heavy drinker. Drinking is practically in the writer’s manual, right? Think Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Poe, Faulkner… even Dorothy Parker had a taste for the drink. Oh sure, they were probably into the heavy stuff, but since I write romantic chick-lit, I figured I should drink cosmopolitans. They seem to be the drink of choice in all the best girly literature. Then, I read that Hemingway drank daiquiris, and having had those before—they are pretty tasty—I decided I could take up drinking daiquiris… strawberry being my flavor of choice.
Of course, my husband just shook his head and rolled his eyes, mumbling “Good luck with that,” as he wandered off to do whatever husbands do. You see, he knows my ability to hold my liquor is on par with that of a sixth grader. Well, if sixth graders were allowed to drink alcohol, which of course, they’re not. And as it turns out, I shouldn’t be allowed either. Apparently, I giggle a lot when I drink. And I can barely get through one martini glass filled with the potent pink concoction before my giggles become obnoxious… or entertaining, depending on who you ask.
Basically, I’m a lot like my character, Katie James, in To Katie With Love. She’s not a drinker. She can’t hold her liquor. But somehow, fate (just call me Fate) decides she needs to drink far too much at her 29th birthday party, and she wakes up in her dream guy’s bed. Not a bad way to start the year, if you ask me. The guy is seriously hot… and maybe a little bit dangerous. Then again, having an assassin for a boyfriend just might be the least of her worries.
Describe the book in your own words.
Fresh Mint with Lemon is a story of a love triangle. The three main characters, a man and two women, are extremely sensitive and full of regard for one another, and it’s hard for them to make decisions. For that reason, hardly anything happens between them: they talk and talk, but without really getting to know one another better because, at the bottom of it all, they are afraid to learn what the others might think. The novel, a light summer diversion that takes place during torrid July afternoons and sensual Mediterranean nights near the coast, is a story of longing for happiness, love, and tenderness, which seem to be unattainable. In place of these things there is eternal misunderstanding between three people with very different pasts.
Describe any of the major figures, personalities and characters within the book.
Vadim is a sensitive Russian man who is strongly attracted to Patricia—a well-known American painter—and later to Radhika—an American of Indian origins, and a feminist militant. Vadim lives most of the time in his dreams rather than in tangible reality, and this makes him extremely indecisive. He cannot get what he wants in life because he doesn’t struggle hard enough for anything. This isn’t a big concern for him though; he is happy in his expectations and in his longings. According to his philosophy, the path towards a certain goal is more important than achieving the goal.
How did you come up with the idea for the book? How did it come to be?
I read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and was fascinated by the misunderstandings that words create between different people, as exposed in the section of the novel called “A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words.” I wanted to write my own book about misunderstandings between people who have different pasts or different cultural experiences. As far as the setting of the novel is concerned, I live on the Mediterranean coast, in Sitges, near Barcelona, so the location of the novel expresses my fondness for the place that has become my home.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
One summer night I was sitting with some friends in an outdoor café in the center of Barcelona and trying to decide what I felt like drinking. Then I noticed a sign on the blackboard with the café’s recommendations: “Fresh mint with lemon” was one of them. I thought it sounded very refreshing and summery, full of Mediterranean aromas and tastes. I thought of using the name of the drink as the title of my little summer book and shared my idea with my friends; they were all for it. We each drank a glass of fresh mint with lemon that night.
Birthday: March 22
Place of birth: Prague, Czechoslovakia
Are you associated with any causes or nonprofits? Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)
What is your academic background? Which schools did you attend? What was your degree in? I got my basic education in Prague. Then, in the United States, I studied comparative literature at the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. I got both my master’s degree and my PhD in this field.
Please list any awards or honors you’ve received:
- City of Barcelona Award for the Catalan translation of The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier švejk by Jaroslav Hašek
- Catalan Letters Award for the translation of The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier švejk by Jaroslav Hašek
- Mercè Rodoreda Award for my collection of short stories, Absent Moon
- Runner-up for the National Award of the Spanish Ministry of Culture for my novel The Silent Woman
- Ángel Crespo Award for Translation for the Spanish translation of The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier švejk by Jaroslav Hašek, and for my translation work in general
- Gratias Agit Award from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs for my work as an author and translator
Do you have a blog or author website? If so, what is the URL? www.monikazgustova.com
Favorites & General Questions
What are your top five favorite books?
The Lady with a Little Dog by Anton Chekhov
The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver
L’Education sentimental by Gustave Flaubert
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
What are your top five favorite films?
Amarcord directed by Federico Fellini
Il gattopardo (The Leopard) directed by Luchino Visconti
Blue Velvet directed by David Lynch
Kagemusha directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Russian Ark directed by Alexander Sokurov
You can find Monika’s book here: