Katie suffers post-partum OCD in silence for fear of destroying her life, but loses that life when her husband Callum realizes that he’s ignored her problem too long and feels their marriage is irreparable and their daughter is in danger. She disappears and he raises Maisie alone, with support from his best friend Jake, cutting out Katie’s sister Delaney also. In a jarring coincidence, Katie’s artistry brings her in contact with her daughter, who believes her mother died, and she sees evidence of inherited OCD. She must convince Callum, a man whose past blinds him to his family’s needs. With Callum’s pregnant second wife included in the family picture, alliances shift, romances are roused, and a little girl teaches adults how to behave. Though the repetition can be nettlesome to the reader, Katie’s constant fears and reminders demonstrate the experience of OCD. There may have been a bit much to the back and forth of convincing Callum, since Katie’s argument never really shifts. Persistence seems to be the key to OCD. It’s clear the author did her research and she acknowledges her resources. This is a good story to read for a sympathetic, but not pitying, representation of living with a mental illness.
I met Kelly in Bloom, the Tall Poppy author collective readers’ page on Facebook. She’s friendly, frank, and a talented writer. Here’s my review of One More Day. Take a peek into her magic making, which turns out to be quite pragmatic. I’m so pleased to share her process and work with readers.
Describe your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations material and intangible. What’s in your office? What’s in your head?
Oh, my head is a very dangerous place! Hahaha. I don’t have a physical office; our house is not that big. I tend to take over coffee tables with laptop, books for research, books for blurbing, books to be sent for marketing purposes. I don’t need a room, a view, a special pen, a desk. I can write on a train, at a café, or at someone else’s dining room table. I put in the hours wherever I am, and am not precious about conditions, ever.
Walk me through your publishing process, elaborating upon marketing and what you as the author do to promote your book. What surprised you about the process? What surprised you about your marketing responsibility? Honestly, not much has surprised me, because I work in marketing, and I was part of a vast writers’ community before publication, and I was warned! So all the things that may overwhelm others–build a website, participate in social media, book your own signings, etc.–none of that fazes me. I guess what surprised me though, was the lack of enthusiasm from a lot of bookstores and libraries. In many cases, no one gives a sh—t about your book. Doesn’t matter how big your publisher is, how many great reviews you got, or even if you wrote it in their library. If you’re not famous, many people just don’t care. They don’t want to put you on a panel, they don’t want to do an event, they don’t want your bookmarks, they’re like, meh. There are too many writers, traditionally published and self-published, and they are inundated, and they don’t care. That being said, some booksellers are wildly supportive. You have to focus on the positives, yet be prepared for the negatives. And not take any of it personally. The business, and the internet, have created a world where being an author is not that special anymore. Everybody’s an author.
Tell me about your support system online—how you became a Tall Poppy—and IRL, expounding upon the Liars Club and other organizations to which you contribute. Who are your biggest cheerleaders? Well, The Liars Club is an author support and mentoring group. It’s published writers helping the unpublished, and guiding them to resources. We run free monthly networking meetings in I think, at last count, maybe 15 cities across the U.S. We also run a weekly podcast, and interview all kinds of people related to the business, which is super fun. And The Tall Poppies are an author marketing collective, and that’s about marketing savvy and selling books in innovative ways. That’s about readers, and adding value. I also have a ton of writer friends from literary magazines, colleges, workshops, and writers’ conferences, who write in lots of different modalities–and I value those friendships dearly. When young writers say to me, what’s the first step? I always say, find community. Writing is lonely, and publishing is tough. You need drinking companions.
I think you are maybe on your third or fourth career; how have previous positions prepared you for the writing life. How does your writing influence your life?
I started out in journalism and swiftly made a switch to advertising, for financial reasons. I still work in advertising, for financial reasons haha, and weirdly, when you get published, there’s a sudden entrée to writing articles and essays, so there’s always a tad of journalism here and there. The deadlines and editing abilities from both advertising and journalism are excellent warm-ups for publishing. You just get on with it. You put your ass in a chair. You slash whole paragraphs and chapters to make something fit a space. You don’t wait for inspiration; it’s due tomorrow!
What do you love most about your creativity? I just enjoy making things. I always have. I liked art projects and high-concept things in school. I like to knit. I like to refinish furniture. My dad went to architecture school and built the house I grew up in; I know I get it from him. It’s satisfying to hold that book in your hand, just like woodworking or anything else. I’m a whittler!
Connect with Kelly:
by Michael Okon
Young Adult Fiction/Thriller
After Monsterland has imploded, the entire world is thrown into chaos. World leadership is gone, economies have collapsed, and communications are non-existent. Wyatt must go beyond the boundaries of his small town to reestablish contact with the outside world, and alert the government about a traitor-in-chief.
During his journey he discovers a new threat released from the bowels of the defunct theme park.
When an army of relentless mummies, a life-sucking ooze called The Glob, and a hybrid reanimated Behemoth rise from the depths of Monsterland, who will survive?
He knew the werewolves were dead; he had seen it with his own eyes. A figure detached from the shadows. Igor flattened himself against the wall. He watched it move stealthily down the street, stopping when it scavenged a morsel of rotting flesh. It looked up to stare at Igor, its eyes glowing in the darkness.
A coyote? He waved a hand, dismissing it. It had to be a coyote; it was too small to be a wolf, too big to be a dog. The beast twitched its ears, then resumed its meal.
Igor knew the coyote was not a threat, and he continued his mission. His lame foot hit a can, sending a cacophony of sound like an explosion in the deserted park. The beast dropped the bone it was gnawing on, sniffing the area. Its iridescent eyes searched the streets.
It could be a baby wolf, Igor thought, keeping himself as still as possible. He felt it watching him, even from this distance. It was not a threat, yet.
Igor skittered away, hugging the walls of Monsterland, putting as much distance as he could between them. Not an easy feat, considering his distorted hips. He muttered to himself about carrion and the wind. His eyes darted nervously, scouring the hills, not exactly sure what he was looking for. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. His heart pounded so loudly he was certain that the creature watching him could hear it too.
His feet stumbling to a halt, he bent over, gasping for air, cursing Vincent and those meddlesome teenagers, as well as the rest of the world.
The beast gave another mournful howl that went right through him. Igor glanced at his empty hands, berating himself for not bringing a weapon. He searched his surroundings for anything to protect himself.
Then he saw it, one of the axes they had on almost every corner. All of them had been pulled from their protective cases. One was lying in a pool of coagulating blood, the blade long gone. He picked up the broken axe handle, turning in a semicircle. He was ready for an attacker.
- Who is your biggest influence on writing? My son. He has reignited my love of amazing movies from the 80s and 90s.
- Favorite food –RARE Double Bacon Cheeseburger, no LTOP, or Bun.
- When did you start writing? When I was 5 years old.
- If money were no object, where would you like to live? In Fantasyland.
- What’s next for you? Getting a movie made, and opening up a production company, while still writing everyday.
AUTHOR Bio and Links
Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling in his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.
Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.
SmashWords Link: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/MichaelOkon
One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.
Carrie Morgan turns back to her car after arguing with a parking attendant and finds her toddler Ben gone. Her story seems off to police, family, and friends. Over a year later, she finds him, in his crib, though he’s not aged a year. And he disappears again—from his crib the same night. Now husband John is in on the madness, which he spins into a possible, though improbable, story. An unlikely witness keeps Carrie’s secret, yet it eventually comes out. Carrie’s actions invoke suspicion and mental illness through ambiguous and incredible circumstances and revelations, and she reels from a long-held confession from her mother. Solving the crime may or may not absolve Carrie or prove her sane.
These characters are less endearing than interesting. Simmons keeps readers guessing whether Carrie needs compassion or justice. Even John isn’t sure in what way he could best help his wife, her actions at times eliciting horror. The way that the two investigative cops work independently as a veteran and a rookie read as a transfer from old school to new, and emphasizes the rookie’s discreet gestures of compassion. Different points of view, from family to law enforcement to newly met neighbors offers a kaleidoscope of opinions, as in real life, where the more information one gets, the more confusing it can be. The mother’s revelation about Carrie’s father at the end cheapened her gift, clearly evidenced throughout the story, though perspective painted various pictures for everyone involved.
If you believe even a little that we might have extraordinary powers that lie latent in most, this book will fascinate you. If you believe that extraordinary events can occur through prayer (whatever that means for you), you will appreciate this story. Check out the author on her website http://www.kellysimmonsbooks.com/, where you can find links to purchase her books.
Starting over, Xanthe and her mother Flora purchase an antique store in a small town, where Xanthe’s extra-sensory connections to antiques impel her into a time travel mystery to rescue a young woman in the 17th century to save her mother’s life. Details of time travel are cleverly meted out through Xanthe’s discoveries and conclusions, increasing tension by placing credible limitations on Xanthe’s experiences. Urged on (and threatened) by the ghost of the young woman’s mother, Xanthe makes difficult decisions with every move, resolving impossible conflicts with verve and panache, even sacrificing romance for her mother, which is as it should be. Repeated references to the injustice in her own history could have been more subtle. The ghost mother could have been developed a bit more. The damsel in distress was a lovely vision of mystery even after the reader meets her in person. That she was rescued by a woman is a brilliant move on the author’s part. Readers who love time travel and / or female antagonists who save the day will appreciate this story. I received this wonderful story from the publisher through #NetGalley.
Penelope Dalton inherited a magical table that offers her special chocolate recipes for her chocolate cafe, including the Kismet hot chocolate for the Festival of Fate, a drink that offers townspeople a chance to redirect their fate. It doesn’t work for her little girl Ella, whose illness is fatal. The secret of her father’s identity is harder to contain when he returns to town to assist his injured brother run their bar Rehab. The secret of Ella’s imminent demise spills out of Penelope at a town meeting after she cancels the hot chocolate for the festival. At the same time, Sabine, her mother and business partner, seeks her deceased husband through a chocolaty, magically-induced memory loss. Penelope slowly learns to release her fears and open her heart.
The characters in this story are credible in their complex flaws, with good hearts and the best intentions that go awry. Crispell presents a town a bit magical in itself, the residents leaving notes outside Penelope’s home and cafe to get their point across and to show their support and love. Dialogue between the brothers is laugh-out-loud classic sibling repartee—insulting zingers and tough love. There’s a bit much back and forth between Penelope and Ella’s father on the impossibility of a relationship, and she and best friend Megha on his hotness level. The open ending lends itself less to speculation than a call for a realistic resolution. After all, magic has its limitations.
Readers who love the every day magic of life in a Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman story will appreciate Crispell’s work. Meet Susan on her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/, where you will also find links to purchase her wonderful books.
Famous artist Masuto grows weary of digital painting in the mental institution where he lives only in his mind with his AI guide TOKI. Salvation appears in the form of Endo Ichiro hacking into his system and offering to free him and create a cyborg body for him to paint again in real life. Ichiro shares astonishing revelations to encourage cooperation, but salvation does not live up to expectations, and Masuto must seek release from his savior.
Barr creates a swirling, complex world of technology-enhanced living, developing memorable characters in a credible digital environment. Emotions bleed from this tale of harsh reality, deception, and eventual “homecoming.” Brian Barr is an exceptional storyteller; this is the fourth novella in the Nihon Cyberpunk series. Look for all of them on his website http://www.brianbarrbooks.com/, Goodreads, and Amazon.
When I inquired after authors of speculative fiction / magical realism in Tall Poppy Authors’ Facebook group Bloom, I was given Susan’s name. She immediately sent me her books to review and graciously agreed to an interview. Susan is unique in many ways and I’m excited to share her peek-behind-the-scenes magic with readers.
Describe your writing process—schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations. What is in your office? Who is in your head? What are tricks that keep you writing?
Once I have the spark of an idea I’m excited to write, I brainstorm the characters, their motivation and stakes, and what their overall arc will be. I usually know the opening lines of the story before I sit down to draft, which helps set the tone for everything to come. Then I write up a full outline (I use Scrivener to plot out each chapter and scene description) and export the outline so I can put it in a workable format in Word. This outline changes a dozen or so times as I write, because I learn more about the characters as I’m drafting, but I can’t write without it!
My actual butt-in-chair-hands-on-keys writing process usually involves me getting up at 5:30 AM and writing for an hour and a half before working my day job. Some days, it’s all about fitting in writing time where I can. I try for 1,000 words a day and use Writeometer (a phone app) to track my progress and force myself to focus for 25-minute stretches. In the evenings, if I haven’t hit my word count, I write until I do. I also have playlists specific to each manuscript; I write and listen to that mix while I’m writing. Sometimes, I’ll listen to one song on repeat if it’s really connecting with the scene I’m working on, but most of the time, it’s just the whole playlist running quietly in the background to give my story a solid emotional base.
Detail the publishing process from final draft to final product, who does what along the way, and exactly what you contribute as the author to marketing your novels.
Each publishing house has their own intricacies, but I think they all follow the same overall process. Here’s how things went for me at St. Martin’s Press. After I sold my first book The Secret Ingredient of Wishes to St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books, I received an edit letter and initial round of edits, developmental edits, from my fabulous editor, Kat Brzozowski. These were focused on overall character, plot, and pacing. Kat didn’t want any major structural changes, so it wasn’t as intense as it could have been. I worked through those comments in track changes in Word and replied to all of her comments within the document so she could clearly see the changes when I sent it back to her.
Next came line edits. In this round of editing, Kat made suggestions and changes at the sentence level to help with clarity and word choice and flow, and I updated the manuscript as needed based on those notes. From there, the book went to the copyeditor, who went through the book with a fine-tooth comb, marking inconsistencies (for example, a character said something on page 10 but something on page 200 seemed to contradict it), places where I used the same word within a short span, questioning confusing/unclear sentences, and generally cleaning up anything that was out of place. After copy edits, I received my first pass pages, the typeset/designed book printed out for hardcopy edits. (At this point, it’s the last chance to make any changes to a book.) The production team incorporated my changes into the designed text and sent it off to the proofreader, who sent me a handful of final questions/clarifications before it was out of my hands for good.
With all the edits complete, it was time to shift the focus to marketing. The design team created a cover I adore. The only input I had was to tell them up front I wanted a pie on the cover (since the book involves magical, secret-keeping pie!). I’m sure they did a few mock ups of different ideas before deciding on the final one, but I did not see anything until the final cover. I worked with the marketing team to write a few articles that they placed with blogs and websites as part of a blog tour around my release date, and they designed bookmarks and social media teasers for me to use as well. They also hosted two 100-book giveaways on Goodreads, which got my book out there to bloggers, reviewers, and readers and generated buzz ahead of launch. Outside of their efforts, I hosted giveaways and created my own graphics to promote the book online and set up a local book signing.
For the marketing of my second book, Dreaming in Chocolate, I took a little more control and hired an outside PR company to help me. They worked with my internal team at St. Martin’s to coordinate reviews, placement of essays I wrote, and sending review copies to bloggers and readers.
Tell me about your support system online and IRL, including how you came to be a Tall Poppy (which is amazing to me!). Who are your biggest cheerleaders?
Writing is such a solitary activity, but being a writer is so much about the community! I have a small group of critique partners (CPs) who I’ve been connected with for about five years. We share our work, help each other through writing slumps, and cheer each other on. We’ve become very close friends over the years and I can’t imagine writing without them helping me through it.
Another group I am grateful for is the Pitch Wars community. For those who don’t know, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program, started by Brenda Drake, that matches unagented writers with more writers who are a little farther down the publishing path. I was selected as a mentee by the lovely Karma Brown in 2014, and she was instrumental in helping me turn The Secret Ingredient of Wishes into something an agent (and eventually an editor) would love. We spent two months tearing the manuscript apart and rebuilding it. I learned so much from her, it was literally life changing. Now, I’m about to start my third year of being a mentor and cannot wait to be able to help another writer on their writing journey.
Karma is also how I became a Tall Poppy. She was a Poppy at the time and though I had heard of them, I didn’t really know much about the group or the writers who made it up. But I was so impressed with this group of women whose main goal was to lift up and promote other women writers. It’s part social group, part marketing collective. And it’s 100% amazing. The industry knowledge within the group makes going through the ups and downs of publishing so much easier to understand. And these ladies are fiercely supportive, personally and professionally. It’s such an honor to be a part of this group and know that I’m not alone in all of this publishing life!
And our Facebook group, Bloom, is such a delight. We get to interact with readers, get to know them, and let them get to know us. We’ve made so many friendships within that group, and it’s incredible how the members of Bloom seem to love the community as much as we do.
How does your life influence your art and vice versa, and how did magic enter your stories? How are food and magic connected for you?
It’s impossible for me to write and not put some part of me on the page. Sometimes I do it deliberately, picking a friend’s last name to use for a character or having a barbecue festival occur in the story because I grew up in Tennessee with beef barbecue and sweet, tomato-based sauce but now live in Eastern North Carolina where it’s all pork and vinegar-based sauce. And other times, I don’t even mean to, but then I read back through I find hints of my life sprinkled throughout.
As for the magic, I love the idea that there could be magic in the real world. And in a world that is so dark at times, I wanted an escape. I wanted to be someplace that was quirky and whimsical and full of awe. The magic is also a way for me to help my characters find themselves and their way home, where or whatever home may be. It offers a strange obstacle for them to go up against in pursuit of their true selves. And it’s a little bit of wish fulfillment for me because I get to play with the rules of the real world and see what life could be like if someone could make wishes come true just by thinking about them or making hot chocolate that predict the future! Combining food with magic just seemed to fit. They work so well together and writing about food is a lot of fun because it’s something everyone can relate to. We all have our comfort foods and meals that are part of the fabric of our families and lives. Food might be a basic necessity of life, but it’s also deeply connected to emotions, which help make my stories come to life.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I love that my creativity is always there, beneath the surface of my thoughts. It’s always watching and listening and soaking in what’s going on around me, and then suddenly one day it offers up a story idea that I am so in love with I can’t wait to start writing. That’s not to say, writing is always a breeze and I never get blocked, because I definitely do. And those days, I wonder if maybe everything I’ve done has just been a fluke. But I can almost always find my way back into the story or character after giving my creativity a chance to refuel itself.
Connect with Susan:
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Susan-Bishop-Crispell/e/B00HX8MEDI
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/SBCrispell
Abandoned by her mother at 7, Jialing comes of age as a bond servant to a wealthy family. The education provided her through extraordinary circumstances is for naught, for she is zazhong—Eurasian, an outsider. A fox spirit guides Jialing through a hostile culture as the young woman discovers that she can take no one’s identity at face value. In the tumultuous times of early 20th century China, a politically-motivated murder endangers her life and the man she loves.
Jialing automatically accepts the centuries-old fox spirit, a shape-shifter who also appears as a woman, and a conduit for the girl to travel through time and space along with the spirit. Chang brilliantly portrays the fox spirit’s abilities and limitations, fully developing her complex character with her own conflicts and goals, including friendships and romantic love. Loyalty to her human friends drives her actions, as a companion and a source of wisdom.
Tension is maintained throughout the story as bigotry slams door after door in Jialing’s face, opportunities as fleeting as the wind, and she learns her precarious place in her world, yet always yearns for more. In early 1900s China, even a child is suspect if of mixed race, so that her continued existence relies on the good will of others. Chang weaves this prejudice throughout a storyline of journalistic intrigue, political criminality, rape and murder, showing how Jialing’s zazhong life is worth nothing to anyone.
As a fan of historical fiction with speculative elements, I loved learning about another culture with mystical aspects, and I highly recommend this novel and author Janie Chang. Check her out: https://janiechang.com/
In the not too distant future, at a Japanese high school, teenage android Shinobu purchases the trending drug Spacix. It’s news to the principal that androids can take drugs, downloading a program that simulates the drugs’s effects, including the side effects, which can be devastating for Shinobu and other adolescent androids, as the real life drug has been for human teens.
Barr creates a credible world of humans and androids co-existing, with all the messiness of human emotions and scientists with god complexes. Third in the Nihon cyberpunk series, this tale continues with the concept of programming robots with emotions, going a step further in the creation of realistic humanoids with upgrades to mimic growth to fulfill the dream of parenthood for infertile couples. Characters are complex and situations challenging as a teen does the stupid things that teens do, only in a—brilliantly created—world with constantly shifting lines determining what is digital and what is human.
Keep an eye out on laelbraday.com for a review of the next story in the Nihon cyberpunk series.