A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
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.
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:
Kate chose a lifemate over a soulmate. Her marriage comes to a crossroads in her mind, and she is given a literal chance for a do-over, a gift of time shifting via the Devil’s Triangle. She must choose between her soulmate and her wrecked life as a disillusioned wife and mother. Impellizzeri brilliantly portrays a woman who inadvertently contributes to the misery in her own life by refusing to let the past be and give herself fully to her present. She learns that no matter what choices are made, and invested in, some things cannot be controlled. There are so many layers to this story, including the parallels of the legendary tale told by the ship’s captain to Kate’s life and the tricky ending to her circular thinking, both impossible to escape from…or not. That ending, circling back to the beginning, is so clever. Fans of time travel, star-crossed love, and characters whose hearts grow three sizes will love this story.
Rachel wished her brother would get lost. And he did. So lost that their parents forgot him and explained him away as Rachel’s imagination, and then as her illness. Having repressed her wish-giving ability through to adulthood, Rachel runs away from her life when the wish-granting bursts forth to affect her best friend’s family. She ends up in Nowhere, NC, where she discovers others’ magic and how to control her own. Crispell’s talented in creating complex characters, with their roller coaster emotions and love-hate relationships with their talents. Like Sarah Addison Allan, the magic is a part of everyday life, including emotional trees and sometimes challenging townspeople. Readers who daydream of having magical capabilities can live out their fantasies through Crispell’s stories. Check out her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/ to learn more about her and purchase her books.
Leiyin learns she has three souls upon her death, souls who explain they are trapped with her ghost until she atones for some egregious transgression in her mortal life. They witness her, through memories, rebel against the patriarchal traditions of her father, suffer the consequences, and live with regrets for her naivety. In the early 20th century, Leiyin controls little about her life, and this during a civil war and Japanese aggression. Epiphanies hit her hard and fast reliving her memories. She must communicate with mortals to appease the gods by rescuing the fates of her loved ones in order to ascend to the afterlife with her souls. Chang’s blending and bending of Chinese culture and history create a compelling narrative of inadvertent espionage and acceptance of one’s place in society. The speculative elements placing Leiyin outside her own story fascinate the reader as they astonish Leiyin. Chang’s novels are educational in many ways, to the anticipated appreciation of readers of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Laura Spinella.
These stories of young women—a step-daughter with an evil step-brother, a disillusioned intellectual, a literary feminist teen, a misplaced mother, and even a queen—trying to retain their spiritual essence in a patriarchal world are gorgeously written and illustrated. They read as fairytales, with villains and heroines, a defined delineation of good vs. evil, fantastic realms, a bit of magic, and even actual fairies. Fans of the Brothers Grimm, and especially readers of Angela Slatter, will appreciate the unique flavor of Pavlikova. I was fortunate to win this beautiful ebook through a Goodreads giveaway.
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:
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.
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