writing

One More Day

In her third novel, One More Day, Kelly Simmons deftly demonstrates that she is an author who is not afraid to take risks when it comes to the art of storytelling. The novel centers on a young mother whose child is snatched from his car seat while she’s tending to a particularly onerous parking meter. Roughly a year later, however, the child reappears for (as the title suggests) a single day before disappearing again. His reappearance and subsequent disappearance opens old wounds and forces the young mother to reflect on her marriage, her culpability in the disappearance of her child, and to come to grips with distant memories that continue to haunt her. In this respect, One More Day is similar to the author’s previous novels, Standing Still and The Bird House, both of which take memory and the tendency of the past to haunt the present as major themes. With One More Day, however, Simmons pushes into new territory, experimenting with unreliable narration and a healthy dose of magic realism. One also catches a very slight hint of Christian allegory a la William P. Young’s The Shack, particularly given the protagonist’s occasional reflections on faith in general and her relationship to her church in particular. Overall, One More Day is not only a mystery but an existential reflection on the frequently fraught relationships between the past and the present, not to mention the living and the dead.

PS: Shout out to FP Dorchak: This one is right up your alley!

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Realistic Goals and Reasonable Deadlines: An Inteview with Kourtney Heintz

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination. She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working in financial services provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

Her new novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin follows the exploits of a telepath named Kai and her husband, Oliver, in their quest for a normal life. When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Kourtney recently dropped by Small Press Reviews to answer a few questions about her work…

Marc, thank you so much for having my on your blog. I’ve been a follower for a while now and I’m so excited to be here!

Glad to have you! You got pretty far in Amazon’s breakthrough novel competition. How did that experience shape your thoughts about writing in general and your approach to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular?

It definitely was a confidence booster. But I also realized I wanted to give my readers an experience they wouldn’t forget. So I took all the feedback and went to work on the manuscript. Around the same time, I got a revise and resubmit from a top agency. Two pages of editorial-style feedback. It made me more determined to revise until I had the best book I could create.

I learned that if a reader has an issue, there is an issue but they may be incorrectly identifying the solution. Listen and mull over their feedback. Marinate in it before making any changes.

Usually the stuff I’m most resistant to is either garbage or gold. But it requires a lot of time and effort to separate the two.

As anyone who’s visited your blog might notice, you’re a very goal-oriented individual. Does setting goals and achieving them come naturally to you, or is it something that you’ve had to learn how to do? How does this practice relate to your writing, and how do you maintain a healthy outlook on those occasions when you don’t quite reach your goals?

I’ve always been a Type A person. I think it’s why I gravitated into consulting and auditing as my career for a long time. I love planning and fixing.

It definitely keeps me on schedule with my writing.

My goal is always to meet or beat a deadline and the key to that is setting realistic goals and reasonable deadlines. Saying I’ll have an agent in a year sounds ambitious, but it also sets you up for failure. I tried that route once–very disappointing. Saying I’ll query 30-50 agents over this year is a measurable and attainable goal that doesn’t rely on any one but you to achieve it.

When I miss the mark, I hold myself accountable. I beat myself up for a bit. But then I dust myself off and move forward. I examine what went wrong and figure out how to mitigate the problem going forward. If I didn’t properly set the goal or didn’t allocate the right amount of time for it, that’s something I can learn from and improve on the next go-around. As long as I get the bulk of things done and am constantly improving, I’m almost okay with the occasional failure.

What is it that attracts you to writing in general, and what attracted you to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular? Along similar lines, what made you stick with that project and see it through to publication?

Writing is a great way to work through things. At the time, I never realize I’m doing it. But when I reread a scene months later I realize what issue was being worked out on paper. I also wanted to leave a legacy behind. Something important. Something worthwhile. Hopefully, my novel will be that.

Six Train was the short story that wouldn’t let me be. I sat down and wrote a brief outline and realized I had a novel here. A novel that was dying to get out of me. I spent months pre-writing and making sure I wanted to spend years with this plot and characters. I did.

I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. And all that positive feedback from the Amazon contest reinforced my belief that it was a story people would enjoy reading. That and agents kept saying it was beautiful writing, but not a NYT bestseller. So I knew indie was the best route for it.

What have you learned from the experience of publishing The Six Train to Wisconsin? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who might follow in your footsteps? 

Make sure you are prepared to work 7 days a week. Being an indie author is a full time job. Promoting requires lots of planning and groundwork laying. There will be tons of rejection too.

Hire people you trust–the will make all the difference during crunch time.

And however long you think it will take, double that.

What are you reading right now, and what do you like about it?

I’m halfway through Audrey Kalman’s Dance of Souls. I really love Ms. Kalman’s writing style. You know you are in the hands of a master craftswoman as you read her book.

What’s next?

Well, the book tour is taking up a good chunk of my summer and fall. I’m also going to be doing revisions for my YA time travel murder mystery, Reckonings. I’d really like to start drafting Six Train’s sequel this winter too.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kourtney!

Connecting with the Author Online

Website: http://kourtneyheintz.com

Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomkourtney_heintz

Amazon Author Central Page: http://amazon.com/author/kourtneyheintz

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kourhei

Paperback available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Ebook available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iTunes

SixTraintoWisconsin

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!

Make Each Word Count: An Interview with Marcus Pactor

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing Marcus Pactor read from his short fiction collection Vs. Death Noises as part of the TireFire fiction series in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he sent me a copy of the collection, and I enjoyed it immensely, so I was doubly excited to get a chance to ask him a few questions about writing and how he fits it into his busy schedule.

You came from Florida up to my hometown of Philadelphia to do a reading for the TireFire fiction series. That’s dedication! What motivated you to make the trip? Was it worth your while?

I read Christian TeBordo’s The Awful Possibilities last year and dug it so much. I did what I previously considered a junior high stalker thing by asking this total stranger to be my Facebook friend. He agreed. He found out about my book that way, liked it, and invited me up. I have never been a junior high stalker, but I imagine this was like the junior high stalker’s dream. Besides that, I think it’s important to read wherever people are interested in my stuff. You never know who you’re going to meet.

It was entirely worth the trip. Christian and his family are great, warm people. Philadelphia’s downtown is a beautiful, large and cared for in a particular way that I have rarely seen. That art museum is a treasury. In addition, I reunited with an old, old friend.

Note: I have since learned that what I did on Facebook was pretty standard practice and not widely considered stalkerish.

Along similar lines, what motivates you to write? I ask because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to fit writing into a busy schedule, but just keep doing it anyway, and I’m trying to figure out why.

If I didn’t write, I’d probably be talking to myself all the time. I’ve got all kinds of ideas and people in my head trying to get out. Writing is about the healthiest way to get them out. It’s purgation, I guess.

I’m also motivated by the date August 30. Some time on or around that date, my wife and I will welcome a little son to the world. I have to write as much as I can before then, because my schedule will probably become more crowded afterward.

You teach at University of North Florida, and Rate My Professors reports that your students love your classes. What, specifically, do you teach, and how do your teaching and writing inform each other?

It’s strange to think that they love them. I mean, I love my kids, but we spend about a third of the semester explaining why certain kinds of sentences don’t work and why “he ejaculated” is no longer an acceptable dialogue tag. Maybe they love it because it’s a public place in which they feel free to discuss ejaculation.

This semester I’m teaching four fiction workshops. By the end of this week, I’ll have read 130 or so stories by students. Two weeks from now, I’ll have read 65 revisions. By the end of the semester, I’ll have read close to 2000 pages of my students’ fiction.

The pleasures of teaching mostly involve seeing the students improve from one piece to the next. Most of them really do work hard. It’s great to see when it pays off, especially when they get published.

Teaching has also helped me become a much better reader of fiction and practitioner of language. A lot of people can feel that something has gone wrong in a story, but a teacher has to recognize what that something is, where that something is located, and how to fix it. I mean, he has to say more than that “these sentences don’t work.” He has to be able to explain why they don’t work, especially when the grammar is impeccable. He has to point the way. He has to make recommendations that a student can respect.

Reading their stories has forced me to think hard, much harder than I ever had before, about what makes fiction work. A lot of what I figured out went into this book.

Your book is called Vs. Death Noises. Can you explain the title and any principles that guide your writing?

The book’s title comes from the first story, “The Archived Steve.” Steve had this awful emphysemic voice. He slurped from electronic cigarettes. The narrator said the sounds were death noises. Noise isn’t an element common to every story in the book, but it’s in enough of them for the title to work. Plus, tons of people seem to dig it.

I don’t know if I want to use the word “principles.” It’s a much better word for critics to use about a writer’s work than it is for a writer to use about his own stuff. My principles shift all the time, which might be why I don’t want to call them principles. Right now, I like these: –Make each word count. –Form is content. Content is form. -Tell a couple of jokes, but be serious. Seriously tell a joke. A purely sad story is not my kind of beer.

The book’s publisher is Subito Press. If I remember my Latin correctly, that means “suddenly.” Was there anything “sudden” about the writing or publishing of this book? How did you find them–or did they find you?

It was both sudden and not sudden. First, the not so sudden: the stories themselves were written over the course of two-plus years. Then, suddenly, it was summer. I was 35. My girlfriend, now my wife, and I were getting serious. I needed a freaking book. I found Subito’s contest on Duotrope and entered. Everything worked out.

And, finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

I mentioned the baby. Mostly, he is on the horizon. I’ve also got a short novel in the hands of several independent presses and contests as we speak, so I spend a lot of time knocking wood, etc. I’m working on another book too. I’m about to learn how to put up a fence in my backyard. That should be painful.

Thanks, Marcus, for taking the time to chat with me!

vs-death-noises-marcus-pactor-paperback-cover-art

Sips Card: Sharing Stories on the Go

Sips Card LogoI first read about the Sips Card in the pages of The Writer and learned shortly thereafter that one of my favorite artists, Kristen Solecki, is on the team behind this ingenious new way of sharing fiction. (Kristen’s art, by the way, graces the cover of To Be Friend a Fox, a volume of poetry by the late Richard Pearce, which I edited in 2010.) Given my interest in spreading the word about new sources of fiction and in Kristen’s work, I was happy to have the chance to chat with the artist about her latest endeavor.

What is the Sips Card, and where is it available?
Sips Card is a writing publication that shares the work of independent writers with independent coffee shops. A Sips Card is a business card with a QR Code, that when scanned, downloads a short story or poem onto your cellphone/smart device that is meant to last as long as your cup of coffee. They are available in participating coffee shops around the country, and in Scotland. You can see our current locations at http://www.sipscard.com/venues. If you are interested in becoming a venue or would like to recommend one, please email us at sipscard@gmail.com.

How did you come up with the idea?
It was a cold day in December and we were reading on a couch, trying to stay warm. Tim was explaining to me the idea of using QR Codes to market my artwork. We then were talking about sharing other media through the codes and we somehow connected the thought of reading, QR Codes, and coffee shops and spent the next two months developing the idea into what it is today.

Is there a way for readers to ask their favorite coffee shops to carry the Sips Card? In other words, how can we help spread the word?
Most definitely. We love hearing about favorite coffee shops from our readers and writers and want to support venues who support their community. There is no cost to the coffee shops or the customers. Once a shop is on board, we ship them the current issue with a compact display stand they can use as they wish. We create a page for them on our website and then ship each new issue as it is published.

Can you tell me a little bit about the works you’ve published in your first year? What was it about these stories that jumped out at you and made you want to publish them? Along similar lines, do you have any advice for writers who might want to submit their work for publication?
We’ve published a wide variety of stories and poems in our first year. We are open to all types of general fiction that has strong characters and appeals to a variety of people. We look for work that breathes with a life of its own and prefer narrative poems because we feel they compliment short fiction best.  However, we don’t only publish narrative poetry.
A well crafted story, with great character tension, along with a professional looking submission will grab our attention. We want to know that the submitting writers and poets care as much about their work they are submitting as we do about the work we publish.

Thanks, Kristen for the opportunity to chat about the Sips Card. It’s a great idea, and I hope it continues to gain in popularity!

“Each Novel Can Be a Lifetime” – Seniors Reign at The Permanent Press

Martin & Judith Shepard—both 77-year-olds and co-publishers of The Permanent Press (founded in 1978 and considered by many to be America’s  premier independent literary press), are happy to announce that, among the nine novels being released between October 2012 and June, 2013 five are by fellow septuagenarians and two by octogenarians.

“Who would have expected this?” asked Martin Shepard. “Quality fiction often makes for unusual company. Last year eight of our 16 books were mysteries, one of which, Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, was a finalist for the Edgar Award, Chautauqua Book Prize, Anthony Award, Macavity Award, and for ForeWord’s Literary Fiction Prize. But none were written by seniors. And now, more than half our recent fiction comes from much older writers. These seven seniors can still write the pants off most younger novelists. All have had distinguished careers and still have plenty of gas left in the tank. Judy and I are so pleased that they entrusted their newest writing to us.”

2012

  • October:     K.C. Frederick, 76, Looking for Przybylski
  • November: Anne Bernays, 81, The Man on the Third Floor
  • December:  Suzanne McNear, 77, Knock, Knock

2013

  • February:    William Eisner, 78, The Stone Lion
  • April:          Daniel Klein, 73,  Nothing Serious
  • May:           Christopher Davis, 84, The Conduct of Saints
  • June:           Marc Davis, 77, Bottom Line

Accounting for this trend, Bill Eisner, 78, whose novel The Stone Lion comes out in February, notes, “A writer’s life is his working capital: the people he has  known, the situations he has encountered, the places he has seen, the experiences  he has had. Older folks simply have more to draw from. Much of my own writing  was inspired by the lives of the people I have known, but once a person is transposed to fiction and given the roundness and completeness that fiction demands, he or she is so changed as to be unrecognizable even to the person who inspired the character. When you are older, you have seen and done enough to provide sufficient material for a lifetime of writing.”

Supporting Eisner’s assertion, Marc Davis, 77, whose novel Bottom Line will be available in June, adds, “I’ve got loads of stories from my days as a newspaper reporter, here [in Chicago] and on the Texas-Mexican border.  I also have tales of the commodity futures business, in which I made some bucks buying coffee options in the wake of the Big Brazilian Freeze of 1976, tales of my career as an art teacher, and painter, with a fistful of prizes, and then my work in advertising, winning two Tempo Awards and one Echo, for my direct mail campaigns for the art of Norman Rockwell, and others, on collectors plates.  And lots of others, including a story about my Dad, a Chicago newspaper man during the Front Page era, who ‘shot’ Dillinger exclusively, with a camera.”

All of this, Davis notes, “disproves again Scott Fitzgerald’s remark that there are no second acts in American lives.  Apparently, there are second, third and fourth acts, and curtain calls, with encores.”

Yet the writer’s life is no walk in the park, according to Christopher Davis, 84, whose The Conduct of Saints is due in May: “The work is difficult, both the reading and the writing. People will say they love to write. Even good writers say so, but I think they are talking about desire and expectation. They mean they love good art and, because they have sometimes made it happen and because they love their creation, they hope (it is a desperate and pessimistic hope) to do it again. Since this creative work involves instinct and thought in a contest that is resolved by means of the manipulation of words (instead of paint or clay or sound), and since the language we use as a medium in the art is derived from the language we use in our ordinary lives and gives a false appearance of being the same thing, writing is one of the hardest jobs men and women do.”

Seconding this opinion, KC Frederick, 76, whose Looking for Przybylski is due in October, adds,  “It’s always been a miracle, looking back at my earliest notes for a fiction, that already latent in those obscure scratchings was a  complex entity that would someday breathe and move.  To make it happen, though, meant using every tool in the tool box as well as every instrument in my little orchestra.  When the fiction’s done a sense of ending goes along with the feeling of achievement: this thing is finished, it doesn’t have to be done again, let’s try something new. But then there’s the blank page. Next time around you have to start as a baby, learning to speak all over.  Each novel can be a lifetime—doesn’t that complicate how writers calculate their ages?”

Isaac: A Modern Fable

As Ivan Goldman’s Isaac: A Modern Fable nears its conclusion, one of the novel’s narrators makes a telling observation: “Whatever we think we know, we’re just guessing, like everyone else.” In context, the narrator, Ruth, is commenting on her familiarity with a slippery and sinister academician named Borges, but the line also captures the essence of the novel itself. Drawing heavily on the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, this “modern fable” serves as a telling commentary on humanity’s ongoing struggle with questions of religion and our intimations of the divine. To wit: What’s the difference between those who claim to hear the voice of God and those who are just plain crazy?

The novel centers on the romance between its two narrators, Lenny and Ruth. Complicating matters is the fact that Lenny is actually the Biblical Isaac, reports of whose death, he quickly informs us, have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, he’s managed to hang on to his life for over 200 generations without aging so much as a day—forgotten, in his words, by God and the world. But not, it turns out, by another immortal known only as “the beast.”

The fantastic nature of the novel suggests a more mature, not to mention literate, version of the Twilight series. But if Lenny is a world-weary answer to Stephanie Meyer’s Edward Cullen, Ruth stands out as a far more willful, mature, and headstrong antidote to Bella Swan. That the novel also takes shots at ivory-tower academia and celebrity culture while dropping references to the likes of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Jorge Luis Borges, and Toni Morrison only adds to the fun.

A tale of Biblical proportions playing on the fringes of magic realism, Isaac is a compelling novel about what we accept and what we deny and how we struggle to tell the difference.