Tag Archives: Dundurn Press

‘Crime fiction is about the human struggle. . . It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction’ | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin

There are many readers out there who are looking for a light story to read yet still want a bit of message about the human condition in the plot. Barbara Fradkin fits that bill. Her ‘Inspector Green’ series of crime novels do have thrills twists but also explore important issues of our time. As she was about to launch a new series of books – the Amanda Doucette series – she answered a few questions for me and allowing some insight into the person who holds the pen.
1) Your website states that you have been writing books since 1995. How did you get involved in writing fiction? How does your background as child psychologist help you in your writing?

I’ve always had stories spinning in my head. I daydreamed in school about adventures with exciting, imaginary friends, and as soon as I could spell, I started writing them down. I had a ton of first drafts and unfinished short stories, plays, TV scripts, and mainstream novels collecting dust in my basement, but it wasn’t until I tried crime fiction that I found my true niche. Crime fiction is about the human struggle, about conflict and dark choices, and about what people do when they’re desperate. It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction, and I think my years as a psychologist gave me not only insight into people’s struggles, but also lots of topics and themes to write about.

2) Has your writing changed over time? If, yes, how so?

I hope so! Each novel and story, however bad, teaches me more about character development, story structure, pacing, and balance. And when my first book, Do or Die, came out in 2000, I became much more serious about my writing. It wasn’t just a private venture and a creative outlet, it was a public story aimed at readers, and I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. With each book, I have challenged myself further to make it better than the one before. My later stories are more layered, with more points of view, and historical stories woven into the narrative.

3) You have written three books for the Rapid Reads series at Orca Books. How did you like writing for that series? Was it easier or harder to write for Rapid Reads as compared to a regular novel?

I have written quite a few short stories, so I was familiar with tight story lines, minimalist writing, and singular focus. I find writing the Rapid Reads stories are halfway between short stories and novels. The guidelines require a linear plot with few characters and no subplots, all of which shape the story. The most difficult challenge is telling a complex, compelling story within these guidelines, while keeping the language simple.

(Link to my review of The Night Thief)

4) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I like the British crime tradition—for example, Kate Atkinson and Denise Mina. However, I like variety and read quite widely, but fairly slowly. With the demands of my own writing and research, I don’t get through as many books as I’d like. This year I had to read several non-fiction books on ISIS for my next book. During the holidays I read God Rest ye Murdered Gentlemen, a light romp by Eva Gates, who is actually my good friend Vicki Delany, and now I’ve just finished reading Fifteen Dogs.
5) How have your books been received by the public? Are there any memorable experiences you care to share?

The challenge for Canadian crime writers is getting exposure, particularly with the reduction in review sites and the dominance of international blockbusters. Much of the growth in my readership has been due to word of mouth, and for this I am very grateful to readers across Canada, and even in the US and UK, who have discovered my books and recommended them to others. People become hooked on the series because they grow to love the characters and want to know what happens to them next. Inspector Green, for all that he’s flawed and exasperating, is a mensch and has people rooting for him. People also care about the other characters and want a say in what I do to them next. Once at a reading, I mused about what I should do next to shake things up for Green, and a reader threatened “Don’t you dare kill off his father!”

Link to my review of The Whisper of Legends– A Inspector Green Mystery

6) You have partaken in public readings of your works in the past. Is that an activity you enjoy? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs? If yes, did you partake in the discussions of your books?

In twenty years, a writer can do a lot of readings! Yes, I’ve done readings at festivals, bookstores, libraries, and even at a museum in Yellowknife. I love readings, because I love meeting people who enjoy books. We writers toil alone in our little garret and we send our book out into the world, like bread cast upon the waters. It’s wonderful to find out what becomes of it. That’s the same reason I love going to book clubs, and I have done dozens of them. Most of the time I attend them in person, although occasionally via Skype. Book clubs are great social clubs, and it’s nice to be invited in to share the friendship for the evening. People are very curious about the writing process and what I have in store for Green, but they are always very kind and enthusiastic. If they rip the book apart when I’m not there, I don’t ever find out!

7) I am going to assume that you are doing some new writing and have some new books coming out soon. Are there details you care to share?

Yes, I am currently working on a new series. I have taken a trial separation from Inspector Green, much to the chagrin of some of his fans, in order to explore new characters, settings, and story structures. I don’t want to fall into a rut; I want to stay fresh and continue to grow, so that I enjoy the process of writing as much as those who are reading. The new series is not a police procedural. I’d say it’s a hybrid mystery thriller. The main character is a thirty-something international aid worker, Amanda Doucette, who is back in Canada to recover from a traumatic experience on her last assignment. But her passion for social justice and helping people leads her into tricky situations. The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, (Link to my review) is due out this September, and I am now writing the second one, entitled The Trickster’s Lullaby.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media fronts (Facebook and Twitter) How do you like using those platforms?

I don’t like Twitter, and haven’t figured out how to use it except for retweets and for very immediate notifications. Tweets are lost in a matter of minutes. Facebook, on the other hand, allows for much greater interaction with friends and readers, and I love the way it has allowed me to connect with old friends, family, new readers, and fellow writers. I feel as if I have truly made friends on Facebook, and should I meet them in real life, we would already have a base. I do have an author page, but tend to post only on my personal page, because readers have become friends and friends have become readers.

9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?

Read, read, and read the type of book you want to write. Don’t worry about trends or hot tips for the break-out novel. Write the story that excites you, because that excitement will shine through and make the story sparkle with life. Also make sure it’s the absolute best story you can make it before sending it out. Ask a few trusted, experienced book people to read it, and give their advice careful consideration.

*****

Link to Barbara Frankin’s website

Entering the Realm of Amanda Doucette | Review of “Fire in the Stars” by Barbara Fradkin (To be Released – Sept. 2016) Dundurn Press

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the author and Dundurn Press.

A few months ago I was introduced to the writing of Barbara Fradkin. I was impressed with her style and her vivid descriptions that I became an immediate fan of her works. Recently,  I had the pleasure of of receive an advanced reading copy of newest work, Fire in the Stars. In it, Fradkin begins a new series of novels with the protagonist Amanda Doucette. Again I was completely impressed with the details of the story and I needed to mention the book here.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

I’m very excited to spread my wings and introduce Fire in the Stars, the debut novel in the brand-new Amanda Doucette series. My Inspector Green series has been a critical success that has garnered several awards and, more importantly, many readers over the past fifteen years. I’m proud of how it has grown, but after spending ten books with Michael Green, I wanted to get out a little.

Literature is suppose to be about the human condition – allowing readers to grasp and understand what makes people think and act the way they do. And Fradkin has done that here. While the novel has all the trademarks of a mystery novel – a plot that twists and turns having a reader on edge of wondering what will happen next – Fradkin has characters that are believable yet confused with some deep flaws that we all can relate to in some way.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

As a psychologist, I have always been interested in the dark side of humanity – ordinary people’s social, personal, and moral struggles. The mystery, suspense, and psychology that were Inspector Green’s trademarks will continue, but in this new series, I widen my lens to the broader canvas of world issues. It follows a cross-Canada path, from the east coast to the west. Each book will have a different iconic setting and explore a Canadian take on a global human issue. First up, Newfoundland and refugees.

This was a book I devoured in any free moment I had in the last couple of days since it’s arrival. The descriptions are vivid from the scenes to the meals the characters enjoy to the breath of emotions that Fradkin has each of her characters go through. A page turner from the beginning to the end.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

Amanda Doucette is a woman to be reckoned with. Adventurous, resourceful, and caring, she has worked as an international aid worker in some of the poorest corners of the world. But a brutal experience in Africa left her shake, questioning her future. In Fire in the Stars, she has returned to Canada to regain her footing, only to find that her closes friend and fellow trauma survivor, Phil Cousins, has gone missing from his home in Newfoundland, taking his young son with him. As she follow his increasingly bizarre trail into the wilds of northern Newfoundland, she fears for his safety. Is he desperate? Suicidal? Or is there another motive at play? Does it have anything to do with the boat full of refugees adrift in the ocean?

Fire in the Stars by Barbara Fradkin is an exciting start to the world of Amanda Doucette. The descriptions are vivid, the characters are believable and the plot is well-organized. A must read for not just mystery fans but for readers interested in the human condition.

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to Dundurn Press’ page for Fire in the Stars (to be released Sept. 2016)

 

Entering the World of Inspector Green | Review of “The Whisper of Legends” by Barbara Fradkin (2013) Dundurn Press

Whisper

What impresses me with a good story is not just the plot but the small details that surround the plot which engage me more to read the book. Usually this is a result of an author doing large amounts of research before even writing a word. I recently discovered Barbara Fradkin as a novelist and I suspect that her research skills are immense as I read and enjoyed The Whisper of Legends.

Page 12

For the tenth time in ten minutes, Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green abandoned the dreary operations report and sneaked a peek at his BlackBerry. The time was inching toward noon. What time was that in the Yukon? Nine a.m? The start of their business day? Of course, he had no idea what time the owner of Nahanni River Adventures actually came to the office, nor even whether he had an office in the normal sense of the word. But Green figured nine a.m. was a respectable time to phone. It would sound like a reasonable request for an update, which it was, rather than a panicked call for reassurance.

Which it also was.

Hannah had told him very firmly that there were no cellphone towers or Internet signals in the Nahanni National Park Reserve. it was thirty thousand square kilometres of mountains, glaciers, canyons, and waterfalls along a wilderness river so spectacular that it had been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There was no communication, period. Cut off from the the outside world. That’s the point, Dad.

Fradkin has a great writing style. The story deals Inspector Michael Green trying to deal with his missing daughter Hannah. She was on a summer  trip deep in a park made up of ‘30,000 square kilometres of wilderness and 600 grizzlies.’ Green finds out that his daughter lied to him about the trip, it was organized by a boyfriend to explore the hinterland of the region, not a local tour group. Green becomes frustrated the lack of effort being done by the authorities to look for his daughter that he and his friend – Staff Sargent Brian Sullivan – travel to park to search for Hannah themselves.

Page 71-72

Green slept fitfully, disturbed not so much by the tandem snoring of the other two men nor by the eerie grey of the northern night, but by fragments of dreams lurking at the borders of his consciousness. Images of roiling rapids, plunging waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and endless, desolate mountains. Was Hannah wandering around at the mercy of Scott, and unwitting pawn in some scheme of his? Or had she been party to the devious plot from the start? Lying to her parents about her destination and her purpose? He didn’t know which possibility upset him more. That she was a hapless captive or a witting liar.

How well did Green know her anymore? She’d arrived on his doorstep an angry, untrusting teenager consumed with the need to punish him for his years of neglect. She’d lived a reckless life on the edge. Drugs, men, deception – she’d embraced them all in her quest for love, meaning, or just pure oblivion. Father and daughter had won each other over step by timid step, but all too soon she had slipped from his grasp again, back into that toxic swamp of guilt, narcissism, and manipulation that was her mother’s life. Scott had become her next great fascination, her next great answer to the meaning of it all.

In her eagerness to please Scott, what had she done to herself?

Fradkin also has a fantastic grasp of human fears and relationships. She gets into the minds of the characters here and tells the readers what they are thinking, even though those characters are fearful of sharing their emotions with others.

Page 158

Green held his tongue. In truth, he was terrified. He knew he was putting the other paddlers at risk as well as himself by insisting on starting at Moose Ponds, but there was no other place on the upper river wide enough to land the float place. The coordinates of the mining claim put the search area near the confluence of the South Nahanni and Little Nahanni, which was just below the terrifying sixty-kilometre stretch of whitewater. To land farther downstream at the next accessible place would be pointless.

Elliot steadied the two canoes and eased them up on the rocky riverbank. He looked thoughtful. “We’ll manage,” he said. “I know every twist and boil in this river, and we have a number of options. We’ll take each stretch slowly. Scout, discuss, plan the route ahead of time. On some of them we can make a canyon rig by lashing two canoes side by side. Other places Brian can solo and I will paddle with Mike. If we need to, we’ll portage or pull the canoes on ropes. We’ll get there.”

 

The Whispers of Legends by Barbara Fradkin is a detailed and well-researched mystery novel that is a pleasure to read. Not only is the plot engrossing but also very thoughtful. A great read for sure.

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for The Whisper of Legends

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Pondering the Frustration in our Middle-aged Lives | Review of “Exit Papers from Paradise” by Liam Card (2012) Dundurn Press

We have all spend sleepless nights pondering what we have done in our lives. “What could we have become if opportunity X had only happened to us when we reached station Y.” We tossed and turned and looked ourselves in the mirror in the morning wondering if we still have time to do something with meaning or are we delusional in our dreams. That is the thought process Liam Card has his protagonist go through in his brilliant novel Exit Papers from Paradise.

Page 9-10

You are a plumber, Isaac.

A plumber in Paradise. That is an oxymoron. No, that is an oxymoron on steroids and, of those steroids, most likely Winstrol-V. That oxymoron is not passing a urine test. That oxymoron rebuilds damaged cells faster and can train harder than other oxymorons. That oxymoron suffers from rampant acne, increased aggression, and testicular atropy. Still, no matter how often that oxymoron sticks a needle in its ass, it remains both a tragic and accurate description of my role and location on this planet.

But the dozens of online IQ tests I’ve completed tell me that I, in fact, am quite capable of handling a college-level, pre-med curriculum. My SAT score placed me in the ninetieth percentile. What kind of loser takes the SATs in his thirties? Pathetic. I am, apparently. I’m the loser who took them in his thirties. Proud and ready to secure my notch on the SAT measuring stick, I sat with two hundred seventeen-year-olds battling oily skin who couldn’t give a shit about their scores and who lacked the capacity to appreciate their opportunity. Unable to understand what it felt like to take the test at my age or what it felt like to be on the receiving end of their confused dirty looks.

More resentment to add to my toxic pile.

Card has tapped into a universal feeling with his character Isaac Sullivan. He is a 35 year-old plumber living the small town of Paradise, Michigan. While he was forced to take over the family business at the end of high school, Isaac never really gave up on his dream to attend medical school. He has read every textbook on medical science available to him and practises “surgery” on the wildlife around his house.  But now Isaac has decided follow his heart and apply to school. He knows his decision will be unpopular with people around him but we learn through the narrative of the story, he doesn’t care what people think anymore.

Page 79-80

“Here’s what you do, Isaac,” he says. My father wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his plaid shirt after uttering the preamble to some sage advice. Tiny pieces of food are still caught in his salt-and-pepper beard, post-wipe. Tell him. No let him finish his thought. Dad pauses then takes a long pull from his can of Miller High Life. Obviously, the advice hadn’t completely hatched, and he is now in the process of editing it as he chugs. One of his oldest tricks.

He enjoys Saturday brunch with me. I think he does. I love it which is crazy. I shouldn’t. And the man has to be sick of eating the same thing every weekend. Prepare something different for him then. Try an omelette, for Christ sake. No. It’s tough to screw up bacon, scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast, and the punishment of his complaints are not worth the culinary risk of preparing something new. At least change up the dessert. Why? Because apple boats are boring as all hell and should not constitute dessert.

The chugging has ceased.

Here comes the advice, which historically has been the parental equivalent of an oil spill. Give him the benefit of a doubt.

I’m all ears.

Small droplets of beer have decided to hang out with the crumbs in his beard. It’s all I can focus on. Reach across with your napkin and clean them off. No, he will tell me that I am acting like a woman. Focus, advice is coming. Look interested. There they hang, like tiny beads of water on a spider’s web after a light rain.

“You need to find yourself a woman, Isaac . . . who doesn’t piss you off too much,” he says.  Wow. I wasn’t sure you could pull it off, but you have raised the bar with that gem, old man.

Card does an excellent job of having voices that are both intellectual and vernacular locked inside one man’s head. Readers are able to grasp the frustration of the man inside himself as he tries so hard to get through not only the day but to the next point of his life.

Page 115

November is flying by, like a car through a town without a stoplight, and the tail end of the month brings the first noticeably chilly air of the season. The lazy Indian summer must have enjoyed itself too much in Paradise and had been setting record temperatures late into fall. However, Paradise is partial to winter, and it was only a matter of time before the eviction notice was posted on the door of the tepid Fahrenheits. That sounds like the name of a rock band – the Tepid Fahrenheits. I should start a band. You can’t sing Isaac, and you have more pressing issues at hand. Fine, but when I’m a practising doctor, I will round up other practising doctors, and we be a Guns n’ Roses cover band called the Tepid Fahrenheits.

Exit Papers from Paradise by Liam Card  is an excellent book dealing with an element of the human condition. A must read for anybody who reads fiction and seeks to be enlightened. Hopefully not the last piece of work by this writer.

*****

Link to Dundurn’s  page for Exit Papers from Paradise

 

 

 

 

The Magic of a Blade-Shaped Stick | Review of “The Paper Sword” by Robert Priest (2014) Dundurn Press

I received an advanced copy of this book via Goodreads.com

 

We all remember those special books as a child that took us to  places like Narnia or sent us along on quests for magical rings. We were vaulted in a special world and we learned important lessons while following the quest set out in those books. Robert Priest has set out such a quest in his new book The Paper Sword and launches the Spell Crossed series.

Promotion Blurb

On the spell-crossed Phaer Isle, teenage Xemion dreams of being a great swordsman. When he finds a blade-shaped stick, he fashions it to look like a real sword. Knowing that the laws of their cruel Pathan conquerors would require a death sentence for possession of such an object, his friend Saheli demands he destroy it. He agrees, but insists on performing just one sword ceremony. When his mastery of the weapon, a skill long forgotten, is witnessed by a mysterious man named Vallaine, the two friends are invited to join a planned rebellion. At first they refuse, but when a sadistic official discovers their transgressions, they are forced to flee their home and embark on a dangerous journey to the ruins of the ancient city of Ulde, where rebel forces are gathering.

Armed with only their wits and the painted sword, they face Thralls, Triplicants, dragons, rage-wraiths, and a host of other spell-crossed beings. As they approach the Great Kone, source of all spell-craft, Saheli’s fear of magic and Xemion’s attraction to it bind them in a crossed spell of their own — one that threatens to separate the two forever.

Priest has written a lyrical book here which should appeal to certain types of youths. The plot can be a bit complex at times but it should allow for a young reader to look forward to a second or third book. An interesting read in any case.

*****

Link to The Paper Sword page on Dundurn Press’s website

Link to Robert Priest’s website

 

 

Fans of Rick Blechta know how he mixes his knowledge of music into his work. His thrillers give the sense of being well-researched and well-thought out. This year will be a very busy one for Blechta as he has just released The Boom Room (Link to my review)  for the Rapid Reads program at Orca Books and Roses for a Diva for Dundurn Press in November.
*****
1) So it has been about a month since the The Boom Room came out. Was it difficult to write for the Rapid Reads series? How has the reaction to it been so far?

A: Writing is writing, but that being said, every kind of writing needs a different “toolbox”. Marching orders from Orca for my Rapid Reads books are pretty specific, and most of it has to do with the fact they’re primarily written for those without great literacy skills. But the final one is always that “the book must be a good story, well told.” Okay… I’ve managed to write two of them now (with a third hopefully coming next year or so), and I’ve found that once you wrap your head around the “simplicity” aspect of Rapid Reads, they’re not that much different than other books. The same care has to be taken with the plot structure. Because they can’t be more than 20,000 words, you can’t have much in the way of characterization or subplots, but telling the story well is not that hard within the given framework.

 
As for the reaction to The Boom Room, it’s received two reviews (that I’m aware of) and both have been very positive. Since one was in Library Journal, we’re hoping that this will help with sales throughout North America. There are a lot of libraries out there!

2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?

A: For current crime writing, I enjoy Michael Connelly, Denise Mina, Peter Robinson and Barbara Fradkin. If you want to go back to books from the past, I really enjoyed all the Nero Wolfe novels and Maigret novels, Further afield are authors like Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson, and I got my start reading crime fiction with the Hardy Boys. And then there is Sherlock Holmes. As a child, those were my favourites.

As for right now, I just finished Barbara Fradkin’s The Whisper of Legends (excellent) and I’m about to dive into Vicki Delany’s latest.

3) Like many other writers that I have followed, you have had a series of occupations and interests. Did being involved in those activities help you at all in your writing? A Case of You seemed to have a lot of background on the Toronto music scene for example.

A: Up to this point, all of my novels and novellas have involved some sort of musical background, whether it’s the main character being a musician or the backdrop being the music business. A Case of You is not that only one that is set in the Toronto music scene. The way I look at it, everything you learn and experience as you make your way through life can become grist for the writing mill. I’ve been a musician for more years than I care to acknowledge so why not use that? Readers find it interesting, I can write about it authoritatively, and it brings something a bit out of the ordinary to the plots of my novels. Plus, since I know all this stuff other people don’t, I can spend more time researching other things for my novels.

4) Your website says you have another book coming out in the fall called Roses for a Diva Could you provide a brief synopsis?

A: Roses for a Diva is a good case in point. It’s about an opera singer who picks up a rather over-the-top fan. At first she’s enchanted. At the premiere of every new production, she’s been receiving beautiful bouquets of roses. Then other things start happening in her life, things that are decidedly not nice. Is she imagining it or is it her fan who’s responsible — and does this person have other intentions? So, here I’m again using a musical background to give my story a bit of something out-of-the-ordinary.

5) How do you like living in Toronto? Does it cultural scene provide you inspiration for your writing?

A: I enjoy living in Toronto (as long as our infamous mayor is deep-sixed in the election this fall), but I don’t think its cultural scene has provided all that much inspiration for my writing. Actually, I like getting my stories out of Toronto as much as possible, if only because it means I’ll have to go someplace new in order to research my novel. Roses for a Diva has sections set in Rome and Venice, so naturally I was forced(!) to visit both cities (for several days each) so that I could do research and also get a feel for what I would be writing about. It’s those small details gleaned from actually having been to a place that make it seem real to readers. There are several things I included which I wouldn’t have known about had I not actually walked the streets in these two iconic cities. I do the same thing for my Toronto settings, of course, but it’s a little different to hop on a subway and scout some location in Toronto, compared to spending a week in Rome.

6) You seem active on the social media fronts (ie Facebook) Does it help with your writing or does it distract you?

A: I try to pay attention to Facebook, but not let it rule my life. I have friends who spend hours a day looking at Facebook posts. For me it is simply a tool to let people know what I’m up to, both in writing and in music. Yes, it also does help me keep in touch with friends, but to me it’s more of a promotional tool than anything.

7) Has your writing changed since your first book? If yes, in what ways?

A: I would hope that my writing has gotten at least marginally better. Like anything else, writing needs to be practised, and practised consistently. A writer needs to leave no stone unturned in an effort to improve. This usually comes from reading (and talking to) other writers, seeing how they’re doing things, and then trying to bring those good ideas you’ve gleaned to your own work. Writing will also improve by listening to what people are saying about your work. A lot of criticism is disposable, but when I hear the same thing from a few sources (especially reliable ones), I know I have a problem that needs to be looked at seriously. The angle I’m always looking at improving is saying more with less. Words can have great impact when used properly. I still get really excited by making a sentence better by making it shorter.

8)There are a lot of people who seem to be writing fiction right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?

A: I write because I enjoy writing. That’s the same reason I still make music after all these years. If you’re writing for personal enjoyment, that’s great. But the step from there to an actual career in writing is a very large one. I explain it this way. Having books published is actually an amalgamation of two jobs: writing and “authoring”. Being an author is the business part of being a writer. It requires a completely different outlook and skill set. It’s more of a job in sales than anything creative. Fortunately, it’s something that can be learned (and taught — although it’s generally not), but you have to be willing to take that part of the equation seriously. There are very few of us ink-stained wretches who have the world beating a path to our doorsteps. We have to get our wares into the public eye by pushing hard, promoting what we do at every opportunity. Writing a book is the easy part. Getting it published and promoted properly is a lot more difficult, and unless you like that sort of thing, it is certainly not as enjoyable. But if you’re going to experience any kind of success, you have to learn to be just as good at that aspect of your craft as you are with putting words and ideas together. For anyone aspiring to get their fiction published, I say this: learn your craft, both parts of it, the fun and the not-so-fun aspects, then decide if you actually want to make this your career.
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The Fine Line Between; Being Alive and Dead, Rock Star and Artist | Review of “Dead Brilliant” by Christopher Ward (2013) Durndurn Press

There are fine lines between a lot of  distinctions these days, many of which involving complex arguments in what is entertainment and what is culture.  That is one of the interesting points that seem to come up in Christopher Ward’s novel Dead Brilliant.

Page 12-13

On the screen, the members of The Cocktails, dressed as cops, were awkwardly arresting a gaggle of ten-storey-tall nymphets as the chorus of “Stop Before I Start” kicked in. Uncle looked up and appeared to be silently mouthing the words as he nodded along with the song.

“Stop before I start

Look before I leap

Listen to me

Baby can’t you see you gotta . . .”

Here Frankie held his guitar like a chainsaw and played his big lick – “wawawawa” – as the other band members froze in a tableau.

Uncle shrugged. “Catchy”

“So’s herpes,” mumbled Roc. He crossed and recrossed the room , his wiry frame practically twitching, all the while stealing glances at the television. “Uncle Strange, I’ve trusted you since the fifth grade, but right now I’m nervous.  The last two albums have tanked, the hair product deal is toast, and now those morons have a #1 record riding on my reputation. Did you remember to check with the lawyers about the rights to the name?”

Ward has written a sweet novel here. The plot deals with Roc Molotov – an aging rock star. Not only is Roc’s fame on the downslide but his band, his girlfriend and his ability to write music seem to be sliding out his grasp. So his best friend and manager Uncle Strange seems to come up with a perfect scheme to bring Roc’s popularity back. Fake his death on MTV. But there seems to be a bit of a bitter truth to this novel about the music scene. Ward – Canada’s original VJ and writer of the hit “Black Velvet” – has maybe documented a bitter truth to the popular music scene.

Page 88-89

It was around three thirty when Roc mixed down his new song on his laptop. He’d added a few touches to the basic vocal and guitar part that he’d recorded in a performance straight from the heart. A melody that lifted step by step led to an odd chord that created a perfect rub on the word “strange.” A high harmony in the chorus and little shimmering second guitar part was all it needed. When he had started writing in the afternoon, he hadn’t known where it was going. That’s how it worked with songwriting for Roc; what wasn’t at all clear beyond a tangle of emotion and some indistinct but powerful urge gave way to something coherent in committing it to paper or tape. He had been flat creatively lately, and he felt at peace as he listened to the playback of “Yours Truly.” The opening line sounded like it came from some old country song, but they didn’t have a lock on the naked emotions, did they?

“I remember everything I meant to say . . .”

And the final chorus was as straightforward as  anything he’d ever written

“Now I don’t wonder how I feel

Where we’re going or if it’s real

It’s too late to change things now

But I’m going to tell you anyhow

I was yours truly yours truly

Yours truly goodbye.”

The pause before the final “goodbye” seemed kind of melodramatic, but he decided to leave it in. In songwriting terms, it was the right choice.

Ward has written about a craft that has become crass. Celebrity has driven the music industry into a tiresome pulp where people seem more interested in making money than creating something worth listening too. But the story Ward tells isn’t all cynical.

Page 138

The same sound that she’d heard at the club rolled out of the speakers, but instead of sounding like droning and crashing, it took on a stark beauty as the music rose and fell. The lyrics were buried in the mix of guitars and drums, making it hard to tell what was being said, and the songs evoked a similar feeling as they went by; but at the end, Emma sat very still feeling massaged by the sound. She didn’t speak for a while, not wanting the spell to break. Finally, she turned the chair around and looked at Stick. “Amazing. Your music is beautiful.”

While Dead Brilliant isn’t a deep read, it is certainly an interesting one with strong kernels of truth to it. But it is a must read for all fans of music.

Link to Christopher Ward’s website

Link to Dundurn’s webpage for “Dead Brilliant”

 

About to Publishing his Second Adult Comic Novel | Q&A with author Allan Stratton

Allan Stratton (AS) is well-loved author currently living in Toronto, Canada. He is about to publish his second adult comic novel “The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish” (Link to Dundurn Press’ webpage for the book) Stratton was kind enough to answer a few questions before he left on a trip to Cuba for me.

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1) Am I right in reading that “The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish” is your second adult comic novel? Can you give a brief synopsis of it?

AS: Yes, it’s my second adult comic novel. Quick synopsis: It’s the Great Depression and Mary Mabel McTavish is suicidal. A drudge at the Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies (aka Wealthy Juvenile Delinquents), she is at London General Hospital when little Timmy Beeford is carried into emergency and pronounced dead. He was electrocuted at an evangelical road show when the metal cross on top of the revival tent was struck by lightning. Believing she’s guided by her late mother, Mary Mabel lays on hands. Timmy promptly resurrects.

William Randolph Hearst gets wind of the story and soon the Miracle Maid is rocketing from the Canadian backwoods to ’30s Hollywood by way of Radio City Music Hall. Jack Warner, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Rockettes round out a cast of Ponzi promoters, Bolshevik hoboes, and double-dealing social climbers in a fast-paced tale that satirizes the religious right, media manipulation, celebrity, and greed.

 2) Is there an appeal for you to produce comic novels?
AS: I only work on things I love doing. If it isn’t fun for me it won’t be for my readers. My first career was as a comic playwright. I’ve since moved into serious literary YA. So a return to comedy is like a homecoming for me.
3) Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
AS: James Reaney, Carl Hiaasen, Will Ferguson, Henry Fielding, Emily Bronte, Dostoyevsky and Charles Dickens. Right now I’m reading Alan Bradlkey’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
4) Most of your books have been geared to a younger set. Are you planning to continue to write for that audience?
AS: I don’t actually agree with the premise of the question. I’ve written books that feature teen leads, yes. But when Chanda’s Secrets was made into a film (Life, Above All) it was sold as adult. Kids read books with adult leads; adults read books with teen lead. Books are books. I write books I’d like to read. To me, YA is a marketing term that’s useful for publishers selling to schools and libraries. But it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do about “gearing” to a particular age. I like writing teen leads because the consequences of choices are so enormous, and the emotions hit harder. It’s an age when we really grapple with big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong? And first understand the importance and burdens of secrets — those things we fear that are oftyen core to who we are.
5) You seem to have a  special relationship with libraries (doing readings there, hosting summer workshops with teens, many photos of you with librarians were on Facebook at the OLA conference) Can you explain you feelings towards libraries a bit?
AS: Oh, libraries are wonderful. They mean works can be accessed years after they’ve been written — and across continents. And if you fall in love with a soul mate author you can easily find more of her/his other books.
6) How many languages have your works been translated into? Do you get much feedback from your international audience?

AS: Gosh. Sold in over twenty countries; Chanda’s Secrets is taught in various sub/Saharan countries like South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and also in the States, Britain, Australia, India and other places in English. But other languages? Hmmm. French, German, Slovenian, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Hebrew (next year), Chinese (simple and complex), Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. I get lots of emails from the USA, UK and Canada, and also some from South Africa, Botswana, France and Germany. Once got one from Namibia and occasional the Netherlands.

7) You seem active on the social media platforms like Facebook. Do you find such tools useful in helping with your writing?
AS: I do it more for fun. But it’s how we met, for instance, so yeah. sometimes there’s interviews, and for sure librarians and teachers and general readers can keep in contact.
8) You have a background in theatre and drama. Are you doing much in that field right now?
AS: No, although theatre informs my work. I always try to think inside my characters’ heads: “What do I want? What will I do/say to get it?” are questions I ask for each character in each scene/chapter. They’re standard actor questions.
9) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing fiction right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?

AS: Have fun!

Link to Allan Stratton’s website