In 1965, time travel ignites Barbara’s manic depression, and the other pioneers—ambitious Margaret, compassionate Lillian, and social butterfly Grace—leave her behind to form The Conclave, an autonomous organization commercializing time travel. Multiple storylines converge to determine the identity of the woman found dead of four bullet wounds in a locked room. The investigation for this unique whodunit plays out in various timelines with characters’ ages often not corresponding chronologically. There’s manipulation, subterfuge, and espionage afoot throughout the nation and throughout time. The time travel details are concrete, with the fuel posing a danger if not handled appropriately. There’s even a time travel glossary included at the end, which makes one try that much harder to buy into the concept. Macarenhas gives the reader glimpses into the thoughts of characters, providing more depth to a story that might easily go astray with so much time-hopping chapters. Readers who like speculative fiction with compelling characters and complex relationships will appreciate this story that readily lends oneself to suspend belief, a realistic time travel story, if you will. It’s definitely worth the time! Ha! I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through Net Galley.
Revenge Serves None
He looked out the window once more. She’s not out there. She’s gone. What had the note said, something about making him wait 710 hours? Looking at it in writing, it did seem an awful long time to wait for someone, but he hadn’t done it to her all at once. Not as she was planning to do. How many days is 710 hours? Divide by 24 . . . . . he was never very good at math, and she had left a PS that if he wanted a calculator, he’d have to go out and buy one. Dammit.
It took all the discipline she could find within her to stay away from him. He was a drug to her. She’d never tried drugs, other than alcohol, and now not even that. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t even eat chocolate like she used to. But a man that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give her what she needed — this is what kept her hanging in there, day after day, in misery.
I want to do something, but there’s nothing I want to do. If I leave, she’ll return. If I stay, she won’t. As though my behavior has any direct connection to hers. Tomorrow’s Saturday. I’ll just act normal; tell everyone she’s at her mothers’. What’s normal for me? When was the last time I was home on a Saturday? Oh.
She started calling her friends Saturday morning. One by one, she sent them over to the house to ask about her. She wanted to hear the lies he could create upon demand. Her justification was that it would help to get him out of her head, though she knew he was so deeply entrenched that he overshadowed herself.
Saturday started early with a phone call from her most emotional friend, wanting to know if she was ready. What do you mean she’s not there? We have to leave in an hour. She told me to call her early. She changed her mind? But she doesn’t even like her mother! I’ll call her there. Bye.
This friend went to breakfast with her, the first lie to give.
Two hours later, her shyest friend rang the doorbell and waited quietly. He explained to her that she’d gone to her mother’s. She hesitantly said that she would check there, but she wasn’t so sure.
This friend went to lunch with her, the recycled lie to give.
By noon, and with her most neurotic friend standing on the doorstep, he knew he had to cover this one with a story that couldn’t be checked so easily. So he explained very carefully that she had gone away for the weekend to a work-related seminar that he had forgotten about, his being so busy and all.
She saw a matinee with this friend, who had a much better story to share.
Mid-afternoon, the gay friend called for her, refused to believe that she had stood him up, and showed up anyway, said he’d wait for her; he had faith. This man kept talking and moving closer to him, until he suggested he try her mother’s, whose home was close enough to the seminar she might have gone for a late lunch. Okay.
She treated this friend to dinner, and received the extended version of the story.
Just before dinnertime, her brother came to take her to dinner as planned. The only one with genuine plans, he questioned him without mercy, not knowing how cruel he was being.
Remembering dinner plans, she phoned her brother to tell him she was okay. He’d learned not to ask her questions, because she’d learned that from him.
He went to bed and stared at the ceiling for hours. He hadn’t realized how social she was, how busy her life. Perhaps he hadn’t spent enough time with her. He didn’t know any of her friends, and now he’s sure they all think him a bastard. Doesn’t even know where his live-in girlfriend is. He prayed none would come Sunday.
Two years she’d lived with him, he’d built up those 710 hours away from her when she needed him to be with her. Pre-empted by work, sports, beer with the buddies. She loved her friends, but she longed for the intimacy that came with spending time with him, learning to know him, understanding him. Now she just felt mean.
Sunday morning sunrise set on curtained windows, hiding a man with dark circles under his eyes and dishes in the sink. The phone rang. He sat there. The neurotic friend screamed into the answering machine that he was a liar, as she asked co-workers who knew of no seminar. Tell me where she is! He knew not.
Sunday morning was the hardest, without the Sunday comics spread across his nude chest, laughing together. When was the last time he had been there for it? She wondered if he would come to her work Monday. She hoped not. She hoped so. She hoped not.
Late Sunday morning, his friend who’d married her emotional friend began talking to the machine, but finished making lunch and racquetball plans in person. He played badly and ate poorly with a man who had no clue what was going on. His confused friend dropped him off just in time to see her shy friend retreating from the dark house. He went in the back door.
Sunday afternoon, she went to her mother’s to tell her what a wonderful life she had. No, there’s no need to call. I’ll visit again next weekend. Yes, he’s fine, busy as usual. Bye.
Her emotional friend used her key to enter the uninviting house. She found him sitting on the bed, gin bottle in had, country music blaring. She turned off the music. Without looking at her, he said with such pain she knew they’d gone too far, “she’s gone. I don’t know where she is. I’m sorry.” She hugged him.
This friend, who had witnessed the pain on both sides, gave her the plain facts. She called in sick Monday morning, then drove to his work to find he’d done the same. She discovered his pathetic self, curled up, not on the bed, but beside it, newly emptied gin bottle clutched.
He awoke to what he thought was a dream. He was ashamed to be drunk, and said so. He then apologized. She apologized. They lived happily ever after.
No, not really. But he did learn a lesson. Women can sure be mean.
When I asked the Tall Poppies for speculative authors, I was given Janie Chang’s name. I fell in love with her two novels; read my reviews on Dragon Springs Road and Three Souls, and eagerly anticipate her upcoming book.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, inspirations material and intangible, magic spells, and treats.
With only three books under my writing belt, I’m not sure that there is a defined process yet. Each has been a different journey. I’ve sold one novel on the basis of a synopsis, and then delivered a totally different book. I’ve also written a synopsis and stuck to it pretty closely.
I see stories everywhere, but when an idea keeps coming back, it’s the one I take seriously. It always begins with a “now wouldn’t it be interesting if…” or “but what if…” series of thoughts, and then I dive into research to determine whether I can make it work. For my first two books, the opening scene just came to me and that provided impetus. The third … well, I’m still revising the first chapter.
Research itself provides so many ideas, insights, and anecdotes that you pull into your work. I probably spend six months off and on for research.
When the writing begins, I treat it as a job. Its butt glue time. Or as Shilpi Gowda says more elegantly, ABC: Apply Bum to Chair. I write 6 days a week. My husband goes into “support the author” mode and makes dinner. Housekeeping standards nosedive. The cat thinks she’s finally trained me to sit still for hours so that she has a lap to sleep on. Because basically, you need to get words on a page before you know whether your ideas are any good. You can imagine all you want in your head, but without executing those thoughts, you really can’t tell. You have nothing to work with. You can always edit crap, but you can’t edit a blank page.
Describe your publishing process from final draft to final product, including publishing team, timeline, and expectations of you as the author.
Well, this is something I’m trying to change. I’ve been very much a loner during the writing process; mostly because in the early stages my manuscripts are so embarrassingly dog poop that I don’t want to inflict them on author friends, even the ones who’ve offered to be beta readers. Thoughtful reading and critique is time-consuming.
I’ve hired professional editors though, because you do need someone else to offer critique. You’re always too close to your own work. The first draft may not be 100,000 words yet ,but it needs to be the entire story from start to finish, so that the editor can see what you want to achieve with your story, characters, and themes.
Then I revise based on the editorial notes and a discussion with the editor to make sure I understand what she means. This is where the most extensive re-writing comes in. Many drafts. After that, I send the manuscript to my agent who gives it a yea or nay, whether it’s good enough to send on to my publishers. Then it’s working with the editorial teams at HarperCollins (my publishers)–substantive editing, line editing, copy editing (where historical facts are double-checked, among other things), and then the final proof reading.
But lately some author friends have managed to convince me that they really are OK with reading dog poop and I’m starting to think it would be better for my mental health to have writing friends to talk things over with rather than stew on my own while eating too much chocolate.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially how you (exciting!) came to be a Tall Poppy.
You definitely need to socialize with other published authors. They understand the business challenges, they nod sympathetically when you wail “But writing in third person is so hard compared to first person!”. I have a poet friend who is the loveliest, most non-judgmental person ever and we walk around the seawall talking about everything: adolescence, sexual abuse, the state of Canadian literature. I have a group of women novelist friends and we take turns hosting potluck dinners every 3-4 months. I love cooking, so whenever possible, I invite authors and friends from the publishing industry over. Sometimes my guests don’t know each other, so it’s a good way to help people network.
Social media is good for staying current, but email is the medium I use to exchange deep, dark thoughts with my really good author friends. And OK, it’s not all serious stuff. One of them has a new book coming out in 2019 and it’s going to be a killer. We’ve been sending each other ideas for which actors to cast in which roles for when someone buys the film rights.
As for Tall Poppies–I’m not sure of the process except that it’s by nomination. So I think my nomination might’ve been due to Weina Dai Randel. Then the others check you out. I first met her online when her duology about Empress Wu came out, when we were both part of an online group for writers of novels about Asia. Then she invited me to join her panel in Portland, at the annual Historical Novel Society conference, and that’s when we met IRL. I met about 20 Poppies in Chicago at PoppyCon and they’re all so smart and fun and NICE. It was like an instant sisterhood. You feel you can talk about any problem and everyone will care and offer good advice. The accumulated wisdom in that group is awesome.
The stories you share of your ancestors and China on your website are fascinating. It’s clear that this drives your work; how does your writing influence your life?
When you know how much work it takes to write 100,000 words, you really need to focus on the story that pushes its way to the front of your brain, the one that’s important enough to sustain your interest through the long months of writing to come. And so far, it’s the China of my parents’ childhood and the history of that era that’s pushing the hardest.
Writing has changed my life totally. You recalibrate your schedule and your relationships. Fortunately, I have friends who understand that writing books is not a hobby; it’s serious business. So I can’t travel with them or do as much with them as before. You need time for writing and mental space to let the story grow.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I live for those moments in the creative process when your characters take over and take your story in a different direction than what you had planned. This is why we write and write, to get enough of the plot and the characters and their challenges onto the page so that your subconscious has enough to work with. Then you get the reward, of those flashes of insight when you realize “Well of course this is how that character would handle the situation”–and then the next few pages almost write themselves and another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. It feels like magic.
Connect with Janie and purchase her books:
In Brazil, Nazi fugitive Klaus Holland, aka Matheus Esperanca, raises his son by a prostitute with a Jewish kapo from Udenspul, the concentration camp he commanded. The son, Deus, considers the kapo his mother, and after her death, takes mysterious photos from her to a professor in his US university to research his ancestry, where he learns the true identity of his father and the extent of his crimes. Olokita brilliantly uses the concept of god as a measurement of morality, or rather lack of humanity, as Klaus plays God in determining who dies, though his own religious beliefs remain deliciously ambiguous. The character development is so well done that dear reader will be researching names. Although written in third person for everyone else, Klaus is in first person, bringing the reader up close and personal to a man with his own version of right and wrong based on his complete lack of empathy, exploring the idea of how powerful he believes himself. The ending revelation is quite coincidental and is evidenced only by Klaus’ perception, so it’s not clear why it’s readily believed by Deus and his new love Heidi. It’s anti-climactic after the delightful irony of Klaus’ downfall. With so many rumors, legends, and news items, inspiring a plethora of literature, on the Holocaust, this unique story of a fugitive hiding out in South America is a definite must-read. It’s themes rove beyond the simple good vs. evil and the idea that one can distinguish such traits in anyone, with characters revealing the dangers within themselves. I received a digital copy of this fantastic novel from the author for an honest review.
At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.
rattle rattle rattle
we waited for a dark and stormy night to trespass
a little shed behind overgrown brush
passed every day on the way to work
turned out to be a tiny house
lightning served as our flashlight
kudzu blocked every window and door
we leaned onto the vines and broke through
inside the air was still
belying the wind whistling past
rattle rattle rattle
hush i whisper-screamed
it wasn’t me
rattle rattle rattle
i swear to zeus it wasn’t me
it had to be
frantic voice his
frantic voice mine
rattle rattle rattle
centered in the room
waiting for lightning
rattle rattle rattle
directly under us
curiosity stronger than fear
a board flipped up
he’d found a hiding place
throwing the board aside
peering through the dark
lightning showed us bones
we hopped up
why bones here
we have to tell the police
he snatched me back
we’ll have to confess to trespassing
yes we will
is there another way
rattle rattle rattle
i dragged him to the police station
statements were made
weary of inquisition
rattle rattle rattle
you hear that sarge
i’m going to say no
come on did you hear that
i’m not going to say no
im not going to say yes
they took us in separate cars
to the tiny house reclaimed by nature
broken kudzu corroborated our story
the opening in the center of the room
looking down at the bones
we see now that they are child size
we are hustled out and returned to the station
where we await news and consequences
together in a small interrogation room
lunch is brought
more hours pass
you guys can go
such a mystery
will they tell us
two days pass
sarge calls us
please come to the station
sit in sarge’s dark crowded office
he shows us a photo of a blonde girl maybe 5
you found her bones
missing 5 years
a year missing for each one alive
rattle rattle rattle
i didn’t hear that
on the way home we talk to her
rattle rattle rattle
I met Sandi on Twitter. She is super friendly and supportive of other writers. If you’re a fan of Hallmark, love heartwarming stories, and appreciate learning about other humans through reading, her novels are for you. Oh, you must also love cats! Here’s my review on her second novel Something Worth Saving.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, and inspirations tangible and abstract—what’s in your office?
Because I work full-time (I’m a medical copywriter at an ad agency), I write my fiction sporadically, whenever I can grab a few minutes here and there. My MacBook Air is always with me, and it essentially is my office-to-go! I’ll write in the early morning, on my lunch hour, late at night, or whenever else I can grab a few minutes.
I prefer to write with a hot cup of coffee nearby. My primary requirement is quiet. I can’t write with music or other background noise going on.
I don’t outline my story arc on a line chart, or put plot points on post-it notes, or anything like that. I’m completely what some people call a “pantser,” making it up as I go along (flying by the seat of my pants). I re-read written chapters and then add a new one, going back constantly to edit in new ideas. My goal is to write stories that are unexpected, and not formulaic. I let the characters surprise me, in the hopes that they will also surprise the reader.
Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product: publishing team, timeline, and expectations of you as the author, especially toward marketing and publicity.
Kensington gives me a year to write a novel, during which time their art department starts to design a cover and their marketing team writes potential cover copy (once I can supply a synopsis). Once the draft is done, it goes to my agent and editor, and we do a round of changes before moving on to copy editing, and finally page proofs. This stage also takes about a year, from final first draft to published book.
On the one hand, this process is slow. By the time of book launch, it has been over a year since I wrote the story. But I’m happy to be writing general fiction, where I get the time I need to devote to writing a first draft. Other writers, in genres like romance and mystery, are sometimes under pressure to write much faster, and that would be tough for me. I’m always promoting books at the same time I’m writing new stories, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. Right now I’m finishing up the first draft of my third novel, What Holds Us Together.
My publicists and the social media team at Kensington decide where and how to promote the book, for example via print or online advertising, but I also do as much as I can! I maintain my website and social media accounts, and reach out to other authors, readers and book bloggers who might be able to share news and reviews of the book.
Describe your support system online and IRL—who are your biggest cheerleaders?
My literary agent, Stacy Testa at Writers House, is my #1 go-to person for all of the questions I have about writing and promotion. She’s amazing and I’m very lucky to be working with her!
Other authors have also been incredibly supportive. The online writing and reading community is great about sharing information and helpful tips. I belong to a number of writing-based Facebook groups where I learn new things every day, and try to share some of my own knowledge.
At home, it helps that my husband and teens are all writers. My husband is also in advertising, my son is a journalism major in college, and my daughter is a student filmmaker. They can relate when I need to disappear into my laptop for a while.
Your unusual protagonists are cats; I suspect you’re a huge animal lover, and I’m curious how you determined to write cat main characters. How does your life influence your writing and vice versa?
I do love animals! I have both a cat and a dog.
When people ask me what inspired me to write from a cat’s point of view, the truth is, I don’t remember exactly how I got started with it. Essentially, I wanted to experiment and try writing from the viewpoint of an unconventional narrator. I love books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which are written from unexpected points of view, where the reader realizes that more is going on than the narrator fully understands.
A main theme that runs throughout all of my books is how hard it is to be a parent—especially of teenagers. Real life absolutely influences my characters and stories. I don’t usually talk about my personal life too much, but if you read my books, you’ll quickly figure out where I stand on many issues.
When I wrote Something Worth Saving, I was feeling pessimistic about how divisive society has become. I don’t have all the answers. I think it’s okay to disagree with others, but it’s also important to be respectful and not make anyone feel unsafe. My character Charlie (my narrator Lily’s favorite human) should not have to feel threatened when he wants to express himself—not at school, not at home, not anywhere. For me, writing a novel is a better way to try and convince someone to take another look at an issue, rather than shouting on Twitter about it.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I enjoy getting really enthusiastic about ideas, words and images. This is true at my job at the ad agency as well as when I’m writing fiction. Great ideas should get the creator fired up, and want to share those thoughts with the world. I believe you have to write for yourself first, and then you can try to get everyone else on board.
Connect with Sandi:
Marietta left Kentucky after high school, changed her name to Taylor, and become a mother through an unexpected incident, ending up in Tucson with a single mother roommate and a job as a tire mechanic for a woman who rescues undocumented immigrants. Selectively mute from obvious chronic abuse, her newly acquired daughter Turtle learns to trust Taylor, who learns to trust in her new friendships as she seeks a way to keep Turtle legally and build their life in Tucson.
Kingsolver carefully details a young woman’s journey to find herself, taking everything that comes at her and building a valuable life with it all. She’s brilliant at showing the depth of Marietta’s mother’s love at letting her daughter go and make her own decisions, including changing the name her mother gave her, and Taylor’s love in her determination to keep the daughter who was literally handed to her.
Fans of Willa Cather, Celeste Ng, and Elizabeth Strout will appreciate this novel and Kingsolver.
Lily loves Charlie more than any other human, for he rescued her when other potential adopters frowned at her limp. She’d been abused by her previous owner and her broken leg healed without veterinarian intervention. Now he’s being bullied and Lily must figure out a way to help him amid the chaos of Dad’s drinking, Mom’s sadness, his sister’s possible suspect boyfriend, and his big brother’s anger. The unique perspective of a cat gives readers a view from inside the family, but with a pure, some might say naive, but definitely less than jaded, outlook. Lily can be as surprised as a person by such things as Charlie’s choice of “mate” being another boy. Ward’s representation of a gender-fluid, gay teenager comes across as natural and inclusive, even as she shows the challenges he must face, especially from his own family. His mother and sister’s acceptance counter his father’s confusion and his brother’s resistance. Of course there’s a romantic interest for mom, who’s separated from dad and planning divorce. However, he immediately touches her intimately and insinuates himself into family issues, coming across as a bit creepy rather than romantic—too much too soon. This is the only part of the story that doesn’t flow organically, a small distraction. This story presents multiple serious subjects that are handled with compassion: alcoholism, addiction, chronic pain, divorce, and gender expectations. Ward takes her family down a path of resolution surprising, yet realistic. Readers who love main characters off the beaten path will appreciate this story; animal lovers will be vindicated.
Questions Live On
A lithe, unassuming young girl walks down her street. She sees a dirty old man who grabs at her skirt. Bastard! They never grow out of it. She sees a man giving flowers to a woman on her doorstep. Sweet, but sure it’s only surface sugar. She sees a starving artist painting picnickers in the park. He doesn’t know from angst. She sees a boy smacking his dog for disobeying. He won’t grow out of that either. She sees a military-uniformed man on a park bench, much-loved letters scrunched in his hand, staring into space. She feels no sympathy.
They are all her father. His art, his military service, not even his love for her mother, compensates for making her feel dirty, and forcing her to live in the dark end of the tunnel, at 14. Her mother was lost to her, just a woman at the other end of that tunnel who regulated her day. Feeding and clothing must equal love, or is it merely obligation? Would love allow pain to continue, and knowledge of it to slip into fog? A drowning man can’t save a drowning man. A woman in pain cannot save a girl in pain.
Look to God then. Such a small prayer over and over for lightning to strike him down. God brought him back from war. War! So much more convenient than lightning. Keep your God! My mother will not become a person, for God’s sake.
The quiet young man of 15 writes poetry for her; she refuses flowers. She wonders if he lies. He says everyone does. He lies? She wonders if he ever could be guilty of her father’s sin. This question remains unasked. He touches her face. She flinches. He cries at night for her.
So big they take you in
The Blond flows long
Forget the pain
For you so sweet
Dreams are real
Dreams are true
For you believe
That Truth one day
Will make people
Bigger than they are
Ideals die hard
Her diary reads:
Cliché — understanding or manipulation? If I did not believe that one day my life will be elsewhere, courage would fail me to continue life. Yet, I’m allergic to pain — hah!
Even the screaming, the touching, and the nonsense cannot belie the fact that I was meant for greater things. If hardship builds character, then I am indeed of great character. I just hope it’s not a cartoon character, and God is not a comedian.
Tuesday, she meets a Jewish man, who explains to her that Jesus was just a man, a great prophet, maybe, but a simple mortal nonetheless. She meditates on this for two days before belief settles in. Thursday, she meets a philosopher, who expounds upon Plato’s shades of gray. Nothing is real. It is all perception. In one afternoon, conviction of Plato’s theory solidifies in her mind. Friday, she meets an old woman who outlines men’s evils. Her father’s sin makes the list. Such a sweet young thing should not have to live in a world of such men. The old woman’s revelation brings her no comfort.
Her father comes to her Saturday. Sunday, to spite God, she steps in front of a bus. Her parents weep, but the young man grieves dry-eyed, knowing the Truth.