Author News

Understanding the Why of Actions: Curtis Smith Interviews Ayesha F. Hamid

100879941_678076676306203_5147643859034963968_nAyesha F. Hamid is a poet and creative nonfiction writer, published in Big Easy ReviewPhilly Flash Inferno, and Rathalla Review. Her full-length memoir, The Borderland Between Worlds, is available through Auctus Publishers at Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, and Target. Ayesha also has a full-length poetry collection called Waiting for Resurrection. Ayesha holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Publishing from Rosemont College. She also holds an M.A. in Sociology from Brooklyn College. She is the Editor-in-Chief at The City Key. Aside from writing, Ayesha also loves travel and photography.

Curtis Smith: Congratulations on The Borderland Between Worlds. I’m always interested in a book’s journey, especially with an independent press. Can you tell us about your experience?

Ayesha F. Hamid: During my first year at Rosemont’s Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I took my first creative nonfiction class with writer, Richard Bank. Richard used Socratic Method in his class, and this question and answer format of learning, in addition to writing assignments, showed me that I had a story to tell. The Borderland Between Worlds became my thesis for the MFA program.

A few years after graduation, Richard introduced me to Krish Singh, the founder of Auctus Publishers. I found out that the mission of Auctus Publishers was to encourage writers and their growth and to publish work that doesn’t fit neatly with commercial publishers. I’d interacted with a handful of agents and decided that, for my book, going with an independent publisher was the best fit because I’d be able to tell my story the way I wanted without the need to change the story to appeal to larger audiences. So, Auctus Publishers ended up being the perfect fit for my book.

CS: The book is your story as an immigrant from Pakistan, so there’s a personal story here, but your story is an echo of the larger immigrant experience. As you wrote, were you keeping an eye on both this micro level of your life and the wider, macro level? If so, was this dual lens there from the beginning or was there a moment when you realized this was both your story and a larger story? Can you tell us about the challenges of writing at these two levels?

AFH: Writing a memoir about immigration has been one of the most treasured experiences of my life. In writing a book like this, the writer realizes so much about themselves and the world around them.

In the beginning of the writing process, I was focused on my past and my story, but then, I realized that although the events in my life were unique to me, the struggles I faced were not. I wanted my book to speak to these common struggles and to speak for those who want to be understood and included. My book is also a tribute for those who cling tenaciously to a goal though it may seem impossible to achieve.

During the inception of this book, I proposed that its themes revolved around financial struggle and the struggle to fit in. The more I wrote and read my own story, the more I noticed that the conflicts, in my life, always arose from the struggle of being from two different cultures with varying beliefs and norms. The struggle of living up to the expectations of two cultures places an individual in what I call a borderland. This is a place where many immigrants, among others such as those with religious, racial, or gender differences, inhabit. It is the space where individuals find themselves when presented with myriad demands from disparate worlds, demands that seem too daunting to meet. Those who have to walk this line also have to battle with themselves to understand their place in their cultures and ultimately, their identity and their place in the world. Needless to say, the battle with oneself is the most difficult one.

The difficulty in writing about this topic, whether it be at the micro or macro level, is the subject matter itself. The more I realized that others lived through similar or worst experiences, the more disheartening it was. My struggles made me stronger, but it was a burden to realize that others, who were so similar to me, either gave up their fight or in some cases gave up their lives.

CS: Another duality you explore was witnessed in your day-to-day life. You went to school and worked in a distinctly American culture, but you often ended your days in a very traditional home. We all balance our private and public lives—but the balancing act must be harder when one navigates their way between two different, sometimes clashing, cultures. What was this experience like as a young person? How did it change as you grew?

AFH: This question is an emotional one. To be honest, to be a young person and live in two different cultures, whose goals oftentimes oppose each other, is crushing. In school, I wasn’t able to participate in class trips, school events, or hang out with friends after school like everyone else did. I had some wonderful friends that made adjustments for me, but living so differently from my peers left me, again, with the feeling that I did not belong and that I did not fit in. Friends tried to understand why I couldn’t spend time with them outside of school and tried to reserve judgment on why my parents’ culture made them so strict and concerned with their children’s safety.

One of the groups I want my book to speak for is immigrant children, or any children for that matter, that feel that they do not belong or fit in. Now that I am older, I have the freedom to choose what I want, whereas when I was younger, it felt like I didn’t have a choice. As I’ve grown older, I see that there is much common ground between all cultures in the world. Everyone wants safety and security. Education is a goal that is accepted in both American and South Asian cultures, and learning every day is an activity that I’ve gravitated towards my whole life.

CS: You tackle some very personal issues—bullying, a failed marriage, race, religion. When I speak to memoirists, I’m always interested in where they draw their lines—where does the writer’s story end and another person’s story begin. It’s a hard line to navigate, yet we each have to do it, and there’s no right answer. What boundaries/guidelines did you follow?

AFH: In all that I write about, including issues with bullying, marriage, race, and religion, I try to explain the reason or point of view of the person causing the conflict or the person supporting me. As writers know, we have to understand the why of action, so I try to explain others’ points of view as much as possible. However, I always return to my own vantage point to tell my story.

CS: Part of the book touches on the struggles of the working college student. I think many of my generation don’t fully understand the financial strain many students face these days. I work with students who carry a full schedule and then work twenty, thirty, forty hours a week. Can you tell us about this time of your life? What were your challenges? What did you discover about yourself?

AFH:  Those years were very challenging and uncertain times for me. Like many other students, I worked a lot of hours to make sure that I had enough money for tuition.

Depending on the cost of attending school, scholarships and financial aid oftentimes doesn’t cover all expenses. A student’s bill for tuition may be twenty-five thousand dollars a year. Depending on how much financial aid covers, the student would still have to come up with living expenses and, sometimes, additional money for tuition.

During my college years, an additional challenge I faced was the fact that my family wasn’t familiar with how schooling worked in the United States. In Pakistan, my grandparents could cover my parents’ college expenses out of pocket, but, in America, most families, like my own, could no longer cover college expenses out of pocket. The college I went to, Chestnut Hill College, was heavily invested in students’ success, so the combination of helpful mentors and my own work made paying for attendance at a private college a possibility. My struggles, during that time, helped me to learn independence and how to work towards a goal. The experience made me a more tenacious person because no matter what, I was going to finish college, even though this goal seemed extremely untenable at times.

CS: You’re active in the Philadelphia literary community. I think Philly has great lit scene. Can you tell us about the community you see? What can it offer to writers both new and experienced?

AFH: From what I see, the Philadelphia literary community is very connected and supportive. I have had the benefit of being connected to different parts of the writing community through being a student at Rosemont College as well as having the opportunity to volunteer for Philadelphia Stories (www.philadelphiastories.org), which is a vital organization supporting the work of writers and artists in the Philadelphia area. What I love about our writing community is that we have serious writers who care about the craft and work tirelessly. The focus here is on writing and not on schools or cliques as I have heard it said of writing communities in other cities.

CS: What’s next?

AFH: I am looking forward to mentoring others as they write their own memoirs. I have a poetry collection that I am revising, and after revisions are completed, I’ll be looking for a publisher for the collection. After this work is complete, it will finally be time to embark on the new adventure of writing another book!

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Tired of California: The Beach Boys’ Holland Revisited

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First, a disclaimer: I’m the author of this book! With that in mind, allow me to note, in all humility, that Tired of California, brief though it may be (weighing in at a mere 25,000 words) offers an extremely thorough account of the Beach Boys’ career in the early 1970s, culminating with the recording of their landmark (if oft-overlooked) Holland album.

For decades, the story of the Beach Boys has been the story told in the 2015 Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy: Brian was the genius who put the band on the map, but a combination of drug addiction and mental illness led to his downfall. Some versions of the story, like the TV movies Summer Dreams and The Beach Boys: An American Family  also portray Brian’s “bad-boy” brother, drummer Dennis Wilson, as a doomed romantic figure whose drowning in 1983 cast a pall over the band’s fun-in-the-sun image. While all versions of this story have the band returning to their former glory in one way or another, they also leave out a brief period in the early 1970s when the Beach Boys were producing critically acclaimed albums that barely made a dent in the record charts. This period of dramatic artistic growth culminated in a prolonged visit to the Netherlands, during which the Beach Boys recorded the subject of my proposed book, Holland.

One thing that makes the Holland era so interesting is that it represents a time when the Beach Boys were trying to reinvent themselves. Central to this endeavor was the work of Jack Rieley, a somewhat shady character who insinuated himself into the Beach Boys organization and gradually took over. To give the Beach Boys new life in the public imagination, Rieley urged them to drop their greatest-hits concert act and focus on new material. He also launched a public relations campaign insisting that it was cool to listen to the Beach Boys again. This campaign, however, was built around the myth that Brian Wilson was still an active member of the band when, in fact, his participation in recording sessions was minimal. Nonetheless, efforts at conjuring the illusion of Brian’s participation led the Beach Boys to produce gems like 1971’s Surf’s Up and 1973’s Holland.

I could go on and on about this topic. Indeed, I have gone on and on about it, and I put all of my thoughts, not to mention a lot of research, into the project. If you’re curious, check it out on Smashwords: Tired of California: The Beach Boys’ Holland Revisited.

Trope Twisting: Something Familiar But Different

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Big thank you to Marc for letting me take over his blog today to talk about trope twisting, how to take something familiar and make it fresh again.

Trope Twisting: Something Familiar but Different by K.C. Tansley

After years of attending writing conferences, it has been drilled into my head that agents and editors want one thing: something familiar, but different.

Fantasy tropes—isolated castles, magic mirrors, ghosts, witches, curses, and spells—are incredibly familiar to readers, which means they have an understanding of what these things are. Because readers can immediately grasp and connect with these things, they can also border on boring.

Tropes, however, can be very useful. If I say castle, it stirs something inside you. It’s part of your symbolic memory. Ditto for magic mirror. You already have an idea of what that entails. It’s familiar. Your mind is comfortable with the concept and the meaning of it.

When I was building my story, I realized I had a bunch of tropes in it. Then I heard the advice from conferences running through my head: take the familiar and make it different.

So I set to work on trope twisting. It’s about taking a trope and adding your own twist to it. You have to take something familiar and find a way to make it feel fresh to the reader.

I had an isolated castle and the first thing people think is England or Europe. At least, that’s what I think of when I think castle. So I played the What If game. That’s where I ask what if and see where it takes me. So I asked myself, “What if I put the castle in New England?” That’s different. Yes, coastal New England. But which state? How about my home state? Connecticut.

That decision impacted the rest of the plot. Instead of time traveling to Victorian England, my characters went to Victorian New England. Something less common and less expected. Oh, I liked where this was headed.

I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I used to wonder what could happen if I stared at one long enough. What if my image wasn’t just a reflection? So, of course, my story included a magic mirror that acts as a portal. People falling or jumping through magic mirror portals is pretty common. How could I make this different? What if instead of falling through it, my heroine is yanked through it? Again, a slightly different take on things.

I kept going with this. Tweaking my world building to make it a little different than what you’d expect. Curses and spells are only cast by the living. But the dead, they can force the living to do their bidding. They can possess the living.

I had my own ideas about what happens when we die. I put my spin on what ghosts and spirits were. For me, death shatters souls. Ghosts are the big chunks that remain here and they seek reckonings. The largest part of the soul remains intact and it reincarnates. Spirits are tiny fragments of the ghost piece. They have no intentions, they simply recreate a moment.

Even my time travel had a twist, a body snatcher aspect to it that my publisher loved. It was something they felt made the book stand out.

So when you’re writing your story, look to the elements that have a universal appeal or meaning. Then find a way to put your own personal twist on them.

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About The Book

In The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts, prep school junior Kat Preston accidentally time travels to 1886 Connecticut, where she must share a body with a rebellious Victorian lady, prevent a gruesome wedding night murder, disprove a deadly family curse, and find a way back to her own time.

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Bio

K.C. Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them.

Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is the first book in her YA time-travel murder mystery series.

As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.

Social Media

Website: http://kctansley.com

Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13530245.K_C_Tansley

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Ignored-Ghosts-Unbelievables-Book-ebook/dp/B00WZOJ028/ref=la_B00X369K3G_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434139756&sr=1-1

Commenting on the Times: An Interview with Steven Mohr

The+Listless+coverTell us a little bit about your book. What inspired it? Who’s your ideal reader?
I’m a fan of so many types of literature, but when I started writing The Listless, I wasn’t looking to just write some action adventure that can make a person jump but hardly think. And I didn’t want to just write some romance that plays on a person’s emotions but not on their sense of cultural ethics. I wanted to write a piece that had elements of both these while commenting on the times we live in and the situation it presents for those in the young adult (or should I say youngish adult?) age group who have been most affected by it. Really, The Listless was my attempt to combine the freedom of Kerouac’s On The Road and the introspection of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises… I’m not saying I succeeded, I’m just saying I tried! There’s no doubt that’s a hefty goal for a first novel.

I had fun writing it, though, and I enjoyed putting together somewhat realistic dialog you might hear from the indie music lovers, which are probably the ideal readers of the book. I hope, though, I added elements that nearly all can relate to.

It’s a YA novel, yet your protagonist, Conor Batey, is a college grad. Do YA heroes tend to be so old? (Granted, “old” is a relative term!)
Ha, that’s a good question and one that I somewhat wrestled over as I was thinking about where this book really did fit in. To me, the YA (young adult) fiction definition is getting wider than just the age range it was originally designed for. I mean, isn’t Edward Cullen from Twilight over 100 years old? Haha, a little different case… But I look at the YA fiction designation as talking more about the topic than the age of characters or readers (though they both play a big part). The topic of this book is about indie rock and regressing from a business life back into (at least a summer of) road trips and concerts. I think that topic is more in the field of YA than anything else.

Along similar lines, have you observed that YA readers are getting older? How “Y” is “Y” these days?
It certainly seems like the readership of YA fiction has been the biggest change in its overall designation. It went from adolescents right out of juvenile fiction in the 90’s to adolescents, young adults, older adults… the whole gamut today. Creative minds like J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and many others have really opened this genre up to a larger spectrum in the past fifteen years.

 What do you see as the difference between YA fiction and more traditional “adult” fiction?
Well, in full disclaimer, my definitions for these phrases are probably very different from the standard ones. When I see something that is cataloged as fiction without being further explained as romance, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, urban fiction, classic literature, or one of the many other sometimes helpful sometimes not helpful at all descriptions, I assume it’s going to be either a Nicholas Sparks book about some guy/girl who lost his/her memory or some Amish town where a recent visitor causes worlds to collide… Not so much a rock group of childish young adults. To take that even one step further, I don’t really like seeing books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk called “Contemporary Fiction.” Until there is a good genre title that describes books that vie for a younger sentiment, YA seems to best fill the void.

Part of your novel is set in Detroit. Why that setting?
It starts off in Detroit for a few reasons. This Rustbelt metropolis was and is the source of a lot of great art in America. From Motown and other classic pop music genres to urban farming and decorative city block art projects, this town continues to endow the world with that outsider’s perspective. Between these artistic surroundings and the roughness of the inner city, Detroit is the perfect setting for a band on the run from everyday life.

You mention that your protagonist is in a rock group called Listless. What do they sound like, and who are some of your own favorite bands?
I guess I can answer both of these questions together because I imagine their style being a blend of some of my favorite pop bands from the past. I imagine them with the sounds of soulful minor chord breakdowns like the Beatles, awesome choral harmonies like the Beach Boys, a punkish disregard for the norm like the Pixies, and a dorky grunge look like Weezer in the 90’s.
 
Do you play music yourself? Are you in a band?
I do play a few instruments; though, not necessarily well. I’m mainly a fan of stringed instruments that can be used to play silly love songs. My favorite instruments to serenade my wife are the guitar and ukulele.

What’s next for you?
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic reader. And I definitely have no desire to be pinned down to writing in one genre, either, so I’ve started a couple of projects that are pretty distant from The Listless. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Isaac Asimov. I loved his series sci fi. I’m certainly no Isaac Asimov but I thought why not give it a shot? I’ve started writing my own series of sci fi short stories that I might at some point put together into one novel. I’ve also started a new novel that I’m writing in a very very slow fashion set in the Asheville, North Carolina region that includes a journalist, a death, a town in turmoil, and an unexpected twist. If that sounds to you like just about every other contemporary title written in the past twenty years, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest!

E-Book Giveaway: Soul Purpose

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my review of Nick Marsh’s Past Tense as “the one with the robot.” Well, the rights to that novel and the first in the series, Soul Purpose, have recently reverted back to Nick from the press that originally published them, and he’s giving away free e-copies of Soul Purpose over the next three days (April 10 through April 12).

Click on the image for information on downloading a free e-copy of Soul Purpose.

The original cover image for Soul Purpose. Click for information on downloading a free e-copy.

Interview with Nick Marsh

Nick Marsh is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon, UK. In addition, he is the author of the Conduit sequence of novels about Alan Reece, a young man who discovers he is Earth’s ‘Conduit’ – a link between the material world, and the shadowy world beyond. In this interview, he joins us to talk about his latest project – a fantasy novel, The Ancients, now available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.

Welcome, Nick!
Hi Marc, thanks for giving me the chance to talk to you!

My pleasure. Let’s start with some information about your latest novel, The Ancients.
The Ancients is a fantasy novel, set in a country torn apart by civil war. It follows the fortunes of Dazlar, a knight returning to his homeland, and a young woman with no past. Together, they attempt to piece together her missing memories, not realising the danger they are putting themselves in by trying.

I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel for a while; of course, me being me, I couldn’t resist throwing in some science fiction too. Maybe it’s a reflex for me – the Conduit novels started off as a straight novel about life as a vet, and before I knew it a transparent cow had crept onto the page. There’s probably a medical term for it. Don’t misunderstand me, The Ancients is in almost all respects, a fantasy novel. I’ll leave it up to the readers to discover where and when the science fiction enters the frame!

What drew you to this story?
I wanted to explore some ideas that I’m very interested in – themes like the nature of reality and the meaning of life, how different people and personalities react to serious cracks in their belief system. All of that is in The Ancients, to some degree. It’s a nice way for me to examine the ideas without being put in a rubber room (well, not yet, anyway).

On a less pretentious level – I’m a nerd, and I’ve rolled a fair number of funny-shaped dice in my time. I just wanted to try my hand at a fantasy, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Call me an old softie (actually, I’d prefer it if you called me a young softie) but I wanted to write something of a character story too. In all my favourite novels – the ones I keep returning to – it’s not the setting or the story that move me and make me read them again, it’s the characters, ones that feel like real people. I hope I’ve achieved something close to that with Dazlar and the others.

Who are some of your literary influences?
Well, that varies depending on which book I’m writing. For The Ancients, Lord of the Rings, the Dragonlance Chronicles, and many geeky evenings playing Dungeons and Dragons all played their part, but casting the net a little further, Philip K Dick, William Golding and even Charles Darwin have all warped my fragile little mind. For the Conduit novels, Douglas Adams and H.P. Lovecraft are both strong influences, if rather strange bedfellows.

The Ancients is available as an e-book. Do you have any thoughts on that medium that you’d like to share?
Well, as I reply to this, it’s a few days after Christmas, and I’m still umbilically attached to my shiny new Kindle. A few minutes after unwrapping it, I did the same thing everyone else does when they got a kindle – downloaded an enormous number of free classics which I’d love to read but am well aware I will never get round to looking at. My own kindle now contains the complete works of Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Dickens, and many others, which have about of much chance of being read as a Christmas sprout on my plate has of being eaten. But they’ll make me feel clever if anyone has a look over my reading list.

Seriously, though, you don’t have to be Stephen King to realise that the world of publishing is undergoing a seismic shift at the moment. For myself. a child of the seventies, I think I still prefer the feel, the look, and even (please don’t think I’m too weird) the smell of an actual book, but I can see many advantages to eBooks. The portability, the ability to search and quickly find quotes. It’s nice to be able to read PDFs and other electronic documents on my kindle too. I suspect that the eBook may eventually replace the paperback as the easy, cheap and disposable read, whilst the hardback will still be around for presents and bookshelves. But who can say for sure about the future? I’m still waiting for my hoverboard from Back to the Future part 2.

 In addition to writing, you’re a full-time veterinary surgeon. Where and/or how do you find the time to fit writing into your schedule?
Ah, now, I came prepared for this one! I wrote a short article for the New Writers UK Newsletter about that very topic. http://www.newwritersuk.co.uk/newsletter_july2011.pdf

For everyone who doesn’t follow the link – quick summary, black magic.

I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Can you talk about that one? What’s it all about?
Absolutely! The Express Diaries is a globe-trotting (well, Europe-trotting) story of intrigue, secret cults and dark magic set on and around the Orient Express in 1925. It’s inspired by my good friends at http://www.yog-sothoth.com, a site dedicated to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, although I’ve taken it in my own direction.

I’m currently working my way through the second draft of the novel, and hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year. I might be able to get an extract to you soon!

Is there any chance we’ll get to see a third installment of the Conduit series at any point in the future? Or are you working on anything else?
I hope so, yes, I’ve got lots more ideas of horrible things to put Alan & the gang through. I’m giving him a bit of a rest at the moment, poor chap, as I’ve put him through the wringer recently. As soon as he’s recovered enough, I’ll send him on his way again! I’ll keep you informed.

As far as other writing projects go – I’m mainly working on my blog, Maybe it –should- happen to a vet (http://lordof1.blogspot.com) , an intimate and (hopefully) humorous examination of what it’s like working as a vet at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s a great stress reliever for me, and a bit of an insight into my life outside of writing. Comments and opinions on my blog would be enormously welcome!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
No problem at all, Marc, thanks for inviting me.

In addition to checking out Nick’s blog, you can visit him online at  http://www.nick-marsh.co.uk. And be sure to take a look at The Ancients, as well!  Click here for US purchse. Click here for UK purchase.