Tag Archives: debut novel
When I think about the characters in my soon to be released debut novel, I wish I could hang out with them, talk to them and take road trips with them.
Jamie is such a complex character but then again, most women are. What sets Jamie apart? Her past has shaped her character in significant ways she isn’t even fully aware of. She has been running from the emotions that make her fearful of getting to close to anyone else she might hurt. Even her new life thousands of miles from home has not allowed her to escape the past. In fact she may be repeating it. You’ve no doubt heard “You can’t go home again”. Well sometimes it’s the one place you need to get a fresh start.
Josh and Tyler are brothers who grew up on a farm near Jamie. Their lives have been intertwined with her by aviation, geography and tragedy. One brother has always chased Jamie and tried to protect her, sometimes even from herself. The other is a charismatic prankster who seems aloof but has a much deeper side. She ran from them both, and it will take both of them to save her.
I guess in a way in have had conversations with these folks and been on road trips with them. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and hope you will as well.
What inspired you to write The Phantom Lady of Paris?
I believe there is an unseen substance in all of humanity that unites most of us. It shows itself when we see a news story of a child born with a malady that doctors declare will kill him by the age of three. The mother is convinced the scholarly medical man is wrong. She takes her son home, nurtures and loves him. At the age of 20, that boy is alive and well, running races and winning gold medals in the 110 meter hurdles, soaring over track obstacles like a frightened impala. The mother, with no degrees (except for a PHD in love and nurturing), proves she is wiser than the doctor, with his multitude of sheep skins.
Or the story of a prisoner incarcerated 30 years for a murder he did not commit and is finally released because of DNA evidence. Our hearts reach out to the wronged man. His tale is in tune with the universal something that dwells inside most of us, the something that makes us human.
I wrote the Phantom Lady of Paris as my attempt to reach that universal inner core in the same way the example stories quoted above do. Sometimes that resonance is sweet; sometimes bitter. More often than not, it’s bitter-sweet, the way life is. I wanted the Phantom Lady of Paris to mirror life. I trust it does.
What is your book about?
On the surface, it’s about an American educator, Paul Lassar, who in 1968 ventures to Paris on sabbatical to write a novel. There he encounters the mysterious “Phantom Lady of Paris.” Although she is engaging, she conceals a shadowy secret that changes Paul’s life forever. A secret slowly exposed amid a backdrop of café bombings, Sorbonne University student riots, the overdose death of a “flower child,” strolls along the Seine and early mornings in bistros savoring the richness of French onion soup and jet-black espressos.
On another level, the novel is about all humanity and its never-ending quest to unshackle itself from the chains of conformity and mediocrity and by doing so, liberate that inner self that yearns for freedom, a freedom symbolized in my novel by an eagle soaring above the highest cloud.
Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?
I write for only one kind of reader – a reader who likes a good story, a tale that has some “sticky stuff” generously sprinkled in its beginning, so much of the substance that the peruser finds it impossible to extract himself. I write for those who enjoy a tale that has a beginning, middle and end, one that transports the reader on a magical carpet of words to…anywhere. Good stories never die. Romeo and Juliet is a good story. True, the main characters die, but the story lives on. I hope the Phantom Lady has a similar shelf life.
Finally, I write a story that first and foremost must please me. And I’m the most difficult writer on this planet to please. If my readers are just half as easy to please as I am, I have nothing to worry about.
What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written?
Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe was a poet who masqueraded as a writer of prose. But he didn’t fool anyone. His prose represents some of the most lyrical poetry in American literature. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, who was also Ernest Hemingway’s editor, called Wolfe “a genius”; Hemingway, he labeled, “a writer.” There is a difference.
Do you think writing this book changed your life?
After penning the Phantom Lady, I was not the same person. The actual writing of the novel took about five and a half years. During that period, I wrote and rewrote again and again, etc. That said, the truth is, it took me all my life to write the Phantom Lady. The penning of my two other novels was preparing me to write TPLOP. The production of my countless short stories was also tutoring me on how to create the Phantom Lady. And during all this time of schooling, “the lady” was inside me clamoring to be liberated, as I was clamoring to liberate her. “Free me…free me,” she screamed. When I completed the last sentence of the novel, the lady was finally liberated. “Thank you, Calvin,” she said. “Thank you.” Finally, she was free…and so was I.
Click here to read the first chapter of: The Phantom Lady of Paris
Click here to buy: The Phantom Lady of Paris
In 1968, a year of worldwide explosive protests, Paul Lasser, an American educator, ventures to Paris on sabbatical to write a novel. There he encounters the mysterious “Phantom Lady of Paris.” Though cordial, she conceals a shadowy past that will change Paul’s life forever, a secret history which unfolds amid a backdrop of café bombings, Sorbonne student riots and the drug overdose death of an American “flower child.” But in spite of these events, there blossoms a soulful relationship between the American educator and the walking enigma, The Phantom Lady, all taking place in the metropolis for lovers and dreamers…Paris.
Riot scene from The Phantom Lady of Paris
Year: 1968. Place: Paris, France; Latin Quarter; Boulevard Saint German. There Sorbonne students mass for a demonstration against “the educational establishment.” The protest leader is a communist-trained revolutionary, “François the Incendiary,” a human fireball of rhetoric and rabble rousing.
One of the leader’s aides handed him (François) a bullhorn, and he pressed its mouthpiece to his lips. Immediately, Boulevard Saint Germain transformed into a sepulcher: total silence. “Fellow revolutionaries,” the Incendiary bellowed, “Patriots of France”—he paused, the intermission accentuating silence like an exclamation point—“hear my words.”
Cheers exploded, followed by a chain of chants: “François…François…François!” The speaker once more signaled for silence.
“Comrades,” he continued, “comrades.” Again, an explosion of cheers.
“Quiet, let ‘im speak,” a man yelled.
“The time,” François said, “has come, the day, the hour; the moment is at hand! Not tomorrow, as the bureaucracy would have you believe, nor some unnamed future date. Fellow revolutionaries, now is the time when we must end once and for all the university’s inequalities, dismantle its archaic bureaucracy and curricula and make known to the world our grievances.” With a raised fist, he shouted into the bullhorn, “Now! Now! Now!”
The crowd responded: “Now! Now! Now!” Beneath the din of the throng edged another sound, the wail of police sirens, but the resonance of approaching sirens didn’t deter François. “We have not gathered here,” he extolled, “to capitulate!” His words were now fireballs of passion. “We shall not be moved!”
“Never!” demonstrators responded. “Never!”
“Nor shall we cower,” intoned the speaker.
“Never!” protestors replied.
“Or be intimidated by billy clubs.”
“Or tear gas!”
“No! No!” The crowd chanted louder and louder.
The screech of police vehicles slamming to a stop punctuated protesters’ chants as officers with shields, nightsticks, and gas masks, poured from vans. “Form ranks!” barked the commander. “Double time!” Like automatons, lawmen scurried.
“The presence of policemen will not weaken our resolve,” François the Incendiary orated.
“No!” responded a chorus of frenzied voices.
Officers formed lines on the sidewalk across the street from Gilbert’s. “This demonstration,” the commanding officer bellowed, “is unauthorized. You have sixty seconds to disperse.” No one moved. “Fifty-nine seconds…and counting!”
An educator, Calvin Davis spent a year in Paris (1968-69), during most of which time he sat at outdoor cafes on boulevards Saint Michel and Saint German, observing the endless streams of passing humanity and writing The Phantom Lady of Paris, all the while downing countless cups of midnight-black java. The experience taught him a lot about writing and also how to wear out the seats of a half dozen trousers. So, he’s out of six pairs of pants. No big deal. That’s a small price to pay for bringing such a wonder child into the word…the remarkable phantom lady of Paris.
Calvin Davis is also the author of two other novels; Love in Opposing Colors and The Event at Fourteenth and U: A Christmas Story.
Click here to read the first chapter of: The Phantom Lady of Paris
Click here to buy: The Phantom Lady of Paris
Today we are speaking with Coco Ihle, whose book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, has just been published. What is your book about?
SHE HAD TO KNOW has an autobiographical element to it and deals with two long lost sisters who reunite and nearly lose their lives searching for a hidden treasure and a murderer in a Scottish castle.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
I was a product of foster care and adoption, so my early life was spent fantasizing about finding my birth family with the thought of writing a book one day involving my search. It wasn’t until my early thirties that my Scottish roots were uncovered and a tiny seed was planted. In my fifties, one of my sisters was located and the book started forming in my mind. What better story to write than a mystery?
How much of yourself is hidden in the main characters of this book?
SHE HAD TO KNOW has two protagonists, the two sisters. I found it interesting that both sisters in the book have multiple characteristics of my sister and me. That is to say, one isn’t me and the other my sister, my fictional characters have traits that both my sister and I have, plus some. It just worked out that way. Does that make sense?
Yes, actually. Tell me, did you do any research for this book?
Yes, a great deal. Luckily, when I found out about my Scottish heritage years earlier, I joined a local Scottish society and met many Scots who shared with me stories of their lives and culture. My son and I joined the society’s bagpipe band and traveled to Scotland to order our bagpipes and kilts and to discover more about my homeland. To make things interesting, we stayed in several castles all over Britain. That’s when I knew one sister in my book would own a castle hotel. More trips were necessary for fact finding, and many hours of speaking with my wonderful Scottish friends helped me get the details down. I also used books and pamphlets that I gathered on my travels along with the phone and, toward the end, the internet. What can I say, I love research.
What challenges did you face when you wrote this book?
In part of the book I deal with reuniting the sisters. I already knew how I felt, but I needed to find out how my sister dealt with her questions of not knowing where she came from or why she was given up; that sort of thing. The questions were difficult to ask and the answers were tough to put on paper, because I wanted to emphasize the joy of the sister’s reunion, not dwell on the sadness of our lost childhood together. In the end, I left out much of the negative, though in the future, I may touch on more of the problems the sisters faced.
Another challenge for me was in simplifying the Scottish dialect so that everyone could understand it. I tried to be consistent with it so the reader would get into the cadence of the characters. I thought adding a glossary might help, too.
Do you think writing this book changed your life? If so, how?
Absolutely. In a couple of ways. My sister and I talked in detail about our lives before we met, and how we felt about all the things that happened and didn’t happen through the years. Our talks created a stronger bond between us.
Another way my life changed was, my adopted mother used to accuse me of starting projects and losing interest before finishing them. Well, I took that criticism to heart. I know she’s up there smiling down at me, because I finish projects now.
Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?
Mornings are my favorite time, because my mind is fresh, but sometimes late at night when there are no distractions. Often, I’ll wake in the middle of the night with an idea or a phrase and have to write it down on a tablet I keep on my nightstand. And occasionally, I just have to get up and write that thought or idea in more detail.
Do you have a favorite snack food or beverage that you enjoy while you write?
Ha! That would be my famous cup of joe. I have a wonderful 16 oz. thermos mug that keeps my coffee hot, so I don’t have to get up so often for a refill. My right hand seems to be permanently crooked into the mug holding position. Just kidding. Occasionally, I like to munch on roasted almonds, too.
Why did you set your book to begin in 1985?
I’ve always been told to “write what you know.” Since my own search was done primarily before computers, I wanted to write my story before that era. As I continue to search for two more siblings, I’m finding the computer age has only complicated matters. Often, too much information can be as much of a hindrance as not enough. Also, found information is often incorrect, which can lead to wasted time and effort. If it hadn’t been for the Alma Society, which helps in family searches, I may have given up years ago.
What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?
When I read a story, I want to be swept into it and escape from my life issues and just be entertained. I hope my readers will feel that way with my book. I also hope, people will be reinforced in their thinking that persistence is a virtue which almost always has its rewards. It certainly has in my life.
What do you like to read?
Mostly mysteries since that’s what I like to write, and I’m lucky to know some very excellent writers in my genre through conferences, conventions and listserves. Memoirs are another area I like and in which I have written. And there are some wonderful YA authors out there whose work in fantasy I enjoy. But, I like thrillers, too. Oh, dear, I just love to read and if it is well written, I’ll read just about anything that isn’t too violent or graphic.
Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?
Funny you should ask. My favorite is: “Aspire to inspire before you expire.” Isn’t that great?
I’ll say. Thank you, Coco, for taking the time to speak with us today.
Click here to read the first chapter of: She Had to Know
Click here to read an excerpt of: She Had to Know
Click here to buy: She Had to Know
After the deaths of her adopted parents, Arran discovers her long lost sister’s name and, despite a terrifying premonitory dream, embarks on a quest to find Sheena. After reuniting in Scotland, the sisters search for the reason their birth father and his housekeeper mysteriously died and why Sheena’s life is being threatened. Led to a cryptic rhyme rumored to map the way to an ancient hidden treasure buried deep in the bowels of Wraithmoor Castle, the sisters follow the clues. A murderer follows the sisters. Will the secret passages lead them to discovery and triumph, or death and eternal entombment?
Hours of compiling, arranging, rearranging and packing had left Sheena’s body fatigued, but her brain wouldn’t rest. She kept thinking about her father’s unknown cause of death. Something distracting would help, perhaps a book to read. Several were on the nightstand, and she looked through them. The Magus, by John Fowles, she’d already read. The next was Barbarians at the Gate, by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. No, not in the mood. The third book was most curious. The aged volume of The Nature Library on Birds, by Neltje Blanchan, seemed especially heavy for such a small size. Sheena was immediately intrigued. The front cover had an illustration of a bluebird family: male, female and chick. How odd. This hardly seemed the kind of book her father would read.
The shock came when she opened the front cover. Inserted in a precisely cutout hole in the pages was a gun. Carefully, she extracted the weapon by the wooden grip and held it in the palm of her hand under the bedside lamp to get a better look. “MADE BERETTA USA CORP” was etched on one side of the blue-black metal barrel. The .22-caliber semi-automatic, just like the one she had learned to shoot a few years ago, was loaded.
As she was carefully returning the gun to the hiding place, she noticed a folded piece of yellowed paper tucked in the bottom of the hole. Laying the gun on the bed, she reached in to retrieve it and noticed the edges of the folds were weak and brittle. As she was carefully unfolding them, she felt a firm lump between her finger and thumb. A cracked piece of cellophane tape was stuck to one side of the paper, and under that, a key. A safe-deposit key. Stamped into the flat surface, were the initials, “CMB.” Chase Manhattan Bank on Madison Avenue, a few blocks away, was the bank on her father’s monthly statements. Why wasn’t this key in Father’s study with his other papers?
Turning the book over, she discovered another surprise. Inside this cover was another cut out section containing a small leather notebook, underneath which, a thick piece of cardboard separated the two compartments. She opened the notebook to the first page. In the upper right corner was written, “Oct./Nov.” Centered below was “This Book Belongs To: J.W.B.,” her father’s initials.
She plumped up two pillows and leaned back against the headboard, excited by this new discovery which appeared to be a journal. The entries were sporadically dated, and the writing, in her father’s hand, was scribbled and barely legible, as though written in a hurry. He had used initials rather than full names throughout. She read aloud the last entry dated the week before he died:
“Have the feeling I’m being followed. Yesterday, a car almost hit me outside the hotel. Driver didn’t stop, too dark to see license plate. Wonder if it has something to do with running into P.S. last week? Never liked that greedy snake.”
Sheena’s intake of breath was followed by an icy chill shivering through her body. With pounding heart she looked across the room at the photograph of her parents, singling out her father’s image and said, “What in the world happened to you? Did you die naturally? Or were you murdered?”
Coco, a product of foster care and adoption, spent over fifty years searching for her sister, whom she found in 1994. Thus the idea for SHE HAD TO KNOW was born. She discovered Scottish roots and plays harp and bagpipes, along with piano and cello. The Florida Writer’s Association published a short story of hers in 2009 in their first anthology. Coco is a member of MWA; SinC; FWA; The Alma Society, which aids in family searches; the DorothyL Digest and the Scottish St. Andrew’s Society.
Click here to read the first chapter: She Had to Know
Click here to buy: She Had to Know
The Magic Fault takes place in 2004 in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. An American professor who studies magical thinking uncovers a baffling series of answers to the question, Why?
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
The idea blossomed in 2004, and the writing started within months.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
The inspiration came from being in Turin, Italy, during a festival of food sponsored by the International Slow Food movement. Just a few miles from the festival is the church where the Shroud of Turin is honored. It was the confluence of the two events, one celebrating life on and in the earth, the other the afterlife and its promise of a future life after-earth. Putting the two themes together was an inspiring challenge.
Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?
The most unusual character is an elderly Parisienne who is protecting a secret. She is based on a woman I met some years back who lived through WW II as a resistance fighter. She was an incredibly still-beautiful woman who smoked strong French cigarettes and climbed mountains. I may bring her back in another book some day.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I spent six years writing The Magic Fault.
How much of the story did you have in mind before you started writing it?
I found I first had to describe the plot to friends. By talking about it I got in touch with what I wanted to say in the story. I needed to know the plot well enough before I could choose my characters. Then the characters started telling me how they would react in the situations I put them in. As usual, they talked too much; I tossed everything into the first few drafts and then crawled exhausted to an editor who found a way to cut and trim and guide me back to the story line.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
Given the topic, there was a lot of research; mainly books on the subject. The Internet was a major source for fact-checking. I made visits to some of the sites described in the book, and had heavy email contact with sources who lived in places I couldn’t visit. Finally, the New York Times always had a story that nudged me when I was writing something related.
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
There is pre-writing and there is post-writing. I differentiate characters by “sleeping” with them, every last one of them. I write something and then wait for the characters to knock on my head in the night. They finally come alive after many nights spent in their company (dreams, waking up and writing down some dialogue or action, etc.). They point me on the right path on how they would act and think in the story I want to tell.
How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?
The book is done when my characters’ involvement in the story seems fully realized.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
Balancing a day job with writing on a weekly basis was a huge challenge. I finally changed my job to four days a week instead of five. Those three-day weekends make a difference, especially if two of the days are more or less filled with other chores or getaways.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
My writing schedule varied with the stages of development of the book. Early in the book I wrote on a couple of weekday early mornings and then also on weekends. Usually my computer went with me on vacations and I wrote daily. Rewriting was more episodic, hit and run, because I spent more time thinking how the story held together. When I found an agent and began heavy editing and rewriting, I imposed a rule for myself; get the agent the latest version as soon as you can. Write whenever one finds time; deadline writing.
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
The most difficult part of the writing process is cutting out extraneous plot detours. That usually means characters you like but who shouldn’t be in this book; scenes that seem essential but aren’t, dialogue that explains more than it should. The “aha moment” comes at the right time, about halfway through the first draft — where am I going with this story? And usually it’s an editor who taps me on the head with the question.
Where can people learn more about you and The Magic Fault?
From my publisher’s website: Second Wind Publishing/Paul Mohrbacher
Click here to buy: The Magic Fault
The Magic Fault unfolds in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. The theft occurs during the 2004 Salone del Gusto, Turin’s celebration of “good, clean, and fair food” sponsored by the international Slow Food Movement. Tom Ueland, an American Midwest college history professor and journalist who writes about magical thinking, is in Turin to vacation with a friend, Rachel Cohen, an exhibitor at the celebration. He’s also there at the invitation of the Turin archbishop, himself a student of magical thinking. Tom takes up the chase after the Shroud of Turin and is spun toward a resolution he never sees coming.
The Magic Fault will resonate with people who love the drama of European history, with those who follow religious debates, and with people passionate about where and how the world’s food is grown. Mystery lovers will have fun trying to figure out the resolution before the protagonist does. And the “magic” theme adds to the mystery.
He never would have been in that church yesterday if not for one other person. A month earlier, he had received a letter from the archbishop of Turin, a priest named Michael Tucci. Tucci had read an article on magical thinking in the New York Times arts section. In the article, Tom had been quoted as an authority on the topic. He summarized the Historian Norman Cantor’s insights into medieval behavior during the Black Plague of the 14th Century: Christians blamed the Jews for the plague. “Scapegoating is magical thinking,” Tom wrote. “And it goes on today. We blame the ‘other’ for everything wrong in our lives. Religious extremists are often the worst offenders.”
The priest wrote that he was deeply fascinated by the topic and invited him to Turin. Tom wrote back he’d be there in a month. Yesterday was to be the day for the meeting. Tom had decided to check out the famed Shroud of Turin relic first.
Now it looked as though he might not get to see the priest. Next stop: The U.S. consulate in Turin, if there was one. And he needed a lawyer.
Another knock on the door; the big guy barged in and spoke actually using nouns and verbs. “The archbishop of Turin wants to see you.”
Tom looked at his watch — 7 a.m. The cop had brought him a shaving kit, a cappuccino and a bag of fresh bread and rolls. “Get dressed, please, and I will be back in thirty minutes.” “Please” meant something for sure — he was cleared.
“It’s about time. Is it a trial, the inquisition, what the hell is going on?”
The big cop had undergone a personality change from the night before. He even looked smaller. “The archbishop will meet you in the Duomo. The scene of the crime. Then of course, if all goes well, you are free to go about your business in Torino.”
The Magic Fault is Paul Mohrbacher’s first venture into genre fiction. His writing career began as a playwright. His first script for the stage, The Chancellor’s Tale (The Dramatic Publishing Company), won first prize in the 1991 Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition and has received numerous productions and readings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, he was a Catholic priest for 16 years. He lives with his wife, Ruth Murphy, in St. Paul, surrounded by grandchildren.
(Photo by Andrea Cole Photography)
Click here to buy: The Magic Fault
I’ve been sharing on Twitter lately about the growing trend of e-book publishing. Publishers Weekly announced that E-book sales jumped 252% during the first quarter of 2010. Here’s the link to their article: http://tinyurl.com/32fynza
Even the Independent Book Publishers Association has jumped on board offering great marketing tips for E-book sales: http://www.ibpa-online.org/articles/shownews.aspx?id=2953
Apparently, the best at marketing his E-books is J.A. Konrath. He touts 4,000 Kindle sales per month at $1.99 per download. Now Amazon has signed Konrath to a deal where he will provide content exclusively to them. He already has more than 20 Kindle offerings on Amazon, so this author has a lot of product available.
This author was unable to find a “legitimate” publisher, yet kept writing. With the advent of virtual publishing, Konrath has found a profitable niche.
Even J.K. Rowling is beginning to ease her distaste in digital publishing. Word is she’s considering making her Harry Potter series available for the Kindle.
Recently one reader friend couldn’t wait to pull out his Kindle and prompt STACCATO’s first pages. So very cool. The only complaints he voiced is the lack of actual page numbers, and one glitch with the formatting. Forced hyphenates show up as hyphens within words. What I mean by this is in order to visually make a line of printed text more appealing (without too much white space on a line) there are times when a hard hyphen is implemented to tighten the text. What appears on the page may appear as an actual line, yet on the Kindle unit the hyphenated word looks like: format-ting.
Best of luck to you writers who decide to make your words available as Kindle downloads.