Friday Five: Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Carolyn Dennis-Willingham, author of historical fiction novels.

Ms. Dennis-Willingham writes poetry, memoirs, and children’s books and historical novels. Her first book, No Hill for a Stepper, was published in 2011, and The Last Bordello was published in August 2016. A native Texan, Ms. Dennis-Willingham lives in Austin with her husband and a miniature Aussie. She enjoys oil painting, boxing, and spending time with her grown children and two grandchildren.

When one of Madam Fannie Porter’s soiled doves is accused of murdering a woman of the Temperance Union, nothing will stop her from learning the truth. Set in 1901, The Last Bordello is not only a who-dun-it. It is a reminder that ladies of the night struggled for survival while the suffragettes fought for a better life for all women –Two opposing sides of the same female coin.

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Carolyn1. What genre do you currently read most and why?

I read most any genre but mostly enjoy a good historical fiction. I love picturing myself and the characters in a world from the past.

2. What do you want your readers to take away from your works?

Emotional engagement with the characters and an appreciation of how they change during the course of the novel.

3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

To travel back in any time period I feel like visiting.

4. Why should people read YOUR stuff? Who’s your target audience and why?

So I don’t have to beg. I’m not good at begging. Seriously, I like to think my characters are strong enough to either like or hate and the stories themselves will take you to places you’ve never been before. While No Hill for a Stepper appealed equally to both genders, I envision more women reading The Last Bordello. The Moonshine Thicket will appeal to young adults, the young at hearts, and anyone who likes coming-of-age stories.

5. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? How do you deal with this?

Writing descriptions of places set in the past can be difficult since, obviously, I was never there. To combat this, I rely on old postcards and descriptions in old newspapers.

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The Last Bordello is currently available through Amazon.

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Media Monday: Cross-cultural historical love stories

Media MondayThe books: The Lioness of Morocco by Julia Drosten and Palm Trees in the Snow by Luz Gabás

The music: “My Companjera” by Gogol Bordello

One of the perks of being an Amazon Prime person is that I get a free book each month before it’s released (yeah, like I need free books). Some of them are crap, but I’ve had good luck with the Amazon Crossing books – books that are bestsellers in another country and have been translated into English. I’m painfully aware that I read mostly American authors, so I’m trying to branch out and incorporate other cultures into what I read.

The Lioness of Morocco is a literary romance/adventure story set in Morocco in the early 19th century. It follows Sibylla, a woman who feels trapped by her time, who convinces her husband to be an agent of her father’s shipping company in Morocco. Her husband turns out to be a less-than-worthless jerkface, and Sibylla finds herself drawn to a handsome, daring French guy who actually sees her as a person. Fate has fun pushing them together and pulling them apart, in a fascinating look at life in a North African country two hundred years ago, and all the customs and culture that goes with it.

Palm Trees in the Snow, also a very literary story, is set in both present-day Spain and on a small island off the coast of Guinea in the 1950’s. Clarence is trying to find out more about her family history and in doing so, the book follows her uncle Killian and father Jacob who moved to the island mid-century to work on a Spanish cocoa plantation. Killian fell in love with Bisila, the daughter of a native foreman on the plantation, and his niece must piece together why neither men ever returned to the island after its rough transition to independence. The story focuses on the relationship between colonizer and colony, between Whites and Blacks, and it does so in a very balanced way, showing the experiences of those on both sides of the issues, both at the time and half a century later.

For both these stories, I knew next to nothing about the history detailed in colonial Morocco or Guinea. In addition to great stories, these books were also engaging history lessons.

For the music, today it’s my favorite gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello. “My Companjera” is a song about searching – for a partner, for reliving a shared experience, for love, for answers, for whatever. And that’s the theme of both of today’s books, I think – getting out of your comfort zone to look for more to life, and finding love and adventure in the process.

And as a bonus, here’s the trailer for Palm Trees in the Snow, which is currently available on Netflix (in Spanish, with subtitles).

Summer 2017 goal review

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this summer.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

I’ve finished several chapters of a novel, plus a short story. So, about halfway there.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’m two behind now on this.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

My academic timeline was pushed back a couple months, but I’m still planning on writing this book this fall.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

This will never be a goal again because live events, at least the ones around here, are a waste of time. The only people who came to the last event were friends and family of the writers. And as much as I appreciate my grandma stopping by to say hi, she can buy books from me any time. That said, I’m doing a presentation in a couple weeks at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (okay, so not THE Iowa Writer’s Workshop, just a writing workshop at the University of Iowa, but whatever) that may be interesting. Then a couple local-ish events in August, a reading in October, and nothing else unless it’s free to participate and I don’t have anything else going on.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

A research assistantship position ended this spring, so I recently got a part-time job as a youth residential counselor. While I’m enjoying it so far, it doesn’t leave much time for travel. I went to Michigan a couple times in June, and I’m heading to the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies in a couple weeks. No international travel other than Canada, though.

However, I did book tickets just this week to go back to India in January! I’m taking my kid with me, and we’re hitting the Taj Mahal before heading south to work on a project. I’m super excited about this trip.

6. Read 100 books.

I’m at 43 right now – 7 behind schedule. I caught up a bit earlier this summer, but I’m falling behind again. Still, I think I can still catch up and make this goal this year.

Overall

I’m still in the game. This past semester kicked my butt, and while I’m pretty much recovered, my new job is consuming a lot of my time – plus (fingers crossed!) I’ll be starting my dissertation in the next couple weeks. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing, but on the plus side, my new job has given me a lot of story ideas that I really need to write to help me process working with this particular population. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll come pretty close to meeting my goals this year.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Weekend Writing Warrior 7/2/17 #8Sunday

coverI live right across the river from Iowa, which passed a law this year legalizing pretty much all fireworks. Normally to get the good stuff you have to drive a couple hours to Wisconsin or Missouri, but now everyone has access to everything, and for the past couple weeks my neighborhood has been under siege, with explosions ringing out nearly constantly. It’s irritating to me – and I can only imagine how bad it is for vets with PTSD.

So, in honor of the Fourth and my idiot neighbors, this week’s excerpt is from “Crash,” another story in The Futility of Loving a Soldier, my collection of short stories about veterans and their families.

In this story, a father worries about how his daughter, who has combat-related flashbacks, will react – but this year, she has a secret weapon.

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It was July third and neighbors had been shooting off fireworks all evening. Members of his support group had shared how hard it was for some veterans on the Fourth, especially if they’d had experiences like his daughter’s. He anticipated she’d spend the next couple days holed-up in her room, alternating between depression and violent rage. He anticipated she’d be like that right now, in fact, and he had no idea how he’d deal with it.

To his surprise, she was smiling – laughing, even. She played a game of fetch with the dog, running and twirling and showing an exuberance he couldn’t remember her having since her mom had died six years earlier.

A string of firecrackers went off in the distance. Bill tensed, and so did Lindy. Not the dog though; it pressed its nose against her hand. She looked down at it, smiled, and threw a drool-soaked tennis ball for it to chase.

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Post a link to your eight-ten sentence blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

Head over to Amazon and get a copy of The Futility of Loving a Soldier, just $2.99 or free with KU.

Eleven stories of what it means to love a soldier:

  • A girlfriend explains why she knew her boyfriend wouldn’t come back from the front.
  • A stranger reminds a veteran what matters in life.
  • A wife struggles to trust her husband with their baby after he returns from deployment.
  • Old friends search for a way to reclaim the dreams and plans of their childhood.
  • A woman haunted by her experiences finds an unlikely ally.
  • One man’s enlistment creates ripple effects for generations as four sons seek to make sense of what they and their fathers are fighting for.

The stories in this collection explore the physical and psychological effects of combat, both on those who serve and those back home. Told from the points of view of spouses and children as well as the soldiers themselves, the stories tackle eleven different scenarios spanning five American wars. Guilt and acceptance, despair and hope, selfishness and sacrifice, and above all, love, blend together as characters come to realize maybe their feelings aren’t futile after all.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Weekend Writing Warrior 6/25/17 #8Sunday

promoI meant to get a new story published this week, but I started a new job whose training left me exhausted. So, this week’s snippet is one of my favorite things I’ve written, from the short story “A Wedding” in The Futility of Loving a Soldier, my collection of short stories about veterans and their families.

In this excerpt, Abby is visiting her childhood friend, Eli, who was injured in Iraq.

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I’d stepped into the room where he lay unconscious, passed out from pain and medication. He looked so pathetic lying there, with bigger muscles than the last time I’d seen him, but paler—deathly pale with huge black circles under his eyes, cuts all over his exposed face and neck, and a bandage where his left arm should’ve been.

I edged over to his bed and picked up his right hand—his only hand now—careful not to disturb any of the wires and tubes sticking out of him. I stared at his fingers and palm, tracing the calluses on his fingertips before gently setting it back down and leaving the room.

I didn’t go back.

***

Jamie Linn had been there to help him rebound and rebuild once he returned home. She’d had a crush on him for as long as anyone could remember. She was a nurse now, or home care aide or traveling physical therapist—something that got her into his house each day and got him back to healthy.

Once he was better, up and around and selling used cars with his dad, she’d stuck around. It was the perfect romance story come to life, except my mom said Eli had bad spells where he’d just lock himself in his room and stare at the walls, and Jamie Linn got all weepy whenever a show like The Bachelor or 19 Kids and Counting came on and reminded her that she was twenty-seven, childless, and engaged to a moody one-handed used car salesman.

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Post a link to your eight-ten sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

Head over to Amazon and get a copy of The Futility of Loving a Soldier, just $2.99 or free with KU.

Eleven stories of what it means to love a soldier:

  • A girlfriend explains why she knew her boyfriend wouldn’t come back from the front.
  • A stranger reminds a veteran what matters in life.
  • A wife struggles to trust her husband with their baby after he returns from deployment.
  • Old friends search for a way to reclaim the dreams and plans of their childhood.
  • A woman haunted by her experiences finds an unlikely ally.
  • One man’s enlistment creates ripple effects for generations as four sons seek to make sense of what they and their fathers are fighting for.

The stories in this collection explore the physical and psychological effects of combat, both on those who serve and those back home. Told from the points of view of spouses and children as well as the soldiers themselves, the stories tackle eleven different scenarios spanning five American wars. Guilt and acceptance, despair and hope, selfishness and sacrifice, and above all, love, blend together as characters come to realize maybe their feelings aren’t futile after all.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

 

Weekend Writing Warrior 6/18/17 #8Sunday

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in WeWriWa! This week, I’m posting a micro story I wrote for a contest on a writing critique site I use.

The prompt was, “Shootout at the the Alrighty Corral.” My story is titled, “Return of the Revenge of the Resurrected.”

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“Yeah, I’m hideous,” I told the sympathetic barkeep, “but I didn’t ask to be like this.”

He nodded.

I knew he didn’t care, was just being professional, but alcohol made me loquacious so I continued, “All I wanted was acceptance and love; is that so wrong?”

“Nope.”

“So maybe I kinda murdered his girlfriend, but I still maintain he deserved it.”

The clock outside chimed noon.

“He didn’t die on that boat, you know. He faked his death so I’d leave him alone, but it didn’t work. I tracked him here, and now….” I slammed down my glass and went out to meet my maker.

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Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Friday Five: Diane Burton

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Diane Burton, author of sci-fi romance and mystery short stories, novellas, and novels.

Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and the Alex O’Hara PI mystery series. She is also a contributor to two anthologies: Portals, Volume 2 and How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in West Michigan. They have two children and three grandchildren.

In Mission to New Earth, Earth’s overpopulation and dwindling resources force the United Earth Space Agency to ramp up exploration of new planets for a possible new home. As Sara Grenard and her team prepare for launch, are they ready for the one-way trip? Will they be in time?

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Diane Burton1. Why do you write sci-fi romance and mystery?

I love a good mystery, and adventures in space have intrigued me since Star Wars.

2. What was your attitude towards reading when you were a kid?

Loved it. Couldn’t get enough books, and I hoarded the ones I had. I used my babysitting money to buy books instead of make-up,like my girlfriends.

3. Thinking about the stuff you’ve written, who’s your favorite character and why?

Jessie, in my first published novel Switched. She’s quirky, smart alecky, I wish I could come up with her quips in real life. She’s conscious of being overweight (though not that much). She’s insecure yet more capable than she thinks.

4. What literary character are you most like and why?

Jane Eyre: she’s quiet and unassuming, yet caring. I’d rather be Lara Croft.

5. What are three things on your bucket list?

Take an Alaskan cruise
See Scotland/Ireland/Wales, England too
Learn Dutch so I can read about my ancestors

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Mission to New Earth is currently available through Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

The most pointless roadtrip ever?

Alberta has dinosaurs.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I like traveling – especially roadtrips. I take a lot of them, and often for random reasons:

 

  • I went to Detroit for a couple days last month just so I could pop into John King Used Books and eat delicious shawarmas and hummus at my favorite Dearborn Middle Eastern restaurant.
  • For spring break 2016, we detoured through Tulsa, Oklahoma, simply because I wanted to see what was there (answer: the Center of the Universe and nothing else).
  • Last summer, I drove up to Nipigon, Ontario, because I wanted to see the bridge that had collapsed.
  • Summer 2014, we detoured through Medicine Hat, Alberta, because I liked the name.
  • I plan on heading over to Alliance, Nebraska, in the next couple weeks because I need to check out Carhenge.

So, basically, I am the queen of random roadtrips.

sunset

Heaven is watching the sunset on Lake Superior from a secluded cabin in the woods

Yet when I was up in the UP of Michigan last month (different trip from the Detroit one), while I was driving up through Wisconsin I remembered that episode of That 70s Show where the gang drove to Canada for a beer run. From Wisconsin – which doesn’t share a border with Canada (including water ones).

I checked and it’s about 3-5 hours to drive from northern Wisconsin to Canada (either Grand Portage convenience stores north of Duluth or Sault St. Marie). It’s 5+ from southeast Wisconsin (down near Chicago) to Windsor. Regardless of where in the state they live, driving from Wisconsin to Canada just for beer seems like a lot of effort – and this is coming from someone who wants to go to Flin Flon, Manitoba, and Truth and Consequence, New Mexico, simply because of the towns’ names.

Wouldn’t it have been easier and cheaper just to bribe someone in their town to buy them beer?

Media Monday: the role of violence in the Percy Jackson universe

The books: Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus (10 books in all; there are other books in this universe but I haven’t read them yet)

The music: “I’ll Follow You” by Shinedown

My son loves mythology, so of course he’s a huge fan of this series. I try to read what he’s reading so we can discuss it, so I picked up the first book after we watched the movie. And then I binge-read the first series over the course of a weekend. When he started reading the first book of the second series, I binge-read all those too.

The basic premise is that Greek gods and goddesses (and Roman god and goddesses, in the second series) have a hard time keeping it in their pants and therefore there are a ton of demigods running around – half mortal, half immortal. Monsters are attracted to them and want to kill them, so there’s a place they can go – Camp Half-Blood (Greek) and Camp Jupiter (Roman) – where they’re safe from monsters. The gods then send them on quests, which form the plots of the books.

Overall, they’re good books. From a parent perspective, they’re a good read for kids because there’s no bad language or sex (although there is a TON of violence, which I’ll get to in a bit). The characters age but don’t get all emo-whiny on us like in Harry Potter. For the most part, they use teamwork and build each other up, rather than letting divisions come between them or tear each other down with insults and backstabbing (at least the main core of characters; some of the other characters aren’t so savory).

From a reader’s perspective, the plots are solid, although they tend to get kinda monotonous over time; with ten books, some of the quests and monster fights blur together. And sometimes it feels like Riordan is scraping the barrel with some of the monsters and minor Greek and Roman personalities he digs up. But all the characters have their own unique personalities (impressive, considering how many there are) without coming across as stereotypes.

That said, I had a serious problem with how much violence there was in these books.

“Hey look, a monster.”

“Kill it!”

“Maybe we should talk first?”

“No, let’s just kill it.”

“Okay!”

Even Annabeth, who was the daughter of Athena, would trick monsters and then kill them. Aphrodite’s daughter, Piper, would use her charm on monsters and then kill them. Percy, son of Poseidon, and Jason, son of Jupiter, would just go straight for the kill. Even when the monsters showed that they could be allies (Tyson the cyclops, Bob the Titan), the protocol was to kill first and ask questions later.

When the kids were at their camps, they spent a lot of time training for war. And when on their quests and when fighting their wars, characters died, not just monsters. The main villains – the Titans and the giants – never wanted to negotiate, so the only response was only violence and fighting to stop them, which I really didn’t like. Considering how much posturing goes on with various world leaders, I think kids need books that show peaceful solutions when two sides disagree instead of fighting. They need books that show nuanced villains rather than ones that are automatically bad just because they happen to be [insert species/race/whatever].

My kid wants me to write him a series of books about a kid who time travels, solving mysteries, and I can guarantee that my main character will solve problems with his words, not his sword.

The accompanying song, “I’ll Follow You,” is about supporting someone you love, and that’s a major theme in the Percy Jackson books. There’s the obvious plot where Percy follows his girlfriend to literal Hell because he doesn’t want her to have to experience it alone, but that love the characters have for each other shines throughout the whole series. In fact, that’s one of Percy’s weaknesses – he’s too loyal to his friends. Despite the violence of the stories, this love and support for each other is a powerful message that I think kids need more of in what they read.

If you’ve read these books, what are your thoughts on them? Do you agree with my views, or did you interpret them differently? Let me know in the comments!

Friday Five: Jes Sanders

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Jes Sanders, author of sci-fi short stories, novellas, and novels,

Jes had an amazing teacher in 6th Grade: Mr. Giglio (pronounced ‘Jillio’), Mt. Helix Elementary, San Diego. He introduced him to War of the Worlds, The White Mountains, and Taran Wanderer, and inspired him to write. Then life happened. Some decades and a family later, he finds himself in a completely unrelated career. But, as his favorite author, Colum McCann says, “Come song, anyway.” He has stories in him that want to get out, and he is enjoying discovering all this endeavor has to offer.

His latest work, The Last Jubali, is an epic sci-fi tale. World War II has just ended, but it was merely a means to a greater attack.

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Jes Sanders1. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

If left on an island, I would probably take Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle with me. This book has it all: Great writing, social commentary, science fiction, cynicism, hope, family tension, weird religion. It’s just great!

2. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

For The Last Jubali, the inspiration came from two places. The first seed of the idea was a simple question: What if folklore and folk magic, that every culture has grown up with, was held to be absolutely real – and science was held in great suspicion? What if folk magic was regulated? What if science was either laughed at or persecuted?

The second seed of The Last Jubali came from a mental connection that I made between Dark Matter and Einstein’s Unified Field Theory. What if the link between electromagnetism and gravity could never be solved because there was a fifth force missing form the equation? What if this fifth force resided in a universe next to ours, and dark matter is simple the shadow of this force on our universe? And if somebody, a “psyentist,” were to master this force, they could control gravity as well as electromagnetism.

3. What do you want your tombstone to say?

My tombstone should read, “Well, that was embarrassing.”

4. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? How do you deal with this?

I really struggle with romantic dialogue. I only have a few characters who are in love. One friend told me that my dialogue read like a romance novel. Ouch! But I am learning how to have my characters speak more naturally.

5. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that you think they need to know?

Every now and then, science fiction can rise above genre writing. Genre is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But, yes, even sci-fi can sometimes expand our understanding of the human condition, or contribute to the artistic landscape. I think of A Canticle for Liebowitz, for example. I don’t claim at all to be at this level, but it’s what I aspire to.

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The Last Jubali is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

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