Tag Archives: Orca Books

“A lot of black people are living in circumstances that middle-class and upper-class whites can’t imagine. So, I wrote this book partly to help illuminate that fact.” | Q&A with author William Kowalski about his new book JUMPED IN

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

For many of us readers, we understand the power of the gaining enlightenment through the written word. But for those of us who deal with individuals who are just becoming aware of the power that engaging in the act has, the thrill of sharing the joy of reading can be equally thrilling. Novelist William Kowalski is gifted in documenting the human condition through his books, but his love of his craft and his understanding of the power of his final product shines through his work with Orca Books’ Rapid Reads series. As his latest item for Rapid Reads is about to come out, he answers a few questions for me about his book, JUMPED IN, and he explains the power of the written word has for all of us. JUMPED IN will be released April 18, 2017.

*****

1) First off, could you give an outline of JUMPED IN?

JUMPED IN is part of my Rapid Reads series, which is written for adults who are new to reading.
>p<
It’s the story of a 16-year-old named Rasheed, who lives in a bad neighborhood in a large city. His school is so dangerous that he’s dropped out. His sister was the victim of a drive-by shooting when she was a little girl and is now paralyzed. His mother has become addicted to her daughter’s painkillers. His father’s whereabouts are unknown. His neighborhood is ruled by a gang called the E Street Locals, who are constantly trying to get him to join. Rasheed seeks to escape all this by hanging out on a nearby university campus. Here he meets a campus cop who eventually takes him under his wing and helps him realize that his strong desire to make his world safe for his family again can be translated into a career in law enforcement, rather than always rebelling against authority. The Locals jump him in, but he’s able to escape from them, and we get the sense that he has a real chance to start over.
 

2) Was there anything specifically that caused you to write this book? Is there anything you hope readers will gain from JUMPED IN?

I was motivated partly by the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer. It sprang up in the U.S. as a response to several police shooting of unarmed black men. I was really disgusted by some of the responses of my white friends to the whole thing. They didn’t seem to understand or care that being black in the U.S. is a whole different experience, and that people do not have the same opportunities just because they are Americans. A lot of black people are living in circumstances that middle-class and upper-class whites can’t imagine. So, I wrote this book partly to help illuminate that fact. 
>P<
Like all Rapid Reads book, I also wrote it to address a specific audience. I wanted to create a character that my readers could identify with. These books are written for teens and adults who are interested in becoming better readers. A lot of them are locked up. We know that a disproportionate number of people of color go to jail in our society. This book is for them, too. Not only does it show them that someone out there understands them, but it helps them see there’s a way out, too.
 

3) The Rapid Reads website has this listed as your seventh book with them. Has your writing changed at all since your first book with this series? 

I think it’s become clearer and simpler, a little more so with every book. Writing this way is good for me. I have to practice my basic techniques over and over. I think it keeps me fresh.
 

4) Have you had any contact with any readers of your books from the Rapid Reads series? If yes, what was their reaction to your books?

I get lots of letters from people who read these books. Often, their adult education instructors will forward them to me. They seem to really like them. For many of them, it’s the first book they’ve ever read. That’s a big deal. You never forget your first book. They’re proud of themselves for having finished. They let me know what they liked and didn’t like about the story, and they are always curious to know if I will write more. I always write back.
 

5) Do you think you will be doing any future books for Rapid Reads?

I hope to continue to write a book a year for the Orca people! We have a great relationship, and it’s working well for both of us.
*****

Exploring Elements of the Human Condition in a ‘Rapid Read’ | Review of “The Middle Ground” by Zoe Whittall (2010) Orca Books

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Since the release of Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People a few months ago (link to my review), people in my circles have not only been talking about her book but also their own actions and desires in comparison to that story. So it seems fitting that some of her other writings need to be explored, especially her work for Orca Book’s Rapid Reads series entitled The Middle Ground.

Pages 1-2

When he put the gun to my neck, I closed my eyes. A simple reflex. I imagined the cold metal tip was really just a magic marker, a wet cat’s nose, or the small superball my son was always losing behind the couch cushions.

What happens when you feel the graze of a gun against your skin? Either you die or your whole life is changed.

I’d been doing this thing while drinking black coffee. I would close my eyes so I could pretend it still had cream in it. Apparently, you can lose five pounds in a month just by giving up the half-and-half. I’d been trying to psych myself out. Eyes shut, I’d imagine it all differently.

It didn’t work with the gun either.

Whittall knows what great literature is suppose to do, give readers pause to consider the ‘human condition.’ And she manages to do it with this small story about Missy Turner.  Readers are vaulted into Missy’s ordinary life – a good job, a great husband and a teenage son who is a great kid – but all that is ruined in one bad day, and as we follow the narrative, we share Missy’s emotions and heartache through the story. Then the man with the gun appears and a rush of chaos and confusion envelops us all.

Page 29-30

Instead of quietly backing toward the door or trying to dial 9-1-1 on my cell phone – I kept it turned off and buried under all my purse crap -I walked around the counter and stood beside Christina. Maybe it was the look of complete terror on her face. Or the fact that I had held her as a squirming pink newborn. Or the whimper she made as she dropped the book and fumbled with the cash register.

He let go of her necklace and placed both hands on the small pistol.

“Don’t hurt her,” I heard myself saying. “She’s just a girl. Whole life ahead of her.”

“Shut up, lady, and get back around to this side of the counter, all right? Don’t push any buttons. Just vie me the money, and I’ll be on my way.” He tapped his foot, like he was impatiently waiting at the bank on any non-felony errand.

The scene was nothing like on TV, where the music starts, cueing your heart to speed up. It felt slow, like molasses pouring from a cup. Christina handed him a handful of bills. He stuffed them into a yellow bag advertising the new superstore on the outskirts of town. It couldn’t have been more than a hundred bucks.

The plot moves fast here but it is filled with detail and emotion. And no flowery prose or psychological definitions. Missy Turner could be easy one of us or our neighbours. Whittall has documented an element of the human condition in detail for us here while keeping the guidelines of the Rapid Reads series in check.

Page 54-55

I tried to pretend everything was normal. But one moment I’d see the scene in the kitchen that I’d stumbled into that morning, the next I’d feel the gun on my neck. The house didn’t feel my own anymore. The walls made me anxious. The sound of the clock ticking loomed. Outside, a car backfired, and my skin was instantly covered in sweat.

I’d rarely felt the house so empty without Mike and Dale. I normally relished the rare opportunity to be alone, but the quiet was unnerving. I kept seeing Christina yelp and the drop her book. I felt the pressure of the robber’s arm against my neck.

I heated up some leftover pasta but couldn’t eat it. I didn’t want to be alone but couldn’t bear the thought of calling anyone either. The phone rang and rang, and the answering machine filled with messages from nosy neighbors and Mr. Harlowe and Jackie and my mom. Everyone who had heard about what happened. I turned on the TV but only paced in front of it, until the coverage of the robbery came on. It was a very short clip, mostly Christina, with me standing beside her like a goofy, useless tree. Is that what I really look like now? So old. I used to be stylish and young. How did I start dressing like a mother who had given up?

Zoe Whittall is an excellent novelist whose works clearly document the human condition we can all relate to. And her contribution to the Rapid Reads series entitled The Middle Ground, clearly and simply does that. A unique read and a good one to ponder over.

*****

Link to Orca Books website for The Middle Ground

Link to Zoe Whittall’s website

Link to my Q&A with Ruth Linka –“Rapid Reads . . . aims to have excellent writing, great stories, well-known authors, all the things we value in longer fiction, but in a shorter, more accessible form.” | Q&A with Ruth Linka of the Rapid Reads program at Orca Books

“I also suspected that large traditional publishers might turn their noses up at a book that appeared to be so “ethnic”. Being Polish hasn’t become cool yet, though every group will have its day sooner or later.” | Q&A with author William Kowalski on using crowdfunding to publish his latest book

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William Kowalski is one of the most detailed writers I know. So I was surprised to see about a month ago that he had launched a Kickstarter Crowdfunding campaign to fund his latest book The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo. But before my next paycheck came in in order for me  to help with his book, his campaign goal was reached. So in order to find out more about this book and the campaign, I asked Kowalski to answer a few questions for me – about the book, the campaign, and anything else he was working on. He took time out from a busy schedule to oblige me.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo?”

This story is partly fiction, and partly based on a real person: my great-grandmother. It moves back and forth in time, alternating chapter by chapter,from 1908 through the 20th century to the present day. In the historical chapters, we see a young Polish immigrant, her mother, and her sisters arriving at Ellis Island, making the trip to Buffalo, New York, and joining the throngs of Poles already there. Immediately, they do what everyone else around them is doing: they dig in and try to find some way to get established. In the present-day chapters, we meet their descendants, who are dealing with modern challenges, but who still feel a strong connection to their ancestors. Like many of my books, it has one foot in the past and one foot in the present. It’s about how these two worlds connect, and about what might come next for this family.

2) Was there something specific that inspired or motivated you to write “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo?”

There were several things, but most importantly, I was inspired by my great-grandmother, Amelia.

I knew her fairly well, since she lived to be 98 years old. She passed away when I was 20. She was born in a tiny village in Poland in 1892, and she immigrated to America when she was 16. I was always fascinated by what her life must have been like, but she was never very forthcoming with details. Whenever I asked her about life in Poland, she would claim she didn’t remember. She seemed so incredibly old to me that I had no trouble believing she had simply forgotten ever being a child.

But now that I’m older, I know that our greatest hurts nearly always feel like they just happened yesterday. And the more I learned about what her life must have been like under the Prussian occupation, the more I realized it must have been so awful she preferred not to mention it. All of Poland was suffering during that time, under three simultaneous occupations: by the Prussians, the Russians, and the Austrians. Legally speaking, Poland didn’t even exist when my great-grandmother was born. It was treated by these nations like Tibet is treated now by China. If you buy a globe made in China, you’ll notice that Tibet doesn’t appear on it. Poland had no place on the map, attempts were made to erase its history, and its people were regarded as inferior.

I became even more fascinated when I realized that Amelia had come here with her mother and sisters–but with no men accompanying them. They left her father and brothers behind in Poland, and they never saw them again. In those days, that must have seemed very strange. Normally it was the men who would come over and work until they had saved enough money to send for their families. You did not often see women making such a huge journey on their own. There must have been circumstances behind this. I can guess at what they were, but we will never know for sure.

I wrote this book partly as a tribute to my great-grandmother, and partly because I wanted to get to know her better. I did a lot of research, and I made her world come alive for me.

I wrote it also because I was raised without much of a Polish identity. At this point, after three generations, we’re pretty much just American. I’m fine with that, but I’m still curious. What did it mean to be a Polish-American? I wanted to know more. I’ve explored the Irish side of my heritage, and someday soon I hope to begin exploring the Jewish side, which is a small part of my ancestry I didn’t even know existed until very recently. I have a lot of German background as well. As you can probably guess, this is really just a journey of self-discovery. These people made me who I am. I want to know who they were.

3) You have used a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help fund self-publishing the book. What inspired you use that format to ‘get the book out’ as opposed to the traditional method of sending a manuscript to a publisher for them to consider printing?

There were a few reasons. Primarily, my experience with traditional publishing lately has been very disappointing. It’s always been a difficult industry, but my last traditionally-published book, THE HUNDRED HEARTS, was abandoned by its Canadian publisher and never found a traditional home in the U.S. at all, even though it won a major award and has been translated into German. So, I’m kind of fed up with the status quo.

I also didn’t feel like dealing with all the waiting and the disappointment that goes along with submitting a manuscript through an agent. It can take years for a book to get published. It might never happen at all. I’ve been down that road too many times. It’s starting to feel like madness. I know how to market this book and who to market it to, and the technology is there for me to do it myself. I don’t need to give up ninety percent of my royalties to make it a success. Maybe I’m being naive, but I think I can bring this book to the tipping point. I wrote it for a broad readership. It’s a very accessible book–it’s far shorter than most of my novels, which I think is a good thing, and it deals in universal themes that anyone can relate to.

I also suspected that large traditional publishers might turn their noses up at a book that appeared to be so “ethnic”. Being Polish hasn’t become cool yet, though every group will have its day sooner or later. It’s funny–I could never reasonably claim that I’ve been the victim of prejudice or racism, because on the surface I’m a white male, and I have benefited enormously from the privilege that accompanies that in our society. But there is still a distinct, if subtle, bias against Polish last names. There are certain assumptions about them, certain stereotypes: the big dumb sloppy Polak, or else maybe Brando’s portrayal of the violent, animalistic Stanley Kowalski, or the jokes about screen doors in submarines. We don’t really associate Polish names with literary fiction. When my first book was published in 1999, a woman I know who worked in publishing told me that if it had come out even a decade earlier, I would have been forced to change my name to something more WASPy sounding. I laughed it off, but at the same time I found it painful.

The Kickstarter campaign occurred to me because I wanted to prepare the manuscript in all the ways a small publisher would, but I’m supporting a family and paying a mortgage, and I just didn’t have the extra money. I wanted to be a to pay an editor and a cover designer, and to have some money for advertising. I knew this would take at least several thousand dollars. I felt like I could raise that if I pre-sold copies of the book, which is essentially how my campaign was presented. I let people know that the book was already written. I think that made a difference. They weren’t subsidizing endless hours of me daydreaming in my bathrobe. They were investing in something that could rightly be considered a cultural commodity, something that had value for them. I also presented it as a new way of publishing, that is, the readers deciding ahead of time what they want to read, rather than having publishers make that decision for them. I’m certainly not the first person to think of that, but for many of my subscribers, this was the first time they had been exposed to that notion, and I think it appealed to them.

4) Am I right in assuming that your Kickstarter campaign was a complete success?Will you now be able to publish the book? (Even publish the book sooner than you expected?)

To my delight, my campaign surpassed my goal by about a thousand dollars. So,yes, I will be able to self-publish the book in the way I had envisioned, hiring a professional editor and cover designer. I’ll record some radio spots and buy some air time in key markets, and I hope I’ll have some left over for internet advertising as well.

I’m allowing plenty of time for the editing and the various design elements to happen because I don’t want anything to be rushed. If the book comes out some weeks earlier than planned, so much the better. I think that’s likely. But there is still a lot to do.

5) You mentioned in a blog post how much Facebook was used to during the campaign. (“I should really call this a KickFace campaign, or some similar portmanteau. https://williamkowalski.com/self-publish-like-pro-part-1/ ) Did that really surprise you? Will you be using Facebook more as opposed to other social-media applications from now on?

I’ve been using Facebook for a long time, but I had assumed that only a small portion of Kickstarter subscribers would find me through it. Boy, was I wrong. As I mentioned in that blog post, nearly all my subscribers came through Facebook, and they were nearly all people I knew. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I have no idea how this would have turned out. Probably not well. Kickstarter will promote certain campaigns itself, but they seem to focus on the really cool, flashy technology ventures. My Twitter campaign was ignored, drowned out in the chaos of the Trump circus and the nine zillion other more important things going on around the world. My posts on other sites were scarcely effective. In the end, it all came together because of Facebook.

6) Most of my fellow readers (and myself) not only enjoy reading books but also getting out and hearing authors speak about their works. Are you planning a tour with “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo” once you get it published? If yes, is that something you plan to pay for yourself?

I think publicity events are going to be crucial. I hate to say this, because I detest touring–I’m really an introvert, and I would prefer to stay home. But once I’m out and about, I enjoy myself. I still have a lot of family in Buffalo, and there are sizable Polish communities there, in my hometown of Erie, PA, and in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Allentown, etc. It’s not that this book will only appeal to Polish-Americans, but they are a logical place to start when it comes to scheduling events. I don’t know if I will visit all these places, or how I’m going to pay for it. But there have been changes in how touring works, too. Sometimes authors will agree to come speak to a group if that group will chip in for a motel room for the night, for example. If you get enough friends together, it costs you very little to have an author spend an evening with you, and it’s a great scenario for the author because he gets to sell books. So, any touring I do will probably follow that sort of a model. I will likely start planning that in the new year. In fact, I already have one event lined up, through a genealogical society in western New York State.

7) You mentioned on your Facebook page that you recently agreed to work with Orca Book to create another book for their “Rapid Reads” series. Are there details about it you can share? (Release date, title, etc?)

Orca has been just fantastic to work with. I’ve recently signed a contract with them for my seventh Rapid Reads, which are books written for adults who simply haven’t learned how to read yet, or who are new to reading English. Illiteracy is a huge problem in our society, but most literate people don’t know that, because people who can’t read tend to be extremely clever at hiding that fact. These books are also good for strong readers who want something fast. They use simple language, but they have strong story lines. This book is called JUMPED IN. It deals with gang life, just as my first Rapid Reads book, THE BARRIO KINGS, did. It also addresses the way young men of color tend to be treated by the police. These books find a wide readership among people who are in our detention systems, and who are still suffering greatly under what could be called “institutionalized racism”, or simply being born into disadvantageous circumstances for cultural reasons. I get a lot of letters from them. For most of them, it’s the first letter they’ve ever written to an author. For some, it’s the first letter they’ve ever written, period. I always write back.

8) Outside of “The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo” and your book with Orca, are you working on anything else right now? (If you have time for anything else?) If yes, are there details you care to share?

I seem to be experiencing an explosion of creative energy these days. I have a few ventures going on: I am currently working full-time as an instructional designer, I make and sell dill pickles at KowalskisPickles.com, I run a small web design business at MahoneBayWebDesign.com, and I run a site called My Writing Network at https://mywriting.network, which offers free websites to anyone in writing or publishing who wants one. And yet I’m really just a writer trying to carve out enough time to write.

I have an idea gestating for a novel that feels very big and very complex. It has a murder in it, and also a political revolution. I have no idea when I’m actually going to write it. I’m quite excited about it, though. It’s the thing I think about when I’m caught up in the drudgery of my daily existence, the pillar of fire burning in the night sky that I’m following through the wasteland. I hope to be able to begin it sometime early in the new year.

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Link to William Kowalski’s website

The Telling of a Heartache that a Young Girl must Endure | Review of “Rodent” by Lisa J. Lawrence (2016) Orca Book Publishers

Rodent

We all don’t live fairy-tale lives. Many of us have issues to deal with that are difficult and ugly which take their toll on us emotionally. The same counts for many young people. So why should they have to endure fairy tales when their lives really “suck” and they need some way to better understand their world around them. Lisa J. Lawrence has written a book that reflects a grittier side to a young person’s life called Rodent.

Page 6-7

There have been five schools in the past three years, not to mention all the ones I passed through before I even hit junior high. I’ve seen it all. If I keep my head down, after two more years of this I’ll be free. Then it won’t matter if Mom has a good day or two when she finds a new job, drags us off to some other hellhole, the brings the whole thing crashing down. I won’t be a puppet in this stupid game anymore.

I don’t realize how hard I slam my locker until the girl next to me jumps. I give her a look like, What? and march off. Then I have to pull out a map of the school because I have no idea where I’m going. English. Room 102. Okay

When I find it, I make a beeline for the back row, which is already taken by other students trying to be invisible or goof off. I end up sitting in front of a tall guy with a mop of dark hair and glasses that look like they belong in the sixties. He’s reading a thesaurus. To my left, a chubby girl with stringy hair picks at her split ends. I think I’ve found my corner.

We are thrown into Isabelle’s life right at when it’s most traumatic. She is starting out in Grade 11 and facing all the usual teenage problems that come up in young girls lives. But she is also the caregiver to her younger brother and sister while her mother suffers from alcoholism. We witness Isabelle face crisis after crisis while we silently see the tension take their toll on her emotions until she snaps.

Page 10-11

“Pick it up yourself,” I say again, louder. Something grinds inside me. The redhead flees.

It happens in an instant. The blond narrows her eyes and moves to take a step toward me. Between the eye-narrowing and when she lifts her foot, I form a fist. I know how to make a decent fist. My cousin Jacquie taught me – thumb on the outside, knuckles not too tight. It has served me well, especially at these ghetto schools I usually end up in.

The blond opens her mouth to say something, shoulders squared for a fight. Before she can get the word out, I slam her in the face. She staggers back into the arms of her friends. Grabs her nose to stop the gush of blood spraying down her turquoise tank top. Shock is all I see on the face of every single person, including her. They weren’t expecting this. Ice floods my gut. Tears form in her squinty eyes. Then something else, something I recognize instantly: rage.

Lawrence has capture a big slice of the human condition by bringing the story of Isabelle forward. The lifestyle endured by the main character does actually exists as does much of the responsibility and the angst she has. And Lawrence hasn’t tempered the language for publication at all. She has Isabelle talking and thinking the way a teenager talks and thinks today. Easy enough for any reader to relate too.

Page 122

Monday morning. Will’s eyes light up as I drop my backpack by my desk. He doesn’t look away, waiting for me to give something back to him. A word, a smile. something I barely nod at him before sliding into my seat. You don’t want this, Romeo. How could I think for an instant that he could be part of my world?

I picture Will sitting on the ugly sofa as Uncle Richie hurls beer bottles and we all scatter like cockroaches. Isn’t that what every guy wants? Congratulations, Will. You just won yourself a nice, dysfunctional family. Even worse if he tried to help, to fix. The girlfriend who’s also a project. It’s for his own good that I walk away. He’ll never know about the Molotov cocktail he just avoided. Still, the ache in my chest makes it hard for me to lift my head today.

Gritty. Honest. Bold. These words certainly describe this story. But most importantly Lisa J. Lawrence’s Rodent has captured a slice of life that a good number of people (not just teens but adults) have to endure. This book should start a number of conversations and great deal of soul searching by many. Exactly what a great piece of literature should do.

*****

Link to Orca Book Publisher’s website for Rodent

Link to my Q&A with Lisa J. Lawrence – “I think most of my inspiration . . . comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere”

“I think most of my inspiration . . . comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere” | Q&A with author Lisa J. Lawrence

New authors are always exciting to discover, especially if they are out to engage new minds. This past week Lisa J. Lawrence launched Rodent, a gripping novel aimed for the teenage set. Lawrence grew up in several different locales in British Columbia and Alberta.  She now resides and works as a teacher in Edmonton.

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1) First off, can you give a bit of an outline of Rodent?

Rodent is about a sixteen-year-old girl, Isabelle, who is essentially the caregiver for her mother and younger siblings because of her mother’s alcoholism. She tries to keep everyone alive and together as her mom bounces from job to job and they move from friends’ basements to shelters to sketchy apartments. Rodent begins after one of these moves. At the same time, Isabelle starts grade eleven at a new school. That brings a lot of new, unexpected things for her—both good and bad.

 

2) Where did you get the inspiration to write Rodent? Was there much research involved in writing it or was it more of a work of ‘pure imagination?’

The spark for Rodent came one night when I was putting my youngest daughter to bed, who was three or four years old at the time. After going through the bedtime routine and tucking her in, I thought, “What would it be like for a child to have to do all of this?” I started thinking about circumstances in which children care for other children, playing an adult’s role. From there, it was mostly a work of imagination. I had a couple of teenaged “consultants” who I would bounce things off of from time to time! I know a RCMP officer who was kind enough to answer my police-related questions. I also read some accounts of children living with a parent with an addiction.

3) I know it has been a short while since Rodent was released but how has the reaction been to it so far?

So far, the early reviews and feedback on Goodreads (Click on link here) have been positive. That’s a great feeling. When you share your story with others, you hope they’ll like it or at least relate to it in some way.

4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Margaret Laurence held the title of favourite for a long time. I’m all over the place these days. I hate to be a cliché, but I adore the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I was a late bloomer; all the movies were out before I started reading any of the books, and then I was hooked. I felt a little depressed when I finished them all! I also enjoy Susan Juby, especially her Alice trilogy, and some Neil Gaiman. I loved Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpoole. With my daughter, I’m currently reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In the near future, I hope to tackle Seven the Series.

5) Is there much planned in the way of public readings or book-club events for Rodent? If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?

I am looking forward to a launch for Rodent at Audreys Books in Edmonton on May 14th. It’s my first launch, and I’m excited to celebrate with friends, family, and anyone who would like to attend! I also plan on doing some readings at local schools. I’m open to participating in other events that may come up as well.

6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m currently finishing a manuscript about a thirteen-year-old girl with Turner syndrome. I’ll just say it takes place in northern Alberta and involves some highly unusual circumstances!

7) You have an active fan page on Facebook right now. Will you be using it to keep in contact with fans? Will you be expanding to any other social-media platforms like Twitter or Pinterest?

Yes, the Facebook page is new. (Click here for link) It’s been pretty quiet so far, as I get things going, but I hope to use it to keep readers informed about upcoming readings, etc. I’m eyeing Twitter as well, but I don’t think I have a really good feel for it yet! Maybe it’s the word limit that gets me.

8) Your biographies have you listed as living in Edmonton. How do you like living there? Does its cultural life offer you much in the way of inspiration for your writing?

I love Edmonton. It’s been my home for about twenty years now. I think most of my inspiration, though, comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere: feeling left out, restlessness, overcoming something difficult, making an unexpected connection. I grew up in a small town (Stettler, AB), and a lot of inspiration comes from there as well. Having said that, I do love Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Fringe Festival!

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Link to Orca Book Publishers webpage for Rodent

 

“Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run” | Q&A with writer William Kowalski

William Kowalski has a direct yet simple outlook on the human condition. (In fact his bio on his website refers to the fact that he wears socks with sandals, and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about that.) That is what makes his writing so unique. He answered a few questions for me here which allowed insight into him and a glimpse into his future works.
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1) What inspired you to become a writer? Was it an easy job for you to get published?
A:  I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young, probably about six years old.  I wrote short stories as a child and as a high school student, and when I was in my early 20s I decided to try writing a novel.  Eddie’s Bastard was the result.  It was very difficult for me–the hardest thing I’d ever done, up to that point in my life. It took about three years. Getting it published also felt very hard, but I was told that I’d had it a lot easier than some.  I landed an agent within about six months, in January of 1998, and she had sold it to HarperCollins by that July.  It can take much longer than that to get a book published.
2) Your writing seems very personal. Is there much research/personal experience you use for your writing or is it pure imagination?
A:   I don’t really do any research for my books.  I believe in writing what I know, and I’ve never felt that I could do a convincing job of writing about something just because I’d read about it.  Of course, that doesn’t really explain how I can write about things I’ve never experienced, like war, for example.  I do sometimes spend a very long time trying to put myself in the necessary head space for a book, and that might involve some general reading about it.  But it’s more like me just asking myself a very hard question, and spending months or years coming up with the answer.  For example, while I was writing The Hundred Hearts, one of the questions I was asking myself was, “How could the My Lai massacre have happened?  How could American soldiers just mow down innocent people like that?”  I had to go to some pretty dark places to find the answer.  It took me eight years to write that book.  But eventually i did arrive an AN answer.  I don’t say it’s THE answer.  But it’s an answer that worked for me.
3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favorite writers?
A:  I just finished a book of short stories called Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, by Mark Anthony Jarman.  It’s one of the best things I’ve read in years.  But I don’t have much time to read these days, and when I do, it’s usually non-fiction.  I’m also reading Atlantic, by Simon Winchester.  He’s such a great writer.
4) Do you do much in the way of speaking engagements and public readings? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing? Have there been any memorable events that occurred during any of your readings?
A:  Between 1999-2005 I did about five US speaking tours, and one in Europe. These were both exciting and torturous for me.  I’m an introvert, so speaking in public requires a lot of work.  Once I’m up there, I’m fine, but I’m a nervous wreck for days beforehand, and afterward I’m exhausted.  I do a lot less public speaking these days, which is partly a relief, but I also miss it.  The attention can be very uncomfortable for me, but I need it to succeed as a writer, and if I’m to be honest there’s a part of me that likes it, too.  The most memorable thing that occurred was when one gentleman showed up at a reading to chastise me for using the word “bastard” in the title of my first book.  It turned out he didn’t really have a larger point than that, and he hadn’t even read it.  He just wanted to give me a hard time, because he believed it was an evil word.  You really never know what kinds of people you’re going to meet on the road.
5) You seemed somewhat surprised that I had reviewed “Eddie’s Bastard” recently. Has your writing changed much since you first started being published?
A:  I feel that I am a very different writer now.  I wrote that book between the ages of 25-28, and I’m turning 46 this year.  I don’t even feel like the same person.  I know my writing has changed drastically.  David Adams Richards put it beautifully when I saw him read last summer in Port Medway.  He talked about how young men are often prone to very lyrical writing, and as they age, they become more analytical.  This was a really valuable insight for me, because I didn’t understand why I had changed–I just knew that I had.  I actually wrote a blog post about this:  https://williamkowalski.com/wise-words-from-an-older-writer/
6) You have written several books for the Rapid Reads series for Reluctant Readers. Is there much difference writing a book with that audience in mind as opposed to a regular novel?
A:  The Rapid Reads books are shorter, so they’re easier in that sense.  But they’re harder in that I have to keep my voice very simple, which requires a great deal of restraint.  I regard this as excellent practice for my craft.  Showing off all the time is self-indulgent.  Keeping it deliberately simple is very hard.  If anyone doesn’t believe me, try doing ten pushups very, very slowly and see how you feel afterwards.
7) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about using those apps? Does help or hinder your writing?
A:.  Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run.  My real problem with social media is that I absolutely love computers.  I am obsessed with them.  They’re a huge distraction. About ten years ago I started building websites for myself, and it’s gotten to the point now where I actually have several clients for my web design services.  It’s a nice bit of extra money, but mostly I do it because I love it.  Twitter and Facebook are fun for me.  They’re a great way to tell people about what I’m up to, and I get a little thrill when I see something I’ve written or tweeted take off, even in a small way. This is why everyone likes those things, I think.  It’s like being micro-published.
8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
A:  I’m currently writing a novel about the Polish immigrant experience in Buffalo, NY around the turn of the last century.  It’s told from the point of view of a young woman who is based on my great-grandmother, Aniela.  She came from Poland when she was a teenager, in 1908, and lived until 1990, so she saw a lot of changes in her life.  I was privileged to know her and have always found her story fascinating.  It’s really a very common story for a lot of immigrants in that time and place, but I think that’s what makes it valuable.
I’m also working on a web project: My Writing Network.  My goal with this is to provide anyone with an interest in writing with a free website and membership to our online forums, so they can connect with other writers and promote their own work online in any way they see fit. This is all done with open-source software, and it’s free for everyone.  It’s up and running now at https://mywriting.network.  I hope some of your readers will check it out.
9) No doubt you have seen the debates over what we consider Canadian literature. I have seen some of your books tagged in libraries with little maple leaves denoting that it is Canlit, and sometimes not. You are born in the U.S. but now live in Canada. Do you consider your writing as Canadian or is it in a more broader scope of literature.
A:  I am a Canadian citizen now, but I don’t try to label myself as a Canadian writer or an American writer.  I moved to Canada when I was 30 years old, so I was pretty much formed by then.  I love Canada, and especially Nova Scotia.  Moving here was one of the best things I ever did.  I came because of my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife of 14 years.  But if I were to try and write a book that was set in Canada, or that set out to be a deliberately Canadian book, I think I would probably fail.  I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have the same frames of reference Canadians have.  It goes back to “write what you know”.  I would probably fail just as much if I tried to write a book set in Texas or Tajikistan.  I do understand why Canadians are so bent on distinguishing their literary culture from that of the US.  American media is so dominant everywhere that it threatens to stamp out anything unique in other parts of the world.  I think if I had been born Canadian, I would probably have a strong dislike for anything American.  So, people who stick up for CanLit have my full sympathy.  I will leave it up to others to determine whether I belong among the ranks of Canadian writers or not, the same as I leave it up to others to interpret my work and discuss what it’s about.  It’s not for me to tell people what to think.  It’s just my job to write, and I hope to keep doing that until the day I drop dead.
*****

Learning to put some Heart into the Game | Review of “Epic Game” by William Kowalski (To be Released in March 2016) Raven Books/Orca Publishers

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book via librarything.com and Orca Publishing

We all have habits and attitudes that makes us act on instinct instead of doing something rational to improve our lives. These may be traits that we learned from our parents or habits we picked up on during our childhood or just something in our internal wiring that makes us do things that in many cases keep us alone or unhappy. So sometimes external events cause us to force us into breaking those patterns we are stuck in doing and lead us down a different path of life. That is the type of story William Kowalski has brilliantly written in Epic Game.

The story deals with Kat, an independent woman who makes a living as a professional poker player. She learned her trade from her father, whom she had an uneasy childhood with. She has tried hard to distance herself from her past, yet when her best friend commits suicide and becomes guardian of her son, she finds that not only does she have to deal with her past emotions but also begins to question her present lifestyle choices.

Part of the Rapid Reads series from Orca Books, the style of this book is simple making it a quick and easy read. But there are complexities still in the plot that make the story interesting to readers; elements of Kat’s life and memories that we all have that make us ponder our own existence.

Epic Game by William Kowalski may be a quick read but it is an enlightening one. He has crafted quite a story into this book that reflects  important elements of the human condition.

Link to William Kowalski’s website

Link to Orca Books website for Epic Game

‘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

Suspenseful and Light Reading | Review of “The Night Thief” by Barbara Fradkin (2015) Raven Books

Thief

There is a certain beauty in brevity when one writes a narrative. To keep things simple and yet to keep the attention of a reader is a difficult challenge. Barbara Fradkin manages to do that with a certain grace with her novel The Night Thief which makes this book not only a quick read but also an interesting one.

Page 1-2

It was supposed to be a perfect October night. The moon was huge and the sky was so clear. I could see all the way across the field to the woods.

But after less than an hour, I was freezing to death. My toes had gone numb. My back ached and I couldn’t feel the tip of my nose. Good move, O’Toole, I grumbled to myself as I eased my stiff fingers from the shotgun. You couldn’t wear a warmer jacket?

I was lying in wait for the night thief. for more than three weeks now, I’d been trying to stop him from raiding my vegetable patch. My usual scarecrows and whirligigs had been useless. So first I’d welded together a tall fence using every piece of metal I could spare. Bits of car hoods and chicken wire. it wasn’t pretty, but I thought it would do the trick.

I have read several of theses “Rapid Reads” series and have always found them entertaining in some way. This book is no different. They service a need for a certain type of reader who may have limited reading skills or just wants a quick book to read over a short time. The writing here is light and breezy without being condescending or childish. The story deals with Cedric O’Toole. Something appears raiding his farm and he is determined to find out what it is. Oddly enough it is a boy who appears to be homeless. Cedric’s own past doesn’t trust outside authorities to take care of the boy, but as the story goes on, he must decide to get help for the boy or trust his own instincts.

Page 13-14

By the time we got back to the farmhouse, sunset had stolen all the heat out of the air. I was shivering. Robin trailed about twenty feet behind me, but when he saw the house, he stopped to stare, like he’d never seen it in the daytime. Now, I admit my house is a funny sight. Two walls are painted turquoise and the other two orange, because that’s what was handy. Both paints were rejects from someone else’s bad mix jobs – kind of like me.

At first Robin wouldn’t even come up the front steps. Instead he headed for the barn, sending the hens squawking in all directions. So I told him I was going inside to feed Chevy, and soup would be ready in a few minutes. When I peeked outside again, he was down by the barn, feeding the hens. I could see him smiling at them, but when I called to him, the smile disappeared.

Even when my mother had remembered to feed me, she was never much of a cook. So early on I’d figured out how to use a stove and grow a few vegetables. My soup wasn’t fancy but the smell was enough to get Robin inside the house. He took the bowl off the table and curled up on the kitchen floor beside Chevy. He emptied his bowl even faster than the dog would have. I put a refill on the the table, be he took it down onto the floor too.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

There is also some deep feelings, thoughts and emotions here. Fradkin has obviously captured some scenarios from her work as a child and school psychologist into this story, making it a great piece of literature by giving insight to the human condition. The ending isn’t at all a ‘happily-ever-after’ one but one one that reflects reality. Bittersweet yet life continues.

Page 43-44

I studied the drawings carefully, hoping for a clue to his past. There was only one, a small, one-story, house that looked nothing like mine. It had a front porch with what looked like a rocking chair on it. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Was it time to tell Jessica the truth? And get this kid back home with some real help?

Instead, I stalled. I admit, I kind of liked his company – and his help. I had a busy couple of days paneling the living room in a cottage near the village. so Robin was left to do the chores and keep himself busy. He spent hours in my junk sheds, fiddling with things. He played with Chevy and the goat, even enjoyed watching the hens. But he hardly talked. Every night I put him to bed in my mother’s bed, and every morning I found him asleep in the shed. He ate like a football player, but during the night food still disappeared. Not only food, but my mother’s sweaters, more towels and spare cushions from the couch.

So one night I woke up at 2:00 AM and went to peek in my mother’s room. Sure enough, the bed was empty. I peered out the window. The moon was on the wane but still cast enough pale light that I could see a shape running toward the woods. Toward the mystery cave I had found a few days earlier.

What the hell was this boy up to?

While it is a light and ‘rapid’ read, The Night Thief by Barbara Fradkin is an engaging one. Filled with emotion and suspense, it is a read that engages for whomever reads it.

 

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to Orca Books’ page for The Night Thief

 

Unleashing the Minds of a Young Reader | Review of “Unleashed Retribution” by Sigmund Brouwer (2015) Orca Books

unleashed

I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program on Librarything.com

It takes a bit of an effort at times to engage a young reader to consider their world around them. There is so much that distracts them and confuses them. But perhaps having them read Sigmund Brouwer’s novel Unleashed Retribution might be enough to spark some consideration for them to ponder their lives and begin to ask questions.

Page 1-2

THERE IS NO ONE AROUND TO HEAR YOU SCREAM.

The words came into focus as I woke up on a toilet. The last thing I remembered was drinking Gatorade. Then a fog that had turned into midnight black.

Someone had ragged my unconscious body from the back of the mildewy gym where I’d passed out to the bathroom of the locker room, where I found myself now.

I was bound with duct tape. I was still in my sweats, sitting on top of the toilet-seat lid. Those factors, at least, were a small mercy. One, being in sweats, and two, on the lid of the toilet seat as opposed to the seat itself. After not knowing how you got there and being unable to move, it would be even more awkward to look down and see your sweat pants bunched at your ankles.

Not only does Brouwer have a suspenseful novel here but he touches on themes that occur in young lives. The book deals with Jace, who has been dealing with a cold and abusive household for a very long time. The situation is worsening and Jace decides to take matters into his own hands before his brother is hurt even more. The story is one of the The Retribution Series that young readers can continue to read on with.

Page 41-42

“Hey,” Bentley said.

“Hey,” I said. no point in any encouraging words, like, Yeah, Dad must be in a bad mood – he didn’t mean what he said.” First, it would have been laughable to call Winchester by any other name than Winchester. He wasn’t a dad. He was a biological father. Second, Bentley and I both knew that Winchester always meant what he said when he threw out barbed words. And third, we’d been through that conversation endlessly during our younger years, with Bentley crying and me raging, until we’d finally accepted that it wouldn’t change, and then we’d come to a more important understanding: we weren’t going to blame ourselves for Winchester’s treating us the way he did. And, no surprise, that made us tight as brothers.

The language Brouwer uses here is simple and frank, yet it still flows in a lyrical manner. He manages to clearly get inside the mind of a young person and understand how they think and feel. Then he took that understanding and created this book.

Page 85-86

Yeah, I was scared of gravity. But I kept whispering to myself, That all you got?

Halfway up the wall I realized I was winning the fight against my fear. The process just took determination and a willingness to believe that if you hung in there – ha! Nice pun, given the rope that dangled three stories down the side of the hospital in the dark night – you’d wind in the end.

I’d pull on the Jumar with my left hand, trusting that the mechanism would lock and hold. With my right had, I’d slide the other Jumar up as high as I could. Then I’d pull down on the right Jumar, locking it in place, and slide the left Jumar up.

The effort didn’t hurt my biceps or forearms. My boxing workouts had left me with plenty of strength. But alternating the weight of my body from my left hand to my right and back to my left was tearing at the broken and crusted blisters. Without the leather gloves, it would have been unbearable.

Unleashed Retribution by Sigmund Brouwer is a great book to engage young minds about the world around them. The language is simple and frank yet the story line flows along well. A great read.

Link to the website for the Retribution Trilogy

Link to Sigmund Brouwer’s website