Guest Post – Marie Kammerer Franke

Guest Post – Marie Kammerer Franke

Today I have the privilege of bringing you a guest post by author of science fiction and fantasy, including the book A Charming Nightmare. Marie Krammerer Franke tells us about how she became and indie author.
1We’ve all been there; lovingly turning our stories into print, cringing at the words we just wrote and holding down the backspace key for hours. You love it, it has a name, it’s a member of your family and now you are staring at the send button wondering what form of rejection your child is going to receive this time around.

Or, at least, that’s how I felt.  Hell, if I’m completely honest with you I couldn’t hit send.  Not the first time. It took a very dear friend to look over my shoulder and say “whatcha doin’?” and in the time it took me to turn around to mouth a syllable she had reached over my shoulder and hit that damn button for me.

And then we waited…
And waited….
And waited…
And then it came; “Thank you for your recent submission, we feel that your work is not the right fit for us, but we wish you well blah blah blah yadda yada yadda…”

That wasn’t so bad, they were polite in their mass-generated rejection.  Let’s try that again!

The more I hit send the more brazen agencies became:
“We feel that your novel is not suited for us, we feel that it is too ‘girly’ to be classified as true science fiction…”
“Thank you for your submission, if you could change A,B,C to this, that, and the other thing we would be happy to reconsider your work.”
“We would love to take on your story, it will be a challenge for us to market as is, please change blah blah blah and resubmit.”

This went on for a year.
It wears on you.  No matter how much you adore your baby, you start questioning it, I started considering their suggestions.  So, I took about 4 months away from my child.

When I went back to it, I fell in love all over again.  With it just the way it was.
 
And that is all it took for me to become an indie writer.
 
An Indie write is someone who is in control of every single thing having to do with the piece you created.  You are your books sole advocate, the only person who has any right to change, decide, suggest, ‘yay or nay’ anything having to do with your novel.  No agent asking for more innuendos, no editors highlighted re-writes, no lawyers, publicists, designers, advertisers, accountants, or loan officers.  Those are all hats you wear now as a single parent to your epic story.
 

This is how I did it, a sliver into one indie writer’s mind..

 

#1 Introduce yourself to the neighborhood
 
I tell people to become a drug dealer using free samples; give them a little bit and before the release they’ll be at your door twitchy, itchy, licking their lips, wanting more.  In that same breath I remind them that not everyone is their target audience.  I write science fiction/fantasy with a side of chick flick lit.  I’m not going to ask someone who solely reads Christian fiction if they want a hit off what I’m dealing.  Not at first at least. 
 
Remember that friend who hit ‘send’ for me?  She’s not only the only person in the world who can get away with such an action, but she’s also an amazing artist who owns a shop (mortalthreads.com) that is dedicated to everything fandom.  Months after my whole ‘I’m going to be a strong independent woman, you will not change my book!’ declaration she asked me if I wanted a spot on her website.  Never in a million years would I have imagined as a writer would come in the form of a clothing store!  But think about it…science fiction-fandom…chick flick lit-nerd girls!  Okie dokie, I’m right at home, let’s do this!  Each week Mortal Threads brought you an excerpt from A Charming Nightmare via Mortal Reads.  All in prelude of the book’s grand release.
 
Not everyone has a Mortal Threads at their fingertips (I licked it, it’s MINE), but you have everything you need to build a name on your phone.  Social Media is full of a plethora of people waiting to get their hands on stuff.  Writer’s Digest is another avenue to tap into; several times a year they hold writing competitions, if you place in their contests your writing gets displayed on their site, their magazine, and numerous other sites.  Google it, go ahead, here I’ll give you something to cut and paste…I promise you will not be disappointed.
 
How to promote your book before it’s published
 
#2 Don’t be afraid of the words Self-Publishing
 
Don’t be afraid when I use the term self-publishing, I know we all have visions of Xeroxed papers stapled together to be sold as our life’s work dancing around in our heads when someone suggests self-publishing.  I know, that’s exactly what I thought;  the folded sheets of copier paper, unprofessional 3 ring approach for binding, missing cover art.
 
Self-publishing has grown out of its baby babble into something overwhelming in choices.  I used Create Space (owned by Amazon).  Even before I uploaded my work into its system the choices took days for me to go through.  They cover you, literally, cover to cover. You can choose page colors, fonts, page sizes, numbers, cover art, gloss, matt. Once choices are made Create Space tells you to order a copy, a proof.  This is hands down a must, order it, and read every individual word.  Why?  I looked it over on the website.  I’ve read it a hundred times already.  Once you click the done icon you’ll get approved within 24 hours. You can make changes from there, but once you choose to go live Amazon can take 6-8 weeks to make changes and then those changes are considered a new edition of the book.  One that you’ll have to add into Goodreads and any other book groups you belong to including your copyrights.  This is how I ended up having a sentence that will forever read ‘I looked over to the person closet to me’ instead of ‘I looked over to the person closest to me.’
 
I didn’t touch on what I am sure is a vast wealth in cover art only because I didn’t use it.  Mortal Threads designed my cover using the Create Space specifications (again MT is mine…back off!)
 
The finished product was something that looked ‘store bought’, not handmade!
 
#3 It’s all about the Benjamins
 
Truth, it is all about the Benjamins.  While Create Space is free and they’ll help in getting the product out there once you hit ‘go live’ (they’ll make it appear on Kindle, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Audio Books, make it accessible to library databases, and even give schools the opportunity to get it) you still have to decide on a price, and most of all YOU have to purchase your own books from them.  Don’t go beyond your means expecting to get rich instantly.  Not even J.K. Rowling was J.K. Rowling overnight.  Under no circumstance should a loan payment come out of your need to publish, nor should the opening of a new Master Card.  Instead I talked to my own Benjamin about Benjamins and together we set up an accounting system that would completely separate ACN from our personal finances, including a money max that we both could easily afford.  Remember, every penny invested has to be accounted for; you now have another thing to write down on your taxes.
 
#4 Your eyes ARE bigger than your stomach
 
I say this because you will want to purchase 10,000 copies of your own book…don’t (instead purchase 10,000 copies of mine, someone should benefit from your gluttony) Don’t say you won’t want to over order, I know you will, and I’ll prove it. 
“I’ll buy a copy, can I get it directly from you?  Will you sign it if I do?”
You’ll hear this from mom & dad, grandma, friends, cousins, your next door neighbor, the mailman, the checkout person at the grocery store.  In your head you’ll start a list ‘I bet Sally will want one, then there’s Uncle Don, my 10th grade English teacher, my co-workers, so and so, whoosy-whats-it. Before your first page is printed mentally have sold a thousand copies.  So you’ll buy a thousand copies at around $7.00 each and with a shipping rate of $25.00 per 50, anyone want to do that math?  It’s not common core so we should be able to see its $7,500 before tax.  But that’s ok, its easy money, Beth from accounting wants two, the barista at Starbucks wanted one-
But do they? 
Do they really? 
I ordered a book proof, and walked around with that proof proudly within reach for a month before the final product came out.  I showed and bragged and sold about 3000 copies in that time.  Do you know how many followed through when the shipment arrived?  13 Yup, you heard me right, 13 out of 3000 excited promises.  Luckily, I had bought 50, and 10 of those 50 I had other plans for.
 
#5 In a writer’s world free works both ways
 
So after your guaranteed sales from grandma, mom and dad, and your BFF, have a plan.  My plan was to do a giveaway or two.  Everyone loves free stuff right??? I did an Amazon giveaway. On an Amazon Giveaway you can set up requirements, I was new to twitter so I made it a requirement to follow me on twitter.  After 3 weeks I had 321 new followers, which may seem like nothing to you, but I created my twitter account the same day the Amazon Giveaway started so I would call it my free for their free.  An Amazon Giveaway is also your bank accounts cheat, you buy what you want to giveaway-5 Kindle copies of A Charming Nightmare-and in return Amazon gives you the royalties on 5 Kindle copies of A Charming Nightmare sold.
My Amazon Giveaway cost me $24.98-$17.24=$7.74
 

I also became a Goodreads author and did a Goodreads Giveaway.  5 signed 1st editions of A Charming Nightmare.  3 weeks.  900 people wanted a free book, surprise surprise, and what was my free?  Well, if you win a Goodreads Giveaway you HAVE TO review the book you won!  And here’s a bonus free, you as the author write up their ‘Congratulations you won’ message.  I simply added; ‘if you enjoy A Charming Nightmare feel free to write a review on Amazon as well!’ Amazon is a ratings run website, the more reviews and stars you get from verified Amazon customers the lower in ranking you get, the lower in rankings the closer to the top of their search engine you go!  On the day of its release ACN was ranked as 469,003 out of over 1 million, now, 2 months into its release, some sales, even more Kindle sales, and two reviews ACN has jumped to 21,157th in the science-fiction category.  Again, not even Stephen King was Stephen King when he started.

 

My next adventure in giving things away is going to be a Free on Kindle week.  A couple of other indie authors I’ve talked to said it is hands down the way to go (just don’t think about the lost sales when you see your download numbers).  One of them did 7 days free on Kindle, his books went from 50 downloads in 8 months to 152,265 in 7 days.  That was 2 months ago, as of today he had 3,200 in verified Kindle book sales, and a 30% increase in physical books sales.  A far cry from where he was a year ago!  Andy will tell you though, it is initially a kick in an author’s self-esteem to see how many people only want your book when you’re giving it away.
  
That is a very small list of commandments.  I know, it doesn’t even cover all the hats an indie author wears, but in essence you’re my competition!  Why would I tell you all my secrets?
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Walking Wounded by Anna Franklin Osborne

Walking Wounded by Anna Franklin Osborne

Born at the end of the First World War, a young girl struggles to find her own identity in her big family and is pushed into a stormy marriage through a terrible misunderstanding from which her pride refuses to let her back down. As her own personal world begins to crumble, the foundation of the world around her is shaken as Germany once again declares war and her brothers and young husband sign up with the first wave of volunteers.

Walking Wounded tells the story of those left behind in a Blitz-ravaged London, and of the web of loyalty, guilt and duty that shapes the decisions of the women awaiting the return of their men-folk as the war draws to a close.

Spanning the period from the Armistice of the First World War to the exodus of the Ten Pound Poms to Australia in the 1950s, Walking Wounded is a family saga whose internal violence is mirrored by the world stage upon which it is set.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Walking Wounded by Anna Franklin Osborne tells a story from the end of the First World War, through to and beyond the end of the Second World War. It is a tale of violence, grief, strife and struggle. But uncommonly, it is not a story of the men and boys who went overseas to fight. This is a story of those who are left behind at home. Those who are struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the war, the outbreak of the second world war and the trauma it leaves behind.
32337397Walking Wounded does not just refer to the soldiers returning from war, but everyone touched, scarred by the war that almost brought the world to its knees. Tragedy strikes early in the book with the death of the elder sister and daughter in a family ahead of marrying her soldier groom. The youngest daughter suffers a turbulent life, coming into this world on the back of war. Trying to fit in with so many siblings around her, she falls into a hasty, dangerous marriage.

Dealing with the loss of her father, who never truly came back from the First World War, her mother to illness, she finds herself being brought up by her eldest sister. Finding herself in a relationship with a fiery, tempestuous young man, she enjoys the rush she feels being with him, until the fateful moment he turns on her, beats her. He manages to convince her she hurts herself in an accident and that he was trying to help, but this just seals her fate at his hands.

Her life goes through ups and downs, thanks to her abusive husband, the outbreak of World War 2 and a wartime pregnancy. She has to deal with evacuation to the market town of Hitchin, in Hertfordshire (my home town) to have her baby in relative safety. I had hoped for a bit more detail making the albeit short scene set in Hitchin to describe things in such a way it was beyond any doubt where the location was. That said, it was a minor scene, and that is my opinion as a born and bred Hitchin resident.

The story moves on to pick up the strife the family suffers through following the aftermath of the war, and significant upheaval. Our downtrodden young mother has to make some difficult decisions ultimately for her and her daughter’s benefit.
Walking Wounded is a novel approach to the strife and horrors of war. Not, as is so often the case, told from the side of the soldiers out in the theatre of war, but from the angle of those left at home wondering, worrying, uncertain. All in all, a wonderful read dealing with some dark and difficult subject matter.

My rating
goodread

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway part 3

So this is it. The final run-in for my giveaway in partnership with author Sharn Hutton to promote her debut comedy-thriller It’s Killing Jerry. The fantastic prize includes a copy of the book, personally dedicated to the winner by Sharn, a “little blue dude” bookmark and 100g Lindt chocolate bunny all in a nice Spring-themed gift bag. If you haven’t entered yet, and live in the UK, you can click here to enter and be in with a chance to win! The competition closes at midnight UK time on Friday 31st March 2017. The winner will be announced alongside my review of It’s Killing Jerry on the 3rd of April 2017.

In the meantime, here is the third and final excerpt I have to share with you. I hope you enjoy!

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Jerry’s lungs burned, but he battled on. Side by side at Solomon’s Gym in the village, he and Adam occupied the first two of a bank of twelve running machines that lined up parallel to the windows. Adam’s feet struck the whirring treadmill to the rhythm of the music gushing overhead. Jerry fought for enough oxygen to fuel one foot in front of the other.

From this first floor vantage point, he could see shopkeepers pulling down their shutters across the street and locking up for the night. Even though Solomon’s windows didn’t open, he was sure he could pick up the aroma of fried chicken rising from the shop below. His stomach growled.

Adam pounded on, chatting away with hardly a bead of sweat on his brow. To Jerry, he didn’t look like someone who’d been chained to a desk for the last six years. He was all lean muscle and bouncing hair.

“Screw Dinky. He’s a worm,” Adam was saying.

“Dinky, yeah, I’d forgotten you called him that.”

“School nicknames get a lot worse. If he hadn’t made such a fuss about it, it wouldn’t have stuck.” He paused for reflection. “I may have helped it to stick. I don’t remember, it was a long time ago.” Adam grinned.

“Yeah, right,” Jerry puffed out, stabbing at the treadmill controls to slow it to more of a manageable pace and then rolling to a stop. “Easy for you to say, anyway—the worm’s not your boss.” He staggered off the machine and bent to lean heavily on his thighs. Sweat dripped from his forehead to the thin blue carpet. Adam stepped off his own machine and stood by Jerry’s side.

“Be your own master, Jerry. Those bastards at BSL owned me for too long.”

“Yeah, must have been really shit being a top defence lawyer, earning bucketfuls of cash every time you walked into a room.” Jerry slumped against the exercise bike behind him. “I don’t understand why you’re giving it up, you loony.”

Adam cocked a scathing eyebrow and Jerry climbed onto the bike without enthusiasm.

“Four years at uni, Jerry; three more as a subservient dogsbody; another ten climbing the stinking ladder, just to get there—just to get to BSL. All that time and effort.” Adam shook his head, straddled his own bike and stood on the pedals. He pumped his feet to the relentless beat.

Jerry could see: Adam had sold his soul to BSL. His talent for getting off villains had earned him an invincible reputation and pay cheques that convinced him what he was doing was right. Of course he was in demand. Eighteen-hour days hadn’t been unusual and with the money pouring in it was crazy to stop, wasn’t it? Six years went by in a flash. Until McGinty: the nasty piece of work that tipped the balance. Now Adam was out for good.

Leaning on the handlebars, Jerry rested his forehead on his arm, chest heaving only slightly less. “Pathetic.” Adam jabbed without turning around. “Get your legs moving.” Jerry groaned and forced the pedals around without lifting his head. “I’m not sure if this is a good way to rekindle our friendship. You ignore me for years, completely disappearing out of my life. Then pop up all Buzz Lightyear and try to give me a heart attack.” Adam turned and scowled. “Buzz Lightyear?”

“Yeah, you know: saving the universe from evil; all biceps and bounce. It’s exhausting, even before you drag me to the gym.”

Adam snorted and went back to pedalling.

Jerry knew he was not a natural where exercise was concerned, but since passing the landmark of forty, his own mortality was bothering him. Telling Adam he wanted to get fit for the sake of his new wife and even newer baby had seemed like a good idea at the time.

They’d bumped into each other in the locker room after at least five years of not seeing one another. Lost in the excitement of seeing his old school pal, Jerry had admitted he was struggling to train. He was unaware that Adam had just left the job that ‘sucked the life from him’ and now had endless spare time in which to berate him for his flabby gut, jelly arse and bingo wings. A mistake. He should have remembered Adam was like a dog with a bone. Perhaps if he kept pedalling slowly he’d leave him alone for a bit.

“Free weights now, lard arse. Quick, there are two free spots.”

Oh good.

The gym was packed. The six ’til eight slot was always jammed with office workers squeezing in a flurry of activity before an evening slumped on the sofa. Solomon’s was a popular place. Situated on a smart run of local shops in the village, it occupied the first floor above Michael’s Deli, a barber shop and the ubiquitous Finger Lickin’ Chicken. Locals had made a fuss about the chain opening up there, saying that it spoilt local character, but fellow shopkeepers were glad to see it. Mr Solomon appreciated the symbiotic relationship between their businesses: exercise made you hungry and fast food made you fat.

Adam threw his towel down next to the mirror and motioned for Jerry to join him.

Jerry hated the free weights or, more specifically, Jerry hated the posers gathered in front of the mirrors using the free weights. Two free spots meant six others occupied by musclebound narcissists, flexing and grunting, posing for their peers and ogling their neighbours.

Adam held out two 10kg dumbbells for Jerry to take, then swiped a couple of 20’s for himself.

“Nnnngh. Nnngh. Yeah.” The beefcake in a tight cut-off leotard next to Jerry strained at his weights. Jerry swallowed back a little bile and turned his back on the mirror. “Think I’ll sit on the bench.”

“Healthy body, healthy mind, Jerry.”

“Don’t let me stop you. I know you want to get match fit for saving the world and everything.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the world a better place. God knows, I didn’t improve it keeping so much toxic waste out of prison.” Adam switched to work on his left arm.

“What I’m going to do, I don’t know, but for now, I’m all yours.” Adam stretched his arms wide to Jerry and gave him the benefit of his winning smile. Jerry shook his head, took up a weight and started a set.

“Hey, what you need is a little imagination. You don’t have to run around knocking yourself out. Take me, for example. Boring job, spend my days pumping up the hype for people to buy shite they don’t really need and my evenings trying to avoid dirty nappies.”

“You’re not selling it to me, Jerry.”

“I’m not finished. I may lead a humdrum life but, with a bit of imagination, I can turn it into something exciting. Earlier on, for instance, making up a baby bottle to keep the love of my life happy. Boring stuff? But no!” He wagged a finger at Adam’s increasingly incredulous expression, “Not if you put a bit of imagination into it. Plastic bottle? No. Bomb case grade titanium canister. Milk formula? No. Hydro bomb primer.”

“What?”

“Never mind. The point is that I am no longer Jerry: career-stunted, shit beleaguered new father, I am Remi: sports-car-driving secret agent sex god. You see? It’s all about what you make it.”

“But it’s not real.”

“Doesn’t matter. Perception governs experience, Adam. You’re all dissatisfied and lost. No need! Imagine yourself happy!”

Adam’s face scrunched. “Nah, I need a change. I can’t just pretend that the last six years didn’t happen. There are consequences, Jerry. I have to make amends.”

“Live out your dreams in your imagination—you can achieve anything!”

“Still not real.” Adam shook his head and turned back to the mirror, checking the angle of his arm.

“Look, OK, you’ve got me. You can’t pretend to go to work and earn pretend money because obviously the pretend food at the pretend supermarket isn’t all that filling. But it’s something to keep you going. Remi lives it up in my imagination: goes on adventures; total babe magnet; lives the life.” Jerry’s cheeks were starting to burn.

“And what’s he doing now?” Adam enquired with creeping sarcasm.

“Acapulco. On a mission for MI5.”

“And you think I’m a loony.”

“Look, it’s just a little light relief, OK? Something else to think about through a nappy change or a dull meeting. Remi gets to do all the stuff that I don’t. It’s all the excitement I get these days.” Jerry plonked his weights down onto the rack. “I’m going for a shower.”

Adam’s eyebrows dropped back into their normal position. “OK. Enough for today eh? Let’s go.”

Jerry scooped up his water bottle and strode for the exit. The thought of a post workout pint had given him an extra surge of energy and he pushed open the door grinning at Adam over his shoulder.

“To infinity!” he said, punching the air. Adam rolled his eyes and flicked Jerry with his towel.

“Bugger off, Jerry,” he said.

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway Part 2

With my giveaway for Sharn Hutton’s comedy thriller It’s Killing Jerry well underway now, I thought I would give you all another taster in case you still need persuasion to enter! Having read the book myself, I can attest to how good it is, and that it makes for a fantastic read.

But don’t take my word for it – enjoy this second little excerpt straight from the book, and if you haven’t yet entered the giveaway, click here to get in on the action. It’s easy to enter, just carry out any or all of the entry options on the Rafflecopter page in the link! I hope you enjoy this excerpt, and come back later in the week for more!

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Mama twisted the tissue in her hands. “Poor Maria! Her husband cut down in the prime of life. Poof! One minute he was painting the house then, wham! Broken back, fracture skull.” She dabbed at her eyes.

Sitting in the corner of the Cavalli sofa that Isabell liked for herself, Mama had been recounting family stories since mid-afternoon. Papa, who’d heard it all before, had escaped for an evening walk, but Isabell was trapped. She prowled back and forth in front of the empty open fireplace, gripping at her upper arms.

“All the family come to the hospital, but they could no save him. Poor Sal. So sad.” She made a hearty blow into the tissue. “Now she has to look after those children all alone.” She peered at Isabell over her glasses. “At least she has the children.”

Isabell turned her back and stooped to plump a cushion. Not this again. “Mama.”

“Hmm. Well, the family have pick her up and taken her to the heart. Sancho has finish the paint. It never look so good! And Alba picks the children up from school while Maria is at work.” She paused to peer at Isabell again. “Ibbie, why you no have a job? If you help to make the good home maybe Papa and I can have our grandchildren. Hmm?”

For once, Isabell was thankful to hear the backfiring Fiat bucking up the drive and stalked over to the window. It gave her an excuse to change the topic. “Jerry’s home at last.” Isabell scowled at her watch: 9:30. It was about time.

Jerry bounded into the house, scraping his gym bag along the two-hundred-pound-a-roll wallpaper before tossing it to the floor at the foot of the stairs. Isabell bit her tongue and scampered over to peck him on the cheek: the dutiful wife.

Jerry slapped her on the arse. “Evening, darling! Had a good day?” Isabell wobbled backward. What the hell did he think he was doing? He pushed past her toward the kitchen. “Chuck that in the wash, would you? Any dinner? I’m starving.”

Isabell stood, jaw flapping, for a moment before catching her mother’s eye, who was shooing her after her husband. Isabell hoiked up a smile and scuttled into the kitchen.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she hissed.

“Back from a hard day at the office,” Jerry bellowed as Mama appeared in the doorway. Isabell felt her presence and switched on the goddess.

“Chicken salad OK?” she simpered. Jerry flopped into a seat at the table and shoved Isabell’s flower arrangement backward, away from the middle. He knew it would annoy her.
“Again? Oh all right, if that’s all you’ve got.”

He’d pay for that later. The Domestic Goddess routine was all very well, but Isabell only had a few dishes that she could make. With Mama peering over her shoulder all the time it was difficult to pass ready-made stuff off as her own. Jerry was going to ruin things if he carried on like this. She rummaged around in the fridge, cursing under her breath.

“I say to Ibbie, why she no get a job.” Mama sat down opposite Jerry at the polished oak table. Isabell seethed behind the fridge door. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Jerry’s undoubtedly smug expression.

“A job? Yes, that’s a marvellous idea, darling.”

“Great. I look tomorrow.” Isabell cut the comment dead and tossed a selection of salad and a half-eaten chicken carcass onto the pale stone counter. She snatched a knife from the block and hacked at its flesh.

“I’ve got a business trip coming up, darling, so you can lay off the gourmet menus for a few days.” Jerry snorted a laugh at Mama then went on to examine his fingernails. A business trip? A likely story. It was just another excuse not to play ball.

“Really? Oh?” She scowled at Jerry just long enough for him to see, but not Mama. “Where are you going?” Let’s see what he can come up with.

“Las Vegas Convention Centre. TEKCOM. It’s a huge event. Locksley’s trusting me to represent the firm.” Jerry buffed his nails on his trousers and gave her a grin.

“Is that right? Well that is news. How long will you be away?” Little shit. He wasn’t keeping to his side of the bargain here at all. How could he pretend to be her doting husband if he was out of the country? She spun the knife’s point on the work surface, drawing a thin squeal from the stone.

“Oh well, the exhibition is on for five days and I’ll need a couple of days either end for travel and recovery.”

“Travel and recovery,” she echoed through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, so about ten days.”

Isabell annihilated the salad and threw a heap onto his plate followed by the hacked chicken. She clonked the plate down onto the table in front of him. Jerry wolfed it down, made a big show of stretching and yawning and after saying how terribly tired he was from all his hard work, sauntered off ‘to bed’.

Isabell heard the Fiat backfire on the corner, but Mama didn’t seem to notice.

“No worry about it,” Mama said at last, “Is just a business trip. He works to make the good home.”

“Yes, yes.” Isabell wasn’t sure how to play it. Was she pleased that her husband worked so hard, or upset that he was going abroad while her parents were visiting? Jerry was irritating her so much it was clouding her judgement.

“You are lucky. He’ll be back. Think of your cousin Maria. Her husband will never come home again.”

That might not be so bad. Distinctly appealing, in fact.

“You know, Ibbie, life can take you on many different paths. A good choice here…” Mama waved her hand, “A bad choice there… Fate will have its way. Think of Cousin Angelina.” Isabell winced, God forbid she got her fate.

“She thought she was the modern woman asking for divorce. A bad choice. Where did it get her? Ostracise from family that’s where. No-one want to know her. Flouting God’s law! Selfish whore!” Mama crossed herself, got up from the table, ambled to the kettle and switched it on, calm again. “Is strange. You think of Maria and Angelina. Both single women now and how different their lives have turn out. The family can no do enough for Maria. Fate. I’m telling you.”

Isabell wiped the knife clean and slid it back into the block. Didn’t you make your own fate?

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway

Today I am thrilled to bring you the first ever giveaway through Books and Beyond Reviews. Author Sharn Hutton is giving away a fantastic little gift back to one lucky person here on my blog. The winner will receive a personalised, signed copy of her comedy thriller, It’s Killing Jerry, alongside a tasty 100g Lindt gold Easter bunny and a “blue dude” bookmark all packaged up in a nice Spring-themed gift bag:
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It’s open to UK residents and I’ll be running the giveaway using Rafflecopter, where you will find a variety of options for you to enter including visiting Sharn’s Facebook page, visiting my Facebook page, following Sharn’s Twitter account, following my twitter account and Tweeting a magical message. You do as many or as few of these as you like to gain entries into the draw for this brilliant prize, just click here.

The competition is open as of now and will run until the 31st of March at midnight UK time. I will announce the winner at the end of my review of It’s Killing Jeremy on the 3rd of April. Now, to whet your appetites for It’s Killing Jeremy, please enjoy this excerpt from the book!

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Rachel clung to the wooden banister to stretch across the squeaky step. She wasn’t going to risk disturbing Peanut, not now when she was so close to a few precious minutes of peace.

The kitchen door thudded shut too loud behind her and Rachel froze, listening and holding her breath.

“No, no, no,” she pleaded, looking to the ceiling. Remembered shrieks of pain or hunger or plain old bad temper scratched at the back of Rachel’s eyes, waiting for their echo. They pulled up short the muscles in her chest and plugged her throat.

“No more, please.” She pressed her forehead against the door and waited. Ten seconds passed without event. Twenty. Thirty. She dared to breathe and moved away.

The kettle clicked and popped the water at its base and Rachel settled her bones at the kitchen table. Envelopes fanned in a toppled stack, all addressed to Jerry and unopened. Rachel slid the uppermost toward her and worried at its corner. Something from the council. Why didn’t Jerry open them?

She tugged at her waistband and lamented the flesh still clinging to her stomach though the baby was long out. When would it ever go? The kettle rattled on, bubbles tapping at the sides. She stretched out both arms across the table top and lowered her cheek to the cool smooth pine, just to close her eyes for a moment and then she’d make some tea.

The train was longer than she’d realised. A narrow corridor that stretched on into infinity and curved away to places unseen. It rocked in a gentle rhythm that matched her stride.

Clickerty-clack, clickerty-clack.

She strode on, relaxed in its warmth and curious to see where the corridor led. A buffet car perhaps? She felt in her pocket for change, and found instead a handle, smooth and curved. She pulled it free. A long surprising blade glinted in the fluorescent light and a breeze whipped at her hair. It was hers, she’d always known it. Too long and sharp to negotiate back into her pocket, she let the knife hang limply by her side.

The train lurched sideways, clickerty-CLACK and she had to raise her other hand to steady herself. Her palm pressed into the grubby wall, sticky fibres squelching up between her fingers. Rachel snatched her hand away, revolted.

Clickerty-CLACK, it rocked hard again, but Rachel kept her feet, moving faster now, breaking into a run to find the end. Cold air rushed down the corridor toward her. Missing windows left great yawning holes, thick darkness outside.

Clickerty-CLACK. There at the end, a door, at last. She grabbed the handle and yanked it up. The door fell away and she found herself so very high that sweat prickled on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands.

Clickerty-CLACK. A lurch too big to hold on and she was lost, falling, the knife gripped firm in her right hand. A noise too loud and her face pressed hard against the ground.

“Rach? You asleep?”

She lifted her head, clammy flesh peeling from the table top.

“Anything to eat? I’m starved.”

Jerry. Sleep hung heavily at Rachel’s shoulders and she blinked away its mist. Her hands were balled into fists that ached with tension. She uncurled stiff fingers and rubbed at nail marks pressed into her palms. The knife.

“Something in the fridge,” she managed and Jerry turned his back on her to dig noisily through its shelves.

“What time is it?”

“Just gone midnight.”

So late. What was she doing here? Her back complained as she tried to sit up. “You’ve just got in?”

“Well, duh.”

He’d been with Isabell all this time. “Why have you been so long?”

“Well you know Isabell.” Jerry shifted from foot to foot and ran his fingers through his hair. He pulled a selection of things from the fridge to construct a sandwich. Rachel knew Isabell much more than she wanted to.

“So what did she want?”

“Nothing a handyman couldn’t have fixed,” Jerry mumbled through a mouthful of cheese.

“Well that’s what you are, Jerry, hmm? A handy man.”

Jerry shrugged, but kept his back to Rachel. “Her gate got whipped back by the wind and came unhinged.”

“How appropriate.”

Jerry snorted at that.

“And this puts her life in peril, does it?”

“Hey, I never said that, but you know how she is.” Jerry took a brief look over his shoulder at Rachel. She couldn’t summon up a scowl and just gazed back with empty eyes.

“Looks like I might be in more danger,” he said just loud enough for her to hear.

“Mmm.”

Bloody woman. Was Jerry not aware of all the things that needed fixing around their own house? She felt her heart beat harder in her chest and with it came the energy of exasperation. The balance here was off.

“Since when do you do DIY? Lots of life-endangering inadequacies here to fix, you know.” She rose from the table and paced the room to point things out.

“The piece of skirting by the door that continually falls over and snags at your socks; the plumbing that hammers throughout the house every bloody time you use the tap; the holes in the wall where the cookbook shelf used to be; the sodding flap in the vinyl that catches on the back door every time you open it and the draught excluder that’s still in the damn pack.” Rachel waved the box at him with a flourish.

Jerry took a large bite from his sandwich, gaze fixed on her the whole time.

“Ugh. Why do I bother?” She squeezed closed her eyes and leaned back on the kitchen counter. She and Jerry side by side but disconnected, neither looking at the other. She drew in a breath to bolster her: there was something that had to be said.

“The thing is, Jerry, I’m struggling here. Everything’s so… unstable. Peanut, well, I never know where I am with her.” Her throat clenched and she had to pause, not wanting to cry.

“I’ve got no control of anything anymore. When I was working, it was different. There were goals to achieve, you know?”

“Oh sure,” Jerry interrupted, “You knew where you were. How to achieve results.”

“Right.”

“Get that commission.”

“Well no, not really that. I didn’t earn commission. I mean, I was someone. A real person.” Rachel stared down at the floor through a forming film of tears.

“Now I just feel like I’m fading away.”

Jerry munched beside her. “Go back to work then. Get a job.”

Rachel shook her head. “I’m so tired, Jerry. I couldn’t do it.”

It was all she could do to get through the day. The relentless baby timetable ruled her life and there was something more, an elusive element that made it so much worse: hours of crying after feeds that Rachel couldn’t find a way to stop. It ground her down, the first whimper taking her straight back to the end of hours spent trying to sooth, rocking and cooing, gnashing her teeth.

She looked around the room to find a way to escape the subject and settled on the letter stack.

“Jerry, why haven’t you opened those?”

Jerry rubbed at the back of his head and turned away, back to the second half of his sandwich.

“Is there a problem with money? You said it would be OK for me to stop working.”

“Hey, no problem.”

Rachel made her way back to the table and scooped up a handful of envelopes. “This is a problem, isn’t it?”

“It’s OK.” Jerry didn’t turn around.

“We’re not OK, are we? God, I could kill you sometimes!” She slapped at the table.

“At least let me bump up the life insurance first, then you can pay off some debts.”

“So there are debts?”

Jerry rubbed at his face then pushed his shoulders back to stand taller. “No, course not,” he said, and then that laugh, too high and too long.

“Oh, Jerry, you didn’t? You haven’t?” Her suspicions were true. “We’re in the shit, aren’t we?”

“No, no, honestly, it’s fine.” Jerry bustled to the table, a sudden light in his eyes. He scooped the letters from the table and stuffed them into his work bag.

“I’ll deal with them tomorrow. I promise.”

Keep your eyes peeled here on Books and Beyond Reviews during the competition period where you’ll see a few more excerpts for It’s Killing Jerry!

 

 

Guest Post – A.K. Alliss

Guest Post – A.K. Alliss

In a new feature to my blog, I am pleased to welcome A.K. Alliss, author of Frame, to Books and Beyond Reviews as my first ever guest post. I had the pleasure of reading Frame, which I reviewed here. In this post, he discusses the period of time running up to the launch of a new book. So without further ado, welcome A.K. Alliss!

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Releasing a book traditionally, in a lot of ways, is a game. It’s a game of patience, of nail-biting worry and sleepless nights. To the new author, the world and characters that they have created are everything, but to everyone else, they are undiscovered, unknown and largely, unimportant. While that might sound pessimistic, the author will reach a point where they’ll have to posses a fairly pragmatic attitude when considering expectations of success.

Transitioning from an independent to traditionally published author is an exciting, yet daunting and lengthy process. It’s quite humbling to be confronted with the staggering amount of effort that actually goes into a title’s release when done the old fashioned way. Instead of relying on your own humble experiences to guide you, you are now being led by the practiced eye of those that have been there and done that, perhaps long before you had ever considered writing a book.

I was fortunate in the fact that I had a very collaborative publisher in Atlas Productions for my first published novel, Frame.  Today’s authors have to be marketing savvy, this was something that I thought I knew about only to receive schooling to the contrary. Genre, demographics and the most effective conduits to promote your work are all things that have to be considered. This is where the value of having a publisher was, I found, invaluable. It is no longer enough for an author to rely on the vagaries of social media to promote their work successfully. That avenue, while sometimes beneficial, does not present a lot of follow through traffic to your product.

That’s right. I said product. Because, while your lovingly crafted story containing plot A and protagonist B might mean the world to you, this is an age of consumerism and your work has now become a part of that. You have to step away from your passion and your creativity and start thinking about the best way to reach customers. The love and celebration of your literary brilliance can come later, but right now, you have to get people fired up about what you’ve written without sounding as if you are.

Ever tried to write a blurb? It’s actually harder than writing the book to be honest. Condensing a solid plot into a paragraph will have you breaking into a cold sweat when you’re used to having no limit to word count. The first couple of attempts ended in what resembled an essay, but slowly and surely (with guidance from my publisher) I was able to do it. Reviewing the blurb, you wonder if you have missed something crucial that will relay what the story is about, but you have to let that go. Hopefully, that one short description of your months of work will have to suffice.

Finally, if you haven’t stressed yourself to an early grave by the time it happens, you hit release day and this is where you really have to brace yourself. Yes, it’s a time filled with a mixture of pride and cautious optimism, of relief that you have made it there. But. Once you’ve had a moment to congratulate yourself, don’t even think about resting on those laurels. Get up soldier, there is still work to be done. If you want your novel, your baby, your love to go the distance you have to keep marching beside it, supporting it in any new and creative ways that you can conjure.

The finish line is not distinct. In my opinion, there is no finish line. For me, release day marked another part of a journey that has no end. I can’t ever forget about my novels. I can’t ever release the memory of everything that I’ve accomplished by creating and displaying my dreams. Even when I start writing something new, I still have to hold onto the feelings surrounding what it meant to write what has gone before. I feel that every part of anything that you have ever written should remain important forever. To you, but more importantly, to your readers. Because that’s where the real value of a book lies.

An Interview with J.M. Richardson

An Interview with J.M. Richardson

Today it is my pleasure to bring you an interview with a talented author, and all round nice-guy, only too happy to work with me in reviewing his books and being accommodating enough to take part in this interview. Please be upstanding and welcoming to J.M. Richardson! Richardson is the author of The Twenty-Nine, A Line in the Sand, The Apocalypse Mechanism and his upcoming release, The Barataria Key – out on December 21st 2016.

Richardson and I crossed paths when he stopped by Books and Beyond Reviews, and asked if I would review The Barataria Key. Having read the blurb, I jumped at the chance, and when I discovered it was book two of a series, I had to buy the first part. You’ll find my review of The Barataria Key on the blog soon, but in the meantime you can check out my review of The Apocalypse Mechanism. Now, lets meet the man behind the books!

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Books and Beyond Reviews: Welcome to Books and Beyond Reviews, and thank you for joining us for this interview. We would love to start out by getting to know you a bit better, so first up – who is your favourite author?

J.M. Richardson: I always have a hard time picking a favourite anything—colours, songs, movies, books. I have a handful of favourites. I’ve always liked John Steinbeck and Stephen King. I enjoy the imagination of Michael Crichton. I’m currently reading George R. R. Martin and loving it. But I think one of my all-time favourite writers is Anne Rice. It doesn’t hurt that she also uses New Orleans as the backdrop for much of her storytelling. She’s so imaginative and writes beautifully. She seduces you into her world like the vampires she creates.

BaBR: E-readers seem to be on the rise, allowing hundreds of books to be carried in a small, portable device. They seem to be loved and hated in equal measure. Do you see them as a positive step in the evolution of books?

JMR: I think they’re convenient. I’ve never really gotten into it. I’m one of those people who likes the page and binding. I like lugging around a bulky book to read in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, and I know I’m not alone. But I can see the benefit of having a hundred books in one lightweight device. I think paper and print will always exist, so I don’t know that I’d call this evolution. I think the invention of the e-reader has done more to evolve the industry. Big publishing houses with literary agents as the gatekeepers…that was the standard. As soon as Amazon and Barnes and Noble launched their ebook self-publishing projects, it was off to the races. Every aspiring writer in the world uploaded and were finally able to call themselves authors. Is this a good step? I don’t know. I think there are pros and cons. We have gotten to see some great work from some undiscovered authors, and frankly, they might never have been discovered. It’s damn near impossible to woo a literary agent. Sometimes it’s not even about the quality of your writing. It’s about your pitch. Then again, without any vetting from agents and publishers, unfortunately, there have been a lot of bad ebooks to come out. Bad writing with no editing. I’m not sure if there has been any detriment to the publishing/writing world from this. Perhaps the bad ebooks detract from the good ones. I could see a great ebook author getting less respect because of the rubbish that gets uploaded alongside it. I could see people making false assumptions that being self-published means that you’re not good enough for Random House to pick you up. Fortunately for me and many of my contemporaries, the ebook wave has sparked a publishing revolution where small publishing houses like mine have popped up all over to challenge the industry giants. There’s no need for an agent anymore. And these are traditional publishers operating with less capital, but with professional editors and smart business plans, they’re really challenging the big houses and offering an opportunity to people like me who have found it impossible to find an agent.

BaBR: When the spark of an idea for a new book pops up in your mind how do you approach it?

JMR: When I suddenly have a cool new idea for a book, it’s exciting. So I can’t wait to get it onto the page. But of course it’s more complicated than that. Honestly, I’ve found that the best thing to do is to just jump right into it. I write a first chapter or prologue to set the stage. I want it to be intriguing and to spark the imagination, not just for some future reader. It’s for me, as well. I’m trying to inspire myself. I’ll usually get two or three chapters into the book before I sit down and plan anything. And even then, it’s very bare-bones planning. I know where the story starts, where it ends, and usually a few milestones in between to give it backbone. But as I plan chapters, I’m just jotting down goals in the development of the story. The action is the product of spontaneity. All dialogue is spur-of-the-moment. Emotions are too. The actions of the characters are impulsive so the plot is driven by in-the-moment decision making. I choose their paths as if I were there making those decisions. To me, I feel that all of this gives the characters a realistic quality. This is how we all operate—organisms navigating life as we respond to our environment. So I approach my story and my characters this way with some structure to the plot along the way.

BaBR: And just before we talk about your books, tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

JMR: Normally, my answer to that question anywhere else is that I’m an author. I have a lot of interests. I’ve played guitar most of my life—my other passion. But probably the thing that people might find most interesting is that I like to brew beer. I have a small craft brewing operation set up in my garage. I’ve made everything from oatmeal blonde ales to my most recent pumpkin porter. I have a couple of beer enthusiast friends that come over and help me. We sit around, brew, and sample whatever obscure craft beers we all contribute to the table, and enjoy one another’s company. A few weeks later, I keg it, tap it, and enjoy with friends and family. (As a lover of a good craft beer, and American beers in particular, this answer is a winner! – BaBR)

BaBR: Now, on to your books – The Apocalypse Mechanism, and The Barataria Key which I am half-way through. In both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key, you deal with historic events. Although I felt both books were in some ways reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, the historic events are more obscure. Was that intentional?

JMR: To a degree. I’ll write about anything that intrigues me. It could be that later on, I’ll take on some bigger, more known events. My goal is to tell a unique story. In one way, I do like to tell some obscure, little known story. That was the case with The Apocalypse Mechanism. But The Barataria Key deals with Jean Lafitte, who isn’t very well known outside of Louisiana, but having grown up near New Orleans, Lafitte was always something of a folk hero. He was our very own local pirate, and even more, he helped General Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Since I was a kid, I had always been fascinated with him. When I was about thirteen I wrote a short story that involved him. So I had a lot of fun writing The Barataria Key. For me, and for Louisiana natives, it’s not so obscure. I guess I just wanted to share Lafitte with the world. Whether I write about little known history or something well known, the fun of it is playing with those events. I like to toy with the narrative; change things up a bit. I like to reimagine how people or places really were. I want to fabricate connections and ask, “what if?” I try to create an alternative history. That’s easy. Who knows if what we know about history is accurate? It’s fun to create your own version. Don’t politicians do this all the time?

BaBR: There is a clear and deep historic seam running through both The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key. Would you consider yourself a history buff, or was there a lot of research needed for the history elements in both books?

JMR: Both. I’m an educator by trade, and my original focus was history. I have always been fascinated with history and archaeology; to imagine how people of old might have lived. So you might imagine that I’ve compiled a lot of knowledge. This often becomes the inspiration for a story, but I always have to dig deeper if I want the story to be any good. I hate being inaccurate. You can’t speculate and toy with the historical narrative until you’ve gotten the facts right. For example, in The Barataria Key, I had to do an immense amount of research on Mayan history and culture, from their gods to their architecture and language patterns. I already knew a lot of this, but I don’t want to get things wrong. And I want it to be detailed. It would drive me nuts to get something wrong. And I have a vested interest in not appearing to be a fool. I try my best to get it right, and then I can have my fun. (I can confirm just how factual Richardson’s work is here. History is a love of mine, so I googled the pirate Jean Laffite early on in my read of The Barataria Key, and was ecstatic to find so much of the fact presented in the book is spot on! – BaBR)

BaBR: The Barataria Key is largely set in and around the Gulf of Mexico. As a Louisiana-native yourself was this intended, or a coincidence brought about by making Jean Laffite the historic focus of this book?

JMR: As you know, I introduced James Beauregard as a New Orleans native and descendent of a well-known American Civil War general. New Orleans history is something of a speciality of mine, and the city itself is probably my favourite place on earth. Nowhere on earth is quite like it. There is a blend of French and Spanish charm with Caribbean flavor that manifests itself in the food, the aromas, and even the way people talk in New Orleans. You always hear people say that you should write what you know. I know New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf South. I would say that my urge to write about my home gave rise to my decision to write about Lafitte.

BaBR: Would you consider these two books to be at all influenced by the work of Dan Brown, and like his books, will this be a Dr James Beauregard trilogy?

JMR: I don’t think so. I’ve read Dan Brown’s earlier Robert Langdon books, and really liked them, but I didn’t set out to emulate him or his stories. Rather, I had been drawn to his books because I already held interest in that kind of fiction. Really, Brown is one in a long line of artists to have used similar plots and archetypes. I always loved Indiana Jones, which was based on adventure serials of the 1930s. I loved those movies because they dealt with history and archaeology. When I write, I’m cognisant of the similarities between my books and Dan Brown or Indiana Jones. Even James Rollins or Brad Meltzer. I don’t want to be just like them, but I enjoy that kind of storytelling, so I would say that I fall into the genre, rather than being directly inspired.

I actually plan to write many more Beauregard books.

BaBR: Is Dr James Beauregard based on yourself or anyone you have come across?

JMR: James is part me, but he takes from several different people I know. He’s such a mess! Emotionally, he definitely has issues, and I wanted him to. My publisher was worried he was so messed up that no one would like him. He actually had to be tamed down. I fought like hell to retain as many of those imperfections as I could. I included in him some of my darker demons, and some lent to me by others I know. Writing is therapy for me.

BaBR: Are you currently working on a book, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?

JMR: I am currently working on the third James Beauregard book. I have an idea for a change in the story line that would completely alter what we know about James. It would also open the door for as many books I want to write about him. For now, I’m calling the new book The Keepers. Look for murder, mystery, and terrorism, all set in merry old London.

Thanks for taking the time to share some of your thoughts with us here at Books and Beyond. As an Englishman living just a 40-minute train ride from London, I will look forward to The Keepers and hope to snag myself a review copy!

You can connect and keep up to date with what J.M. Richardson is up to on his website, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.