Today I’m pleased to interview author David Litwack. I loved his novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky (see my review of it here) and jumped at this chance to ask him about his books and  views on writing.

David, it’s a pleasure to have you on Ancient Children. What led you to become a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Which part of the writing process do you find most enjoyable? Which do you find most challenging?

The best part is opening the box and clutching the finished book in my hands, especially staring at the gorgeous cover my artist, Mallory Rock, has produced. Far and away the most challenging part is writing the first draft. I have to keep reminding myself that no matter how awful it seems, the primary purpose of a first draft is to understand what the author is trying to say. I quiet my doubts and order myself to finish the draft. Then I put in the months of hard work to smooth it out and make it better.

Which books and authors have influenced you the most?

There are so many I love that have influenced my writing. I have always read cross genre. When I became an avid reader in my teens, I devoured fantasy and science fiction, but also literary fiction. I loved the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimo , and of course, Tolkien, but also of Hemingway and Steinbeck.

If you forced me to name a book I wish I wrote, I think it would be a composite of Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls—a story beautifully written, with a fantastic alternate world, lofty themes, and intense characters who believe passionately in their cause.

I love The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Kailani is an endearing and memorable character. In the novel you create a world in which there are two hostile nations, the Blessed Lands and the Republic. In the Blessed Lands, people of faith have rejected reason and science. As a result they live primitively. The people of the Republic embrace reason and have developed a technology that gives them comfortable lives, but a sadness hangs over them, a kind of ennui. One theme of the novel seems to be that we need both faith and reason to be completely human, but their opposition creates tension — both within individuals and between groups. Can that tension ever be resolved? Should it be?

That’s a really hard question. I think an author’s job is to pose the really hard questions, to make people think, but not necessarily to provide the answers (there may be none).

The question highlights one of the primary benefits of reading novels—the ability to get inside another person’s mind and see the world through different eyes. The more you read, the broader your perspective. The broader your perspective, the more you can accept other points of view. Your thoughts become more nuanced and less polarized. At the very least, you become able to understand other ways of thinking, at least enough to not make war.

I haven’t yet read The Seekers: The Children of Darkness, but the description suggests it may have a similar theme. Does it?

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is about a world divided between two peoples with very different belief systems and world views, a situation that has led, in the past, to tragic wars. To solve the problem, the powers that be have separated the two and provided a limited mechanism to transfer between them, thereby keeping the peace. While both sides may have gone too far in enforcing their beliefs, neither is really a dystopian society.

The Children of Darkness takes a different tack. One side dominates in order to maintain the peace, but over time, power corrupts. The best intentions have led to a dystopia (dystopia comes from dysfunctional utopia—good intentions gone bad). The first book in the trilogy asks the question: how do some, after a thousand years of controlled thought, come to question the rigid beliefs of their society, and what sacrifices are they willing to make to change their world.

I think you’ll find as the trilogy progresses, the lines blur. The main characters confront the good and bad of both belief systems. In the end, all they want is for each individual to be free to choose what they believe and to be allowed to fulfill their potential. Can this be done without constantly recreating the problem? Stay tuned,

How does writing a series such as The Children of Darkness differ from writing a stand-alone novel?

I’ve found that the more time an author spends with his characters, the better he knows them. That’s why I moved from third person perspective in the first book to Orah’s first person in the subsequent novels. I’m much more comfortable inside her head, and as the moral dilemma intensifies, I’m better able to show the reader how it affects her.

Any advice for writers just starting out?

If you love it, never give up. If not, find something easier to do.

If you still insist on writing, take to heart the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: “There a no good writers, only good rewriters.” If you want to become a better writer, read lots and rewrite until no unnecessary word remains.

Assess every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and scene objectively. Remove what’s not necessary, even if you love it. I have a favorite quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of that gem of a novel, The Little Prince): “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Polish each and every word until all that’s left sparkles.

Thank you again for the interview. I’m looking forward to reading The Children of Darkness.

The Daughter of the Sea and the SkyThe Children of Darkness - Cover

It’s finally here! Children of Darkness – Book One in The Seekers Series is available NOW. Check it out on Amazon.com. FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. GET YOUR COPY

“A must-read page turner.” Kirkus Review

About the Book:

The Children of Darkness - CoverThe Children of Darkness

The Children of Darkness is about a society devoid of technology, the result of an overreaction to a distant past where progress had overtaken humanity and led to social collapse. The solution—an enforced return to a simpler time. But Children is also a coming of age story, a tale of three friends and their loyalty to each other as they struggle to confront a world gone awry. Each searches for the courage to fight the limits imposed by their leaders, along the way discovering their unique talents and purpose in life.

“If the whole world falls into a Dark Age, which it could plausibly do, who could bring us out of it? According to David Litwack in The Children of Darkness, the only answer is us, now, somehow reaching into the future.” – Kaben Nanlohy for On Starships And Dragonwings

Publication Date: June 22, 2015 from Evolved Publishing
Purchase Link: http://smarturl.it/Seekers1
FREE WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23485495-the-children-of-darkness

Speculative Literary Fiction

Someone recently asked me why I use the term “speculative literary fiction” to describe the genre of my novels. While both terms are used frequently on their own, they are not often paired together.

Speculative fiction is a term coined by Margaret Atwood in an effort to avoid the hard-core sci-fi label (she said she needed a category that meant sci-fi without Martians). It has been used to describe a number of sub genres—space opera, techno-thrillers, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, even fantasy—basically anything that is not “real world.” The key to speculative fiction is the what-if aspect. What if the world as we know it was different in one or more ways? While this what-if, alternate history/alternate world approach can be used to explore future technology or just spin a good yarn, it also enables an author to focus on some theme by altering an aspect of the world as we know it.

Literary fiction is usually understood to mean quality writing, deeper characters and an exploration of universal themes.

So why combine the two? The primary purpose of declaring a genre is to set the expectation of the prospective reader.

Using the term speculative fiction by itself can misrepresent a book. Readers might expect Star Wars or the Zombie Apocalypse, or an emphasis on some hypothetical technology such as faster than light spaceships or time travel. Literary fiction tends to imply real world, such as The Help or The Secret Life of Bees.

Many great books have speculative premises, but are literary in nature. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a good example, or the works of Usrula LeGuin. Even a novel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road might fit. While it’s certainly post-apocalyptic–we find out little about the cataclysm that brought about the current state–the author dwells on the relationship between the man and the boy, and the power of love. Another example might be Never Let Me go by Kazuo Ishiguro. While the what-if of this world is the use of cloning to grow organs, it’s told from the viewpoint of the clones, and shows much more about relationships and the human condition than about technology.

I use speculative literary fiction as a term to distinguish alternate history or alternate worlds, where the emphasis is not on whiz-bang technology, aliens, space travel or the like, but more on deeper characters and universal themes, brought to the fore by the unique difference in the imagined society or world.

Get Your Copy of The Children of Darkness Now!

 About the Author:

David Front PageThe urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.

Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned.

After publishing two award winning novels, Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, he’s hard at work on the dystopian trilogy, The Seekers.

David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.

Website: www.davidlitwack.com
Facebook: David Litwack – Author
Twitter: @DavidLitwack

Giveaway

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More Reviews!

“Litwack’s storytelling painted a world of both light and darkness–and the truth that would mix the two.” Fiction Fervor

The Children of Darkness is a dystopian novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.” C.P. Bialois

“This is a satisfying exploration of three teens’ journey into the unknown, and the struggles faced by all who seek true emancipation – both for themselves, and for the people they love.” Suzy Wilson

“Litwack’s writing is fresh, and Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas come to life in your imagination as you frantically flip (or click) the pages of this book.” Anna Tan

“…many profound themes, lovely characterizations and relationships” R. Campbell

“I was enthralled and intrigued by the authors creation of this society… David Litwack has an enjoyable and captivating writing style.” Jill Marie

“…a perfect story for young adult readers, but its underlying theme and character development will keep any adult engaged.” Kathleen Sullivan

It’s finally here! Children of Darkness – Book One in The Seekers Series is available NOW. Check it out on Amazon.com. FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. GET YOUR COPY

“A must-read page turner.” Kirkus Review

About the Book:

The Children of Darkness - CoverThe Children of Darkness

The Children of Darkness is about a society devoid of technology, the result of an overreaction to a distant past where progress had overtaken humanity and led to social collapse. The solution—an enforced return to a simpler time. But Children is also a coming of age story, a tale of three friends and their loyalty to each other as they struggle to confront a world gone awry. Each searches for the courage to fight the limits imposed by their leaders, along the way discovering their unique talents and purpose in life.

“If the whole world falls into a Dark Age, which it could plausibly do, who could bring us out of it? According to David Litwack in The Children of Darkness, the only answer is us, now, somehow reaching into the future.” – Kaben Nanlohy for On Starships And Dragonwings

Publication Date: June 22, 2015 from Evolved Publishing
Purchase Link: http://smarturl.it/Seekers1
FREE WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23485495-the-children-of-darkness

Book Description

The Children of Darkness, book one of the dystopian trilogy, The Seekers

“But what are we without dreams?”

A thousand years ago the Darkness came–a time of violence and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything.

Childhood friends, Orah and Nathaniel, have always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the rigid status quo. When their friend Thomas returns from the Temple after his “teaching”—the secret coming-of-age ritual that binds the young to the Light—they barely recognize the broken and brooding man the boy has become. Then when Orah is summoned as well, Nathaniel follows in a foolhardy attempt to save her.

In the prisons of Temple City, they discover a terrible secret that launches the three on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in jeopardy. For hidden in the keep awaits a truth from the past that threatens the foundation of the Temple. If they reveal that truth, they might release the long-suppressed potential of their people, but they would also incur the Temple’s wrath as it is written:

“If there comes among you a dreamer of dreams saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”

“A fresh perspective on our own society…[an] enjoyable read that will make you wonder just how society will judge us in the future.” Lexie

2Get Your Copy Now!

About the Author:

David Front PageThe urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.

Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned.

After publishing two award winning novels, Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, he’s hard at work on the dystopian trilogy, The Seekers.

David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.

Website: www.davidlitwack.com
Facebook: David Litwack – Author
Twitter: @DavidLitwack

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More Reviews!

“Litwack’s storytelling painted a world of both light and darkness–and the truth that would mix the two.” Fiction Fervor

The Children of Darkness is a dystopian novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.” C.P. Bialois

“This is a satisfying exploration of three teens’ journey into the unknown, and the struggles faced by all who seek true emancipation – both for themselves, and for the people they love.” Suzy Wilson

“Litwack’s writing is fresh, and Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas come to life in your imagination as you frantically flip (or click) the pages of this book.” Anna Tan

“…many profound themes, lovely characterizations and relationships” R. Campbell

“I was enthralled and intrigued by the authors creation of this society… David Litwack has an enjoyable and captivating writing style.” Jill Marie

“…a perfect story for young adult readers, but its underlying theme and character development will keep any adult engaged.” Kathleen Sullivan

Today’s guest, Meryl Wright, is here to tell you about The Books Machine, an online site where authors list their books and readers get them for free in exchange for an honest review. Daemon Seer and Talion are both listed at The Books Machine, and I can assure you that the readers there do give honest reviews. It’s a great place for both authors and readers.

I’d like to tell you about  a meeting place for authors and readers where you will be able to enjoy the best reads. A young community in continuous growth, it provides a service different from that of the rest, and some of its proposals deserve highlight.

To begin with, you can obtain your reader membership absolutely for free, in a single step and only using your email. This will allow you to access our special newsletter with free Kindle books and quality ebooks that are a deal. You will even be able to read an excerpt of the titles you like, to get a feel for the book and see if it aligns with your preferences. But that’s not all! This site will permit you to access hundreds of good books to read, which must normally be paid for, as a gift! You will be able to read the book and give your honest opinion, providing you access to the best reading at the same time you help spread the author’s work.

Finally, you will have access to hundreds of articles and news, ensuring that you always have good books to read. And, if you wish, you will be able to participate in the Facebook page of The Books Machine, sharing the community’s benefits and updates with friends.

We hope you enjoy. Click this link now to assure your free membership, giving you access to the best reading right now:http://www.thebooksmachine.com

The epistolary novel (a novel written in the form of journals or letters) has a long history going back to the 17th Century. It’s uncommon these days, but Brian Sfinas has adopted it to write an imaginative and sometimes brilliant work of science fiction.

The Darkest of Suns Will Rise consists of a series of official reports and the journals and letters of principal characters. From these Sfinas constructs a terrifying and only too credible world of the future in which much of humanity lives and dies on space stations without ever setting foot on Earth. With its population at a sustainable level, the planet’s ecosystem is healthy once more. Macaws have been genetically modified to be as intelligent as humans. Nano robots clean up messes, from smudged walls to demolished space ships, by deconstructing them at the molecular level. They heal injuries and disease, doubling the human lifespan. Super intelligent and benign aliens known as the Pronogsticate monitor the governance of human beings.

Sound like paradise?

Not exactly. Human nature hasn’t changed.

A secretive group called the Orphanage range through space, plotting the overthrow of the Prognosticate and the rule of reason. The Orphans are the few remaining believers in God. The military commander Aiden DeCaro is their chief enemy. He detests their destructiveness, irrationality, and rebellion, but he harbors the same traits in himself and works to conceal them from the probing of the Prognosticate.

Aiden also keeps Clarissa, his lover, hidden in his cabin on board the ship he commands. Their relationship is sadomasocistic in the extreme. He kills a man who accidentally sees Clarissa and feels little remorse for doing so. The love affair between Aiden and Clarissa forms the emotional core of the story. His political struggles and fight against the Orphanage unfold around it.

Despite the brilliant conception and fully imagined world, the writing occasionally falls short. In a novel like this, errors in grammar or usage can be a way of creating a distinct narrative voice, but not when they contradict the character’s intellect and education, as happens two or three times with Aiden.

In the middle of the story, Aiden spends time on Earth writing in his journal. He ruminates at length about economic and political conditions in the early 21st Century. Although many of the author’s observations are astute, they seem extrinsic to the story and slow it further at a point where it’s already dragging.

Finally, there is little or no foreshadowing of the abrupt ending. I anticipated it a few pages ahead because I saw nowhere else for the story to go.

Overall, the novel’s many strengths outweigh its few weaknesses. The Darkest of Suns Will Rise is a haunting novel, remarkable for its complex characters and intelligent vision of the future.

 

The second chapter of Talion includes a flashback of Lisa and her brother  visiting their father in Chicago. She receives a locket that becomes significant later. For readers wanting an entirely plot-driven story, the flashback might be an annoyance, but unless they understand who Lisa is, how will they care what happens to her?

Flying Spiders

He was nowhere in the crowd of faces at the airport gate. The other passengers swept her and Randy forward like a powerful river. A crash of voices and distant music echoed from the cavernous airport walls. Lisa searched the endless stream of faces. She desperately had to pee. They passed restrooms, but she couldn’t ask Randy to stop. He grabbed her wrist so hard she yelped in pain. “Stay with me!”

He dragged her through a huge terminal building to the United Airlines counter. They waited in a long line. When their turn finally came, the uniformed woman behind the counter was writing something. Randy drummed his fingers until she said, “May I help you?” Her eyelids drooped as she listened to him, then she lifted a phone and punched some buttons. “I got two kids here’s supposed to meet their daddy.” She pronounced the name, Murray Duncan, so precisely that it sounded like contempt. She hung up and started checking suitcases as if Randy and Lisa weren’t there anymore. Another uniformed woman told them to step aside so the line could keep moving. Squeezed between the ticket line and the baggage line, they got jostled and drew curious stares.

Randy’s face turned red and knotty, like when he lifted his stupid barbells. What if he started a fight and ruined their vacation?

“Dad probably just went to the wrong place,” Lisa said.

“Well, they’re paging him right now.”

A loudspeaker drifted above the noise in the terminal: Murray Duncan, please come to the United Airlines ticket counter. Murray Duncan. . . Something about the sound, hollow and distorted, made Lisa feel the awful moment would keep happening forever. Dad would always forget to meet them, and his name would drift through the airport terminal like a ghost.

Lisa saw the girl coming. She hurried along in snake-skin pumps with ticking steps that made her boobs jiggle. Lisa might have laughed except the girl was gorgeous. She looked like a model with perfect hair and makeup and a flashbulb smile.

“You’re Randy, right? You’ve got your dad’s sexy eyes.”

The swollen anger drained from his face like air from a popped balloon. The girl tossed a conspiring smile over her shoulder. That’s how you handle men, it said. She introduced herself as Angelina and apologized for not meeting them at the gate. The traffic on the expressway had been insane.

Randy carried their suitcases out to the car and stowed them in the trunk, putting lots of effort into lifting so Angelina could see his biceps. Lisa snickered but kept her mouth shut. She wanted his good mood to hold. Breathing the grit and fumes of the airport, she felt excited and a little queasy. Her whole life would change from this vacation, she just knew. It didn’t even matter that Randy took the front seat and stuck her with sitting in back.

“Where’s our dad?” Randy asked once they were on the expressway.

“In a meeting.”

They waited for Angelina to explain further as hundreds of cars spun past, the people inside glowering or desperate or laughing wildly. Compared to them she seemed cool and perfect. Her hands rested easily on the steering wheel, the car just another accessory like her gold bracelet and pink nails.

“Are you his girlfriend?”

“Yes. And I work for him as well. I’ll be staying with you while he’s at the office.”

“So he’s paying you to stay with us?”

“Should he be?”

Randy scowled. Though he teased Lisa without mercy, he hated being teased himself.

The condo, in a high-rise by the lake, was like a picture in a magazine. Everything down to the empty flower vase fit the decorating scheme, but nothing reminded Lisa of Dad. It felt like a hotel. She and Randy watched TV and drank bottle after bottle of orange and lemon Pellegrino.

She felt bloated and grouchy by the time Angelina drove them to a restaurant with pastel tablecloths and napkins spread like fans. Dad sat alone at a table drinking a foreign beer and reading a newspaper. He looked different than she remembered. Didn’t he used to have a tan? Now his skin reminded her of mushrooms. It was stretched too tight over his cheekbones, but under his eyes the wrinkles gathered like cobwebs.

Then he hugged her and said, “How’s my beautiful girl,” and Lisa told herself everything would be OK.

The next day Angelina took them shopping. In a jewelry store Lisa found the locket. She knew right away it was what she wanted — a smooth hunk of 14-carat gold with a thick chain. Inside, Dad’s picture would fit beneath a crystal. Angelina slapped down a credit card without asking the price.

That evening they had dinner at an Italian restaurant too fancy to serve pizza, and Lisa asked Dad for a picture of himself.

“You don’t need my picture.”

Lisa was too surprised to answer.

“Can’t you give a picture to your own daughter?” Angelina said, careful not to presume. She was just asking.

“I don’t have one.”

“I’ll take one,” Randy said.

“No. If there has to be a photograph, I’ll get it done professionally.”

At the end of their visit, he’d given each of them a photograph that looked like it came from his driver’s license.

On the plane home Randy said, “What an asshole. He’s paranoid of his own kids.”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t want pictures of himself floating around for the cops to get a hold of. He scams people. He talks them into phony investments and steals their money.”

“He does not.” Lisa yelled so loud the flight attendant frowned a warning at her.

“Ask Mom if you don’t believe me.”

“Mom hates him.”

“Because he’s an asshole. He spent more time with Angelina than us.”

On a bright Sunday afternoon, Dad and Angelina had taken them to the John Hancock Center. They rode an elevator at breakneck speed to the observatory on top. It was swarming with tourists. Everyone jockeyed for a spot at the windows. Luckily Randy was big enough to elbow past the adults, and Lisa was small enough to stand in front of him without blocking his view.

Sailboats drifted across the lake in dreamlike silence. Lisa imagined sailing out there, the sun on her shoulders, the waves lifting her with the promise of excitement. She imagined diving into the jeweled water of the pool on the roof of an apartment tower. Knowing her father lived in just such a building, she felt like a princess. When she was older and ready, he would bring her into his world. She would dedicate herself to preparing for that time.

She realized Dad and Angelina were gone. They had to be somewhere in the observatory, but she felt anxious. She turned to Randy. He was staring, not at the lake or buildings but into the vacant sky.

“What’s up there?”

“Spiders. On the outside of the window.” He pointed to some darkish specks Lisa had dismissed as dirt. But they were spiders. “I wonder how they get up here. And what do they eat? Probably insects that come flying along. And if the wind blows them off, they’re so light they float along on air currents to another skyscraper.”

“You can see spiders anywhere,” she said. “Where’s Dad?”

“Who cares.” His eyes never left the spiders. “You go find them.”

The observatory’s corridor followed the outer windows to form a big square. On the opposite side she found Dad and Angelina. They were each leaning a shoulder against the inner wall, touching foreheads as if sharing secrets through telepathy. His arms circled her waist. Lisa knew then he wanted to be with Angelina. His kids coming to visit was a pain, and he could hardly wait for them to leave.

They never heard from him anymore. The child-support checks were signed by his lawyer. The birthday and Christmas presents were certificates from upscale catalogs, but Mom still made them send thank-you notes. “Your actions show who you are,” she said. “And if he’s got any shame he’ll help pay for your college.”

 

You could write a book on why readers dislike ambiguity in fiction. Someone probably has. It might seem arrogant (or at least reductive) to address the question in 500 words or less, but I’m going to try.

The answer comes down to what a reader wants — challenge or comfort.

Ambiguity is a lack of clarity or certainty in a situation. In fiction, it’s found in open endings, unsolved disappearances, characters whose nature remains mysterious, events that may or may not be real. For me, ambiguity enriches a story and keeps me thinking long after I put the book aside. It makes the story more real. More like life.

We live with ambiguity every day. Someone texts a friend several times and gets no reply. An insecure person thinks, “I did something to make her hate me.” A fearful person thinks, “Maybe she’s in trouble.” An optimistic person thinks, “She’s having too much fun to check her messages.” The point is, people feel the need to come up with an explanation.

Oftentimes more is at stake. You interview for a job. The interviewer promises to get back to you, but doesn’t. Maybe you should call and ask whether you’re still in the running. But what if your call annoys the interviewer?

You meet someone and want to start dating. But maybe he’s a con artist with a string of ex-wives. You run an online search and hope it uncovers the truth. Some of the truth anyway.

The uncertainty of life can be exhausting and anxiety provoking. What a comfort to escape into a story where the mystery is solved, the lovers are united, and both characters and reader stand on solid fictional ground.

The trouble is, the real complexity of experience is missing from those stories.

Margaret Atwood’s “Death By Landscape” is a short story built on ambiguity. The protagonist, Lois, goes to summer camp and meets Lucy. The two girls become friends over several summers together at camp. One day while they’re alone on a hike, Lucy goes off to pee and never comes back. A search of the surrounding countryside turns up nothing. The owner of the summer camp blames Lois.

For the rest of her life, Lois carries the guilt and perplexity of not knowing what happened to her friend. She collects paintings of wilderness landscapes but otherwise pushes the experience to the back of her mind — until she gets old. With her husband dead and her children gone, the mystery of Lucy’s disappearance reemerges. Lois spends her days gazing at the landscape paintings in search of Lucy.

“Death By Landscape” illustrates how devastating lack of closure can be. Lois seeks closure in her collection of landscapes. They are attempts to recapture Lucy by placing borders around the uncharted territory that swallowed her up.

Many readers seek closure in fiction and abhor the holes where certainty and clarity disappear. I can’t really blame them.

A coming-of-age novel set in America in the late 70s, Sandra Hutchinson’s The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire centers on the relationship between David, a physics professor in his 30s, and Molly, the teenage girl who used to babysit his daughter. Molly doesn’t babysit for David anymore because his wife and daughter recently perished in a plane crash. He is too overwhelmed by grief to take care of himself, so his estranged sister hires Molly to keep house for him.

Molly has problems of her own. Her parents are divorced. Her father loves her but now has another wife and children, a family where she has a marginal place. She mostly lives with her mother, a notorious and uninhibited artist who commemorates Molly’s first period by constructing the figure of a girl with tampons and, of course, exhibiting it publicly. Molly’s schoolmates call her Tampon Girl.

The physics professor doesn’t seduce or become obsessed with the teenager, nor does she have a girlish crush on him. While David struggles with grief and survivor’s guilt and Molly negotiates the minefield of adolescence in the 70s, they develop a friendship that’s hard to categorize but easy for people in their small town to misinterpret and condemn.

Sandra Hutchinson writes beautifully transparent and unpretentious prose. She creates complex characters and a vivid sense of place. Most of all, she tells a compelling story full of sorrow and humor with a benign detachment that leaves room for readers to draw their own conclusions. In other words, she’s a first-rate writer.

Some readers might be offended by Hutchinson’s frank depiction of sexual situations and nonjudgmental treatment of behavior that is usually condemned. They may dislike the somewhat open ending. But if you don’t read fiction to find emotional security and have your beliefs validated, if you’re just looking for an excellent book, I strongly recommend The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.

Also by Sandra Hutchison:

 

romance, literary fiction

Read my review of The Awful Mess here.

If you’re a blogger or book reviewer interested in horror or dark fantasy, my new novel Daemon Seer is now available on NetGalley, a site where you can find review copies of books from mainstream publishers, small presses, and university presses as well as indie authors. It’s an impressive collection of new works. You’ll find it worthwhile to register for an account whether you choose to review Daemon Seer or not.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Even today, machines that mimic human thinking surround us. As the intellectual feats of computing machines grow more and more astounding, will there be a day when their apparent intelligence approaches, or even surpasses, that of human beings? And what if these machines then become conscious, self-aware?

Get this latest title in the acclaimed Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies.

 

Thirteen authors confront the question of the Singularity: at and beyond that point of time when A.I. becomes more than simply a human construct. From first awareness to omniscience, these original short stories explore that territory where human intelligence comes face-to-face with what is either its greatest hope, or its greatest threat.

How can you join the party?

Join us TODAY, March 13th, in celebrating the launch on Facebook from 5 to Midnight EST.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1535855083368828/

Get your copy of The A.I. Chronicles here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TUIBHL4/

Enter the Giveaway!

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Some time ago I redeemed the points from one of my credit cards and treated myself to a book. Not an ebook. An actual book that you can hold and touch. For sheer beauty it’s hard to beat Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. The eye glides over the creamy pages, the balanced blocks of text elegantly buttressed with marginalia. Bringhurst brings poetry to his subject. When he declares that “the heartwood [of typography] is calligraphy—the dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand,” I get shivers.

Bringhurst writes lucidly on the history and aesthetics of typography, technical aspects such as kerning, and the mathematics underlying the design of fonts and pages. I haven’t digested the whole book. Even if I finally do, I won’t be an expert in typography. As with any art, mastery takes years of practice.

Years I don’t have.

Spoof Book CoverAll the reading I’ve done about fonts stresses basic principles: Fonts communicate a message. They should reinforce the meaning of the words. They should be compatible with other fonts in the design. Take the fun book cover to your right. The fonts don’t exactly reinforce the atmosphere of menace, and the two calligraphic fonts together are a bit much.

I had some knowledge of and appreciation for fonts by the time I received four mockups of the interior of Daemon Seer, each with a distinctive page design and font combination. They were created by Morgana Galloway of the Editorial Department. The one that immediately caught my eye paired the workhorse Minion Pro for body text with Akura Popo for chapter titles and headers (or in this design footers). I love Akura. It’s bold, Gothic, and unusual, just like Daemon Seer.

Chapter Title from Daemon SeerMorgana did a fantastic job on the print and ebook editions, both of which have chapter titles in Akura  I checked out Akura online and discovered that its maker, TwicoLabs, offers it for free.

Yes, free!

It will come as no surprise to most readers that hundreds of fonts can be downloaded for free, and hundreds more purchased at a reasonable price. But when I began working with typography, it was a revelation to me. During a shopping binge at MyFonts, I found  Crypton, a sanserif font with edges so sharp they look dangerous, for a fraction of its retail price. I had no immediate use for Crypton but bought it anyway. I can’t resist a sale.

Months later, Cantraip Press, Ltd. (my corporate persona) contracted to publish Letitia L. Moffitt’s paranormal mystery, Trace. I did the interior of the print edition myself, using a purchased template, but Letitia disliked the font used in the headers and titles. “It would be fine for another novel,” she said, “but not this one.” She was right. I searched for an alternative and found . . . Crypton. It captures perfectly the edginess and razor wit of Trace.

Title Page Trace

Is that serendipity or what?

Today’s featured guests, seven prominent indie writers, are here to discuss what ought to change in mainstream publishing. Their limited edition box set—Outside the Box: Women Writing Women—will be available in e-book format beginning February 20 for just 90 days. The set may be pre-ordered now.

The project is the brainchild of Jessica Bell, an Australian writer living in Athens, Greece. A literary author and the Founder/Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves literary journal, Jessica wanted to showcase the most exciting fiction being released by authors who are in full charge of their own creative decisions. “I couldn’t imagine collaborating with a finer group of writers,” Jessica said. “The authors in this box set are at the very top of their game.”

 

The compilation of novels introduces a diverse cast of characters: A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father who is determined to reveal the truth. A bookish and freshly orphaned young woman seeks to escape the shadow of her infamous mother—a radical lesbian poet—by fleeing her hometown. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician who is forced by injury to stop playing the piano and fears her life may be over. An undercover journalist after a by-line, not a boyfriend, who unexpectedly has to choose between her comfortable life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness. A former ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for sharp objects and blood to raise a respectable son.

Jane Davis said, “This set of thought-provoking novels showcases genre-busting fiction across the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory.”

But regardless of setting, regardless of whether the women are mothers, daughters, friends or lovers, the themes are universal: euthanasia, prostitution, gender anomalies, regression therapy, obesity, drug abuse, revenge, betrayal, sex, lust, suicide and murder. Their authors have not shied away from the big issues. Some have asked big questions.

 

Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing) selected Blue Mercy, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery – and surprise.

Joni Rodgers (NYT bestselling author) returned to her debut Crazy for Trying, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Discover Award finalist.

Roz Morris (ghost writer and teacher of creative writing master classes for the Guardian newspaper in London) presented My Memories of a Future Life, the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs.

Kathleen Jones, best-selling award winning author, Royal Literary Fund Fellow, whose work has been broadcast by the BBC, contributed The Centauress, a compelling tale of family conflict over a disputed inheritance.

Jane Davis (a British writer whose debut won the Daily Mail First Novel Award) nominated An Unchoreographed Life, an unflinching and painfully honest portrayal of flawed humanity.

Carol Cooper (author, doctor, British journalist and president of the Guild of Health Writers) provided One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between.

For Jessica Bell (Australian novelist, singer/songwriter, Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and whose award-winning poetry has been broadcast on ABC National Radio), her latest novel White Lady was the obvious choice, an intense, suspenseful ride rife with mystery.

Each of the authors addresses this question:

If you were Queen of Publishing for a day, what’s one thing you’d change about the industry as a whole?

Orna: The reason I love self-publishing so much is that it’s democratising and it encourages diversity. Readers and writers together are now creating new genres and books that London and Manhattan would never have published. If I were Queen of Publishing for a day, I’d make it much more diverse. I’d love to see a greater variety of voices at every level of the industry.

Jessica: That’s a tough one. Can it stop being such a popularity contest and get back to its roots? Focus on the writing, not how many followers the author has on Twitter? In an ideal world…

Roz: I would ask for more literary awards to open up to new writers. Not just to indies, but to all the new talent that comes along. Too many literary awards are given on the basis of pre-existing fame. If those authors genuinely wrote the best book of the year, then they deserve the prize, but otherwise we should give awards to the genuinely surprising, interesting and wonderful – not the usual suspects. Sometimes the best book has been written by Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes or Neil Gaiman – but sometimes it’s been written by someone relatively unknown. And those are the books that awards should be finding for us.

Carol: Although it should be obvious that there’s more than one way to publish quality books, some people in both camps sadly take up entrenched positions. Those in traditional publishing especially tend to snipe at the other side, and the antagonism does nobody any favours. We shouldn’t be at war, because in the end it’s all about the reader. I’d like to bring in a lot more enlightenment and a bit more peace, but I may need more than a day to achieve it.

Kathleen: I’d ban accountants from the commissioning meeting! Books should be accepted on literary value alone; it’s the only way to get a quality product. Readers quickly tire of being sold ‘the next best thing’. They want variety, good stories, original, surprising prose – they deserve the best, not some publicist’s idea of what they can be conned into thinking is the best. Not only that, but many of the books they buy purporting to be written by celebrities are in fact written by someone else – usually a professional writer whose own work has been rejected but who needs the money. To pass off a book in that way is fraudulent – at best a con trick. We need to take the fake out of the fiction industry and writers need to be free to write the books they want to write and readers want to read.

Jane: The options for those wishing to publish are now wider than ever before, so I don’t think it’s the publishing industry I would change. It is the perception of publishing and the value that we place on books and art that I’d like to target. This year, I’ve been out speaking to librarians and booksellers trying to encourage them to stock – and read – more indie titles. If Andrew Lownie’s prediction is right, over 75% of books will be self-published by the year 2020. Any outlet that refuses to stock indie titles will be doing readers an enormous disservice by restricting choice. The other thing I’d like to be able to do is to get out there and sell my books for the listed price. I hear parents talk about spending £120 on trainers for their children – something that will be outgrown in 6 months. People will fork out over £50 to see a band play, they’ll happily pay £2.45 for a coffee or £3.60 for a pint of beer, and yet they throw up their hands in horror at the idea of paying £8.99 for a paperback. Is the real issue that readers’ needs are not being catered for? £8.99 may seem a lot of money for something you don’t enjoy. I found the results that Kobo have collated about books readers give up on half way through very telling, with The Goldfinch and Twelve Years a Slave topping the list (the books readers were told they should be reading), whilst the book they were most likely to finish? Casey Kelleher’s self-published thriller Rotten to the Core.

Joni: Oh, Lord, I’d tell everyone to take the day off and read a book. That’s the single most important thing writers can do—for ourselves and for the book culture at large—but we leave ourselves so little time for it.