Monday, January 18, 2021

#BookReview - Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God


Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God: A Lesson On Being Still

By: Christi Eley
Illustrated by: Aries Cheung
Publisher: Cottontail Publishing
Publication Date: January 2021
ISBN: 978-1735968001
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: January 18, 2021

Cam is a sweet young boy who has too much energy – he runs around all the time and makes lots and lots of noise. Will he ever learn how to be still and quiet?

Cam loves to run around the house, run around at school, and run and play everywhere he goes. Crash, bang, splat! All that running and playing is causing a bit of a mess as well as quite a lot of noise. “…talking, yelling, asking questions.” Cam enjoys the noise he makes as he runs about – after all, it’s fun! But his parents, teachers, and others are not as enthusiastic about Cam’s high energy level. They ask Cam to “…slow down, sit still and be quiet!”

Why does Cam have to slow down? What’s wrong with having fun? What’s wrong with making a mess and lots of noise? He doesn’t understand what the adults want. He also hears people quote Psalm 46:10 – “Be Still and Know That I Am God…” What does it all mean?

Fortunately, Cam has an amazing best friend - Mr. Flopsy. Maybe Cam should ask him what it all means.

Mr. Flopsy is an adorable white bunny with long, floppy ears. Cam loves his bunny and thinks perhaps Mr. Flopsy might be able to help him. After all, the bunny is very, very good at sitting quietly in his favorite spot, barely moving. How can he do that when he also loves to hop around? Will Mr. Flopsy be able to help Cam learn to control his energy and find stillness and peace?

Debut author Christi Eley has penned a wonderful children’s book with a strong Christian focus in Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God. The author reminds children of God’s love through the use of a little bunny. Mr. Flopsy is full of wisdom and carefully explains to Cam all about God’s love in words that little ones can understand. At one point, Cam asks Mr. Flopsy if he ever gets scared and if so, what does he do? Mr. Flopsy replies that it can be hard but that the “...thing that helps me the most is thinking of you holding me. I feel so safe and love that the most.” The message of God’s love continue throughout the story and as Mr. Flopsy explains each lesson, Cam begins to relax and breathe. He is learning how to listen and feel the love of God. In addition, the illustrations are absolutely perfect – bright, playful, and engaging. This truly is a beautiful story about God’s love and is a great way to share that message with the young children in your life. At the back of the book is a page of additional suggestions to help children learn to be still and quiet as well as additional Bible Verses for the topics covered in the story.

Quill says: Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God is a delightful book, with enchanting illustrations and a great message that will help energetic children cope with their abundance of energy and understand how, and why, they need to learn to find stillness and peace.

For more information on Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God, please visit www.mrscottontailandfriends.

 

#BookReview - The Queen's Dog


The Queen's Dog (Empire at Twilight Book 3)

By: N.L. Holmes
Publisher: Wayback Press
Publication Date: June 2020
ISBN: 978-1734986877
Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau
Date: January 17, 2021

The Queen’s Dog is a political thriller novel in the Empire at Twilight series by N. L. Holmes. Set mainly in Ugarit, a vassal state to the kingdom of Hatti, it follows Nahish-shulmanu, nicknamed Naheshi, a eunuch slave to the queen of Ugarit. He is infatuated with her but is eventually coerced into spying on her disloyal activities by the king’s mother. As an Assyrian in Ugarit during a time of potential war with his country of origin, he stands at a unique risk. This is something people do not shy away from taking advantage of, much to Naheshi's detriment.

I haven’t read any other book set in an ancient Syrian kingdom before, and it was exciting to learn a little bit about such a complex and fascinating culture. It’s so wildly different from the Western cultures many historical novels are centered around, and it’s a refreshing setting to explore. Audiences have to navigate the politics of not only the main characters’ own courts, but the social consequences of who they associate with. Each decision they make has personal and professional ramifications that have the potential to come back and haunt them.

N.L. Holmes builds a set of complicated relationships between her main characters, all of which are heavily influenced by whatever positions they hold at court, and who has power over whom. Every seemingly sincere action is soured by an ulterior motive, creating a fast-paced, quickly thickening plot of political drama.

Holmes’s strength for building complicated relationships between characters also unexpectedly develops one of the novel’s greatest weaknesses. As the queen’s chamberlain and supervisor of the household staff, her main narrator, Naheshi, is expected to interact with many other slaves and servants, one of which is an older eunuch named Agripsharri, who he is somewhat afraid of. At one point in the novel, Agripsharri briefly ends up in a position of power over Naheshi, as a blackmailer. He then uses that power over Naheshi to rape him.

While initially the incident is treated as horrible and wrong, it’s later excused by implying Naheshi deserved the assault for treating Agripsharri unkindly. While this is clearly dealing with a different time and culture, the victim blaming plays no other role in the story beyond being a “character development” moment. Naheshi is a generally unlikable character, but him realizing he “deserved” the rape is treated as personal growth. Even taking the culture differences into account, it’s a scene that feels out of place in a novel published in 2020, and has the potential to alienate some of the author’s audience.

Most, if not all, of the main characters are very unlikable. The queen is self-centered and has an excuse for every mistake she makes. Naheshi is an easily manipulated coward. Every major political power is out solely for themselves. While this makes it impossible to connect with any of them emotionally, this detachment does allow the reader to really think about the political decisions being made. The contemptible nature of the characters seems to be a deliberate decision of the author’s, to keep the main focus on the political drama unfolding across Ugarit.

The Queen’s Dog is a plot-centric political drama that explores the complex relationships between the vassal states of the kingdom of Hatti. With its focus on plot, it’s not the ideal read for a reader who prefers character-driven stories. However, the fast-paced plot will keep its target audience engaged and eager to keep devouring the unfolding court disasters. The Queen’s Dog is sure to find a home among historical fiction fans with an interest in more plot-centered novels.

Quill says: The Queen's Dog is an interesting dive into ancient Middle Eastern politics.

For more information on The Queen's Dog (Empire at Twilight Book 3), please visit the author's website at: www.nlholmes.com/

 

Meet Author Christi Eley

Meet author Christi Eley, the author of the children's book, Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God: A Lesson On Being Still in Feathered Quill's Meet the Author section:

https://featheredquill.com/author-bios-christi-eley/ 




Friday, January 15, 2021

#AuthorInterview with E.J. Michaels


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with E.J. Michaels, author of The Size of the Moon.

FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?

MICHAELS: I grew up doing theater all through elementary and high school (my mother directed several of my plays ), and I was involved in a few professional productions after college. While I enjoyed acting, I loved creating my own tales. Before completing my first novel, I battled doubt about whether I’d be able to write a book and thought it a goal well out of reach. I wrote short story after short story, and soon my stories grew longer and more complex. Short stories became novellas. Novellas soon needed chapters for characters to grow and worlds to be created. In time, a full-length novel became a published book. And in the near future, a published book will blossom into a series.

FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.

MICHAELS: The Size of the Moon asks the question: if elves existed in our world today, what would they truly be like? My vision of what they’d be like and the world in which they exist in turns the myth sideways, and the intersections and clashes between the culture of elves and the world of humans is what Marcus Besnik must navigate as he attempts to find a cure for a devastating virus while also battling for the life of his son and the woman he loves.

FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ...?

MICHAELS: Although some authors find it beneficial to schedule their writing times, I write best when the idea to write is strongest in my mind. Often, ‘writing’ involves working the story out in my head while sitting and staring at a blank screen, walking, or thinking in bed before I go to sleep. Even if no words are being typed, I’ll still be ‘writing.’ For me, a schedule wouldn’t work. When the chapter is ready to be put to paper, I’ll start typing regardless of the time, even if that means I get up from bed at night and write for a few hours – or many hours. I’ll continue to type the next day as soon as I am awake (and have the time) and continue until the next break in the story when I’ll write by staring, walking, or lying in bed thinking about it.

FQ: The genre of your book is fantasy. Why this genre?

MICHAELS: As a child, I read the Dragon King trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. Since then I’ve loved the fantasy genre, though I’ve written books and stories in other genres: futuristic science fiction, contemporary action, contemporary literary. The Size of the Moonis a melding of modern action adventures with mythical characters in a way that could almost be real (at least that’s my intention). In many ways it’s easier to write in the science fiction or epic fantasy genre since the worlds created are purely from an author’s imagination.

FQ: As an author/writer, what famous author (living or dead), would you like to have dinner with, and why?

MICHAELS: I’d love to have dinner with Edgar Rice Burroughs and ask him why none of his books seem to have happy endings. It’s a storytelling tool I’ve grown fond of and sometimes employ the use of in my tales...a terrible habit to have. You’ll be happy to know that The Size of the Moon doesn’t use...well it’s a happy ending, though perhaps since it’s the first part of a trilogy, it’s ending is...hmmm...needing another few books to feel complete.

FQ: If you were to teach a class on the art of writing, what is the one item you would be sure to share with your students and how would you inspire them to get started?

MICHAELS: If I were to teach a class on the art of writing, I’d tell my students to learn to accept time. It takes time to craft a story from start to finish and there are many time-taking steps: pre-writing, draft creation, editing, rewriting - sometimes scrapping whole chapters and parts and writing others, more editing, more rewriting, until finally completing a final draft that you’ll read and see more things you’ll want to change. Once you can accept time, all these steps will take care of themselves. One step will flow into the next. It’s best to just start creating, whether it’s a short story, poem or novel. My students would spend a lot of time writing, editing and writing.

FQ: Is this the first book, the second, etc. in the series and how many books do you anticipate writing in this series? 

MICHAELS: The Size of the Moon is the first book in a three-part series. Due to the nature of the characters’ long lifespans and extensive and ancient histories involved, after the initial series is finished, I plan on writing other books telling the past stories of the other characters.

FQ: Tell us a bit about the series. Do you know where the series will take the characters or are you working that out as you go along with each book? What has been the reader response to your series? 

MICHAELS: The series follows the relationship between Marcus Besnik (a human) and Autumn (half human/half elf) and their battle against dark forces manipulating viruses and genes in an effort to gain more power. The second installment sees Marcus undergoing a physical and emotional transformation that will test his beliefs and convictions and either strengthen or weaken his love for Autumn. At the same time, the two factions of elves are heading toward civil war, a war Marcus doesn’t want to be involved with since he needs to find something Autumn needs.

The reader response has been excellent and positive, and I’m being asked for the sequel.

FQ: Tell us about the protagonist in your story.

MICHAELS: Marcus Besnik is a former Marine who was injured and discharged before serving his full term. His wife died at the hands of the strigoi, leaving him to raise their only son Michael. Marcus hasn’t recovered from the loss of his wife but finds himself in a relationship with Autumn, who’s lived over a thousand years but has only married once. He’s conflicted about his feelings since he still loves his late wife who is dead but may not be destroyed yet (spoiler alert)...

FQ: What was the most difficult scene to write and why?

MICHAELS: I don’t like when characters die, especially the good guys. Stories often take on a life of their own, and characters make choices only they would make. One of the characters I created and fell in love with dies. It wasn’t planned, meaning, I didn’t create the character knowing death would come calling. Perhaps just as difficult to write was the scene where Marcus finally takes the action needed to resolve his tie to his past sorrow by destroying what he was keeping needlessly alive.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

#BookReview - Hanging Softly in the Night: A Detective Nick Larson Novel


Hanging Softly in the Night: A Detective Nick Larson Novel

By: Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra
Publisher: Thrills&Kills Press
Publication Date: November 2020
ISBN: 978-0986209543
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: January 13, 2021

Called in to investigate a suicide, Detective Nick Larson and his crew soon discover reasons why it must have been murder. When, where and how are readily established, but who did it and why will be the stuff of mystery for reader and protagonist alike in this eerie tale by award-winning writer Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra.

The scene was set up to look like death by hanging – but the victim, Isabel Creasy, was on the verge of a new and fulfilling change of life. Creasy shows none of the signs of horrific strangulation or psychological collapse that would suggest self-destruction – signs Larson of the NYPD knows all too well. He lives with the haunting image of the death by hanging a few months ago of Angie, the woman he tried to love. That memory will both disturb and compel him as the team will discover another, and another, feigned suicide.

Larson, in tandem with his partner Victor Sacco, are under unusual pressure because there is a flu running rampant in the city that is forcing them to take on extra work. Interviewing and investigating the known friends and colleagues of the bodies piling up in the morgue becomes a constant. And for Larson, there’s more: he’s seeing a shrink to help him process Angie’s suicide, while contemplating, with serious reservations, a romance with Laura Howard, victimized by her psychopathic sister with apparent murderous intent, but more than willing to start a new relationship with the handsome, empathic Detective Larson who handled her case. As more and more clues surface around the first faked hanging, stress is mounting on Larson from all directions. But he’s tough, and that’s how it has to be.

Alonso-Sierra, a world-traveled author, initiated her Detective Nick Larson series with a prequel short story, Mirror Mirror, offering an early portrait of the man and his manner of dealing with crime and criminals. She has fleshed Larson out in this new book: a street-smart yet sensitive guy whose instinct for solving problems enhances his profession, but sometimes causes him to think too much about personal dilemmas. Throughout this offering, the author shows him wavering about a new relationship, while revealing solid reasons for the trauma that prevents him for committing. But his commitment to sniffing out the monster who is perpetrating the faux suicides never flags, as he moves from clue to clue looking for some linkage among the victims.

Quill says: Hanging Softly in the Night is a page-turning read with snappy dialog and hardcore action that will charm fans of gritty, police-procedure whodunits, with enough latest technologies, cross-cultural characterizations and social savvy to engage a newer generation of fans.

For more information on Hanging Softly in the Night: A Detective Nick Larson Novel,please visit the author's website at: www.mariaelenawrites.com

 

 

#BookReview - Vestal Virgin: Chosen for Rome


Vestal Virgin: Chosen for Rome

By: Katherine Spada Basto
Publisher: Painted Turtle Press
Publication Date: December 2019
ISBN: 978-1733390071
Reviewed by: 978-1733390071
Date: January 12, 2021

A little girl is sold to a religious cult, grows beyond the trauma and becomes a stalwart force for true righteousness in this history-based novel by Katherine Spada Basto.

Cornelia Cosa, growing up in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero, is excited; it’s her tenth birthday. Little does she realize she has been entered into a lottery, the winner of which will become one of the virgin followers of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Vestal Virgins are revered in Rome and overseen by Nero himself. To her shock, Cornelia wins, seeing her father receive bags of gold for the “prize.” 

Cornelia is forced into a new life at once, leaving behind all she has known. Despite the many restrictions placed upon her by the order, she gradually learns the powers and ceremonial enjoyments of being a member of the sacred cult. Her acceptance of her fate is bolstered in part by the kindliness of Lucius, a young man serving as an augur in Nero’s court. One of Cornelia’s fellow virgins tells her in secret of a Nazarene named Jesus, whose teachings of a single deity supersede the mythological pantheon of gods and goddesses touted by the Roman authorities. Cornelia will have a chance to hear the preaching of Paul, opening her mind to fresh possibilities. By contrast, she is plagued by the memory of Nero’s personal, brutal assault on one of her Vestal sisters. Then Nero goes mad, Rome burns, and the young teen will have a chance to exercise her Vestal powers.

Author Basto has garnered awards and recognition for this novel, written with gusto and grounded in recorded fact. From the beginning, the reader will feel the stress and sadness of the child Cornelia describing her abandonment to a strict religious cult. The story quickly expands, with many plot twists that are all believably set in ancient Rome at a critical time in its history. Christianity is making itself felt and will affect Basto’s brave young heroine, sharpening her perceptions of the true meaning of spirituality. The author has drawn from historical annals both the names of several of the main characters, including Cornelia, and some of the notable incidents enlivened in the account. She deftly weaves these names and snippets together into the larger tapestry of the known world in a time of crisis, with Cornelia as sharp-eyed observer and bold participant.

Quill says: Basto’s Vestal Virgin combines her storyteller’s arts with intriguing slices of legend and real events to excellent effect, constructing a broad panorama with cinematic potential.

For more information on Vestal Virgin: Chosen for Rome, please visit the author's website at: www.katherinespadobasto.com/ 

 

Meet Author Ruth Maille

Meet author Ruth Maille, the author of the children's book, The Power of Positivity: The ABC's of a Pandemic in Feathered Quill's Meet the Author section:

https://featheredquill.com/author-bios-ruth-maille/ 




#AuthorInterview with Georgina Le Flufy

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Georgina Le Flufy, author of April's Window.

FQ: First, I have to ask – is April, the little girl in the story, based on a child you know?

LE FLUFY: I think all my characters are based loosely on a child or person I have known...or a part of myself! I think April evolved from the story itself. She was the child that brought all the different scenes and households together - as so often children can do.

FQ: A similar question – is the village based on a village you have traveled to (you mention loving to travel on your author bio), or is it all from your, or your illustrator’s, imagination? I ask because while it could be any little town, it seems to have some very distinct images that could only come from seeing such a town.

LE FLUFY: When I wrote the piece I think I was envisioning the different scenes in the window more so than the village itself, however Francisco, the illustrator, and myself are both from Europe and I believe our visions of the village coincided with each other. Francisco created the village and when I first saw it, I couldn't have been happier! It was exactly as I thought it should be.

FQ: Why a book about a child’s curiosity during the pandemic instead of, for instance, a silly book about playful animals? What drew you to this topic?

LE FLUFY: Funny you should mention that - my current project is a silly book about playful animals!

I think my own curiosity first drew me to this project! Everyone was very curious about what people were doing, and could do, in their homes when the first lockdown was issued. Kids were stuck inside and families were trying to stay entertained and I wanted a book that brought different households together, even though we were all apart.

FQ: I’d like to repeat a question that appears on the publisher’s page for the book so our readers can understand better – why do we need a children’s book about curiosity?

LE FLUFY: I work as an Early Childhood Educator and sparking a child's curiosity has always been a key part of engaging children in learning. If a child is curious about their environment and community, the ability and willingness to learn naturally follows. I believe the continuation of learning - however that may present itself to someone - is vital to understanding the world around us and finding our place within it.

FQ: April’s Window is very simple yet says so much. When you first visualized the story, did it have more text? Why did you decide to go with a simpler format?

LE FLUFY: It has definitely been edited but the format was always the same. I wanted to create a story that all ages could engage with. Language that would appeal to young children and a story older children could relate to.

FQ: How did you decide what to put in each window? I assume the prose was written first? Did you work the text around windows that you wanted to include or was it more a selection based on what fit into the flow of the prose?

LE FLUFY: I wrote down all the different images I saw or heard happening in homes around me, and across the world. I created the rhythm and then worked on the rhyme.

FQ: I loved that you included a tribute to first responders, nurses, etc., all those who have kept us safe through this trying time. What prompted you to include this tribute in your story instead of just a note at the end thanking them?

LE FLUFY: Thank you. I felt it was a natural end to a story that journeyed through the community of a village. I wrote it as a bedtime story and I wanted to comfort young children that there are always people in our community who want to help keep us safe. My mother is a nurse and worked night shifts when I was a child, I suppose I wanted young children who have parents and family members who work in healthcare and community roles to feel proud and not alone.

FQ: Writing a story about a current event is a very time-sensitive project. Did you ever feel like you were under a tight schedule to get the book to press?

LE FLUFY: I was lucky to have the freedom to write at my own leisure when creating this story. The publisher came onboard after receiving my manuscript, so I never felt pressure to get the book out. Although the story was inspired by current events, I also wanted it to be accessible over time, so we changed a few aspects to be more universal.

FQ: I was not aware of Ethicool Books before I read your book. Would you tell us a little about them and why you selected them as your publisher?

LE FLUFY: They are a wonderful publisher who genuinely care about publishing books that educate, entertain, and address environmental sustainability and current issues. I commend their forward thinking and courage! I knew little about the company before working with them, but Teigan and Stu have always been very kind, open, and supportive throughout the process.

FQ: What was the process like working with your illustrator, Francisco Fonseca? The book’s illustrations have such a strong sense of what April’s world looks like. Was it a collaborative effort or did Francisco envision the village and then share it with you, and then you’d suggest changes?

LE FLUFY: Francisco is a very gifted illustrator with a particular talent for creating villages and houses, that I immediately fell in love with. After seeing his portfolio, I was confident he would do wonders, and after an initial meeting over Zoom, he had free reigns to create - and he didn't disappoint! I received proofs as he went along and minor adjustments were made before we went to print. I couldn't be happier with a final creation, and what came to be April's Window.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

#AuthorInterview with Isu Yin and Fat Yang


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Isu Yin and Fae Yang, authors of Grims’ Truth Book 1: The Spinner’s Web.

FQ: Which authors would you say inspired you to become writers?

YIN: For me, I’d have to say Tolkien, Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and others to be certain. 

YANG: This is difficult for me to answer because I didn’t originally set out to be a novelist. I aspired to be an artist, but I ended up being a better writer and it seemed much more achievable to turn such a large project into books. I enjoyed reading when I was younger but I wasn’t specifically inspired by any particular authors. However, I have enjoyed Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, and the unique descriptions in Clive Barker’s work. 

FQ: What books drew you to zero in on fantasy as your chosen genre? 

YIN: It wasn’t what I read but what I didn’t read that drew me to work on Grims’ Truth. Fantasy had these great big worlds that felt full and deep. I loved that but I had a hard time suspending my disbelief in a lot of it. I wanted other elements to my fantasy. Something that made it feel rough — gritty even. I like horror and existentialism for these qualities. They feel dirty and often made me queasy, which sounds like a negative, but it really struck me and this stuck with me. In yet another way, I was naturally drawn to sci-fi for the incredible imagery and mind-blowing concepts, but it often seemed too clean, too empty. In the end, I wanted something that had it all. There are authors that do that for me. More and more, I see incredible writers pushing boundaries. I love it. I want to join them in the ultimate storytelling experience.

YANG: Yin’s answer was kind of incredible. I wish I had something that honorable to say but I didn’t really think about the genre that deeply until I had already written for several years. I never really stopped to think, “Oh, wow, what genre should I write?” Grim took a life of its own and I let it drag me along for the ride. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was existential, fantastical, and even gritty. These are things I love in a story, so Yin and I work hard to bring something unique and full into this world. In a way, I want it to feel real and raw despite the elements of fantasy. 

FQ: “For as long as we can remember, we have been either plagued or blessed with dreams of the vast universe we call Euphoria.” What would you say sparked your dreams that eventually inspired the Grims’ Truth series?

YIN: Good question. The Universe? Who knows? My dreams have had a life of their own for as long as I can remember. I’m just the passenger and I don’t tell them how to voice themselves— I just write it down so I can sleep.

YANG: I think not knowing is part of what compels me to write it. Readers often jokingly say that not fully understanding Grim is part of reading it and I feel that it is the same for us co-authors. We understand the Universe entirely but how it got there? Well… I suppose that’s a mystery in itself. 

FQ: There are a total of sixty books in the works for this series. What stimulated you to create such an ambitious project?

YIN: Sixty books is not an accident — it’s quite intentional and that's about all I’ll say on that. It may seem ambitious, but I often worry if we can fit it all in.

YANG: Compulsive desire? Obsession. Like Yin said, everything is very intentional. The book count, the arcs, the organization of the series as a whole. We outline our plans over and over to make sure we can fit everything in. We’re asked how we intend to keep things interesting for sixty books and, meanwhile, we’re stressed about fitting everything into sixty books.

FQ: Your strong imagination has produced an incredibly detailed kingdom that includes relatable characters. If you were to put yourselves in the story, which characters would you wish to be, and why?

YIN: Each book is from a new perspective, so I guess I would have to say all of them. I live with them as I work on their part in the story. I’m not sure I’d wish to be any of them though. This is a dark story. I’d like to be someone before the Fall I think. That comment probably doesn’t make sense yet, but it will. LOL, that’s just the way of Grims’ Truth.

YANG: Yikes. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be a character in Grims’ Truth. They suffer too much. Though, readers might identify with different characters. That said, there’s definitely a character whose lens I gaze through when I’m working. It’s not much of a secret but I still like to see who readers think we’re most like rather than answer directly. It’s part of the fun! 

FQ: What do you envision to be your ultimate target audience, and why?

YIN: Adults or teens with adult minds. There are some disturbing situations in the series that would be excessive for a young mind. 

YANG: I find that our readers are usually either mid-twenties or in their forties. Occasionally, we have senior readers as well. I suppose we exist in a peculiar corner because of the cross-genres and complexity of the series. Sixty books is a long commitment for anyone. Readers who like to pick up context clues and read between the lines tend to enjoy the series the most. What I hope for is an audience who will debate over details and theorize. The story isn’t black and white, so it needs an audience who yearns to explore the areas of gray. 

FQ: Are there any plans for The Spinner’s Web to become a movie?

YIN: I would love to see this story in a visual medium. If only people could see what we see… now that would be something. A movie? The story is so big. I’m not sure how one would accomplish it effectively. A series maybe? Trust me when I say that it’s even bigger and more impressive than we can write so turning it into something people can see would be ideal. We do our best, but it has a mind of its own. I’m open to anyone who wants to tackle this beast with us though. 

YANG: I agree with Yin. I’d love to see this in a visual medium but it would need to be a series because of the size of the story. I think we reasoned that a season per arc or two seasons per arc, depending on the length of the episodes, would be most effective. Visually, Grims’ Truth has a lot to offer. Like Yin said, we do our best but we’re still learning to maximize its potential. 

FQ: Do you foresee continuing writing fantasy once you’ve completed the series?

YIN: I started laughing a bit when I read this. This series is so massive and encompassing that it is hard to see past it sometimes. In all honesty though, we both have side projects that we work on.

YANG: What Yin said. If I’m being entirely honest, we have this entire series mapped out and it’s a twenty-year plan if we launch an arc a year. Even though we have other projects, Grims’ Truth is all-encompassing. We really must dedicate every spare breath to it. Sixty books isn’t the entire history of this Universe, so who’s to say we won’t branch off into more Grims’ Truth after this? Even we don’t know. 

FQ: What words of encouragement would you give to those who have dreams of becoming a writer but are afraid to take the plunge?

YIN: A: You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
B: Don’t avoid it — even if it scares you.
C: Don’t overthink it. Get it down on paper and then once you have it — rework it until it’s what you want. 

YANG: Write for yourself as much as you write for others. There’s a fine balance between the two. Find the right motivations to do it. If you’re passionate, you will overcome obstacles, even within yourself. Despite what you think, there’s always room for improvement. Don’t assume that your first draft was perfect. If you feel it was good, make it even better. Ask yourself what you love in a story and constantly study the craft. Someone out there can appreciate your ideas but it’s important to write well so that they aren’t distracted from your work. 

FQ: You include a Book Club Guide at the end of the book. Do you have any other plans that would help engage the reading community with your series?

YIN: We made a full and growing database. It’s complete with images that we both made. You can see how we see the characters, regions, and much more. We have maps of the locations, a general breakdown of the Language of Ages, Clans, Breeds, Factions, and the likes. 

Like I said before, this series is massive. We want to help readers immerse into the universe Euphoria— learn about the people, their cultures, governing systems, and beliefs. This isn’t a simple story. If it appears straight forward, look again. Our beta readers have almost systematically returned to The Spinner’s Web after completing Arc 2. I think it takes a minute for people to realize how far we’ve actually gone. It’s a bit deceptive, but that’s just how this story goes. Neither Yang nor I want to keep the lid on this story. I can’t even tell you where it is, and I have no intention of looking for it. That being said, we have mapped it out to the point of obsession. 

Go see for yourself at grimstruth.com

The series is designed to take you somewhere else and yet feel an uncomfortable familiarity as the reader delves deeper. There are no accidents in Grims’ Truth — you found a mistake? Are you sure? Maybe you should rethink it and try to imagine the scene in a different perspective. We have multiple main characters so the reader will grasp the severity of what is coming next. No single perspective is without flaws.

Film producer Robert Evans said, “There are three sides to every story — yours, mine, and the truth.”
For Grims’ Truth you must follow the varied perspectives to discover the truth and in a universal scale story — there are a few.

YANG: Yin just about covered everything. The biggest part of reader engagement is the engagement that readers have with each other. That probably sounds redundant but since this whole series is about perspective, it takes numerous reader perspectives to piece everything together as well. Beta Readers who sit down with us to discuss the story usually come up with new theories together because they process information differently than each other. We’re frequently asked if it’s possible to figure everything out before the infamous book 12. The short answer is yes. Going back to The Spinner’s Web from later books will make the information you previously missed very glaring. Readers always come back and say, “I can’t believe how much you two put in plain sight. It was in my face the whole time.” Indeed. We’re not trying to pull a fast one. 

 

 

#AuthorInterview with Julie M McDonald Zander

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Julie M McDonald Zander, author of Washington Territory's Grand Lady: The Story of Matilda (Glover) Koontz Jackson.

FQ: Readers with ambition to write historical text will want to know: how many hours/days/months/years went into the creation of this powerful book?

Author Julie M McDonald Zander

ZANDER: I pursued the research on this book during lulls between my personal history projects, so altogether it took five years from start to finish. When I shared the first chapter with a writing critique group, members suggested I add dialogue, but putting words into the mouth of someone who died in 1901 didn’t seem right for a nonfiction book. So I decided to focus on a fiction version of Matilda’s story, yet I kept sticking to the facts because her story had never been told. I finally returned to the nonfiction book and finished it. I’m working on a fictional version of her journey now.

FQ: Do you have suggestions for anyone undertaking the construction of such a fact-filled narrative?

ZANDER: I suggest starting the research with Ancestry.com and Google, then contacting the local historical society or the state library to see what primary and secondary resources are available in their archives. The state archives held letters and diaries; the local museum had a write-up from a granddaughter. Much of my information was reported in newspaper articles published during Matilda’s life and after her death. I found many of those articles via newspaperarchive.com and newspapers.com.

FQ: You seem to have a strong imagination for the way that Matilda faced her days and daily chores, whether in childhood, on the wagon train or in the Oregon settlement. Does this come to you from personal experience, such as life in the general region or memories of your own forebears?

ZANDER: I’m an avid reader of both historical and contemporary fiction. I also read a lot of nonfiction books about life on the Oregon Trail, including books written for children. A visit to the End of the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City displayed what life on the trail looked like. I also live only five or so miles from the Jackson House Historic Site, which is the cabin Matilda’s sons helped John Jackson build that later became Washington Territory’s first courthouse. I toured the inside of the tiny cabin several times and took photographs. Matilda’s granddaughters also shared stories about her daily life, which contributed to portraying her in the book.

FQ: Is your book part of a larger effort to draw attention to strong female pioneers (since generally attention is set on the male contingent)?

ZANDER: Female pioneers are often overlooked in recounting the history of the region. Matilda Koontz Jackson was known throughout the territory—and even in the nation’s capital of Washington City—for her hospitality, but most of the books and articles focused on her husband, John R. Jackson, who served as the first sheriff and clerk. Matilda’s story struck me because, as a wife and mother, I couldn’t imagine the terror she must have felt watching her husband drown, leaving her a widow with four little ones heading west into an untamed land. What would she do? How would she survive? Those questions plagued me, so I decided to find the answers.

FQ: Is it part of a larger effort to forge an official path to recognition of your outstanding heroine?

ZANDER: When we launched the book lived Oct. 26, 2019, at the historic cabin where Matilda had lived, the Lewis County commissioners declared it “Matilda Jackson Legacy Day.” Matilda’s role in the history of Washington Territory was significant, but she was a humble woman who never sought recognition or accolades. I hope this book stands as a testament to her strength, faith, and courage in the face of adversity.

FQ: Could you envision a feature length documentary further illuminating the life and times of Matilda Jackson?

ZANDER: It would be wonderful if a documentary shared Matilda’s story. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Department planned a short piece on Matilda and John Jackson and the courthouse, which the department maintains.

FQ: Has your historical writing been influenced by any other author in particular?

ZANDER: I’ve always enjoyed history, and as a nonfiction newspaper columnist, I’ve had opportunities to highlight local history and the people who lived it. However, fiction authors such as Francine Rivers and Melanie Dobson have influenced my writing most by teaching me how to bring the stories to life.

FQ: Are you moving on to a new subject for your creative research and next work – if so, can you tell us what it may be?

ZANDER: In addition to my personal history projects, I’m working on two fiction books. The first is the fictional story of Matilda Jackson’s journey across the Oregon Trail.

The second is a time-slip novel about the November 11, 1919, Armistice Day Tragedy in Centralia, Washington. During the first Armistice Day parade, four World War I veterans were shot and killed outside the Industrial Workers of the World Hall on Tower Avenue. More than a dozen men were arrested afterward, and that night, the lights in the city flickered off and a vigilante mob broke into the jail and yanked out one of the men. The mob dragged him to a local bridge and lynched him.

#BookReview - April's Window


April's Window

By: Georgina Le Flufy
Illustrated by: Francisco Fonseca
Publisher: Ethicool Books
Publication Date: September 2020
ISBN: 978-0648872313
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: January 5, 2021

A quaint little village, full of vibrant colors, and a child's curiosity are the backdrops for the charming new children's book, April's Window.

April is a little girl who is watching the world go by from her window. While we only see April from the back, in the eye-catching cover illustration, we get to follow along with her within the pages of the story as she investigates each village window.

Open the book to the first page and we see the entire village from April's window - what April sees every day. And with a child's imagination and curiosity, she explores all those windows. What might each window share with the world?

As we stroll around the village with April, we see so many beautiful windows, every one with a unique story to tell:

Windows where people are watering plants,
Windows where people are learning to dance.
Learning to sew,
Learning to cook,
Falling in love with the words of a book.

Each of those windows has a lovely illustration of said window. We see a woman watering shelves of brightly marked flowers with a cute little watering can. Flowers are exploding off the page, with flowers behind the woman, on the windowsill, in front of the window and even off to each side. Another window shows a grandmother teaching her grandson how to sew - the love they share flows from the page.

Tall windows,
Dark windows,
Windows with hearts.
Windows with rainbows and kids making art.

While it's not stated in the story itself, but rather in the book's description on the publisher's website, April is at home because of the pandemic. While children today are having to deal with the stresses brought about by the pandemic, the author has made the decision (a good one, I believe) not to make that an issue in the story. Rather, April is like all other children around the world right now - not able to go into friends' homes. The author, through April, encourages children reading the story to imagine what might be behind the windows on their own street, or hometown. The story is simple, with a very positive message, and conveys that warmth and happiness to the reader. The illustrations are by the very talented Francisco Fonseca, who shares his unique talents, with vibrant, playful images that bring the story to life. The last few pages of the story is a tribute to all the nurses, police, and other first responders who have kept us all safe during these difficult times.

Quill says: April's Window is a wonderful story that brings a small village to life through the eyes of a child. Perfect for children 6 and under, this will undoubtedly become one of your child's favorite bedtime stories.

For more information on April's Window, please visit Ethicool Books.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

#BookReview - Grims' Truth Book 1: The Spinner's Web


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Isu Yin and Fae Yang, authors of Grims’ Truth Book 1: The Spinner’s Web.

FQ: Which authors would you say inspired you to become writers?

YIN: For me, I’d have to say Tolkien, Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and others to be certain. 

YANG: This is difficult for me to answer because I didn’t originally set out to be a novelist. I aspired to be an artist, but I ended up being a better writer and it seemed much more achievable to turn such a large project into books. I enjoyed reading when I was younger but I wasn’t specifically inspired by any particular authors. However, I have enjoyed Albert Camus, Haruki Murakami, and the unique descriptions in Clive Barker’s work. 

FQ: What books drew you to zero in on fantasy as your chosen genre? 

YIN: It wasn’t what I read but what I didn’t read that drew me to work on Grims’ Truth. Fantasy had these great big worlds that felt full and deep. I loved that but I had a hard time suspending my disbelief in a lot of it. I wanted other elements to my fantasy. Something that made it feel rough — gritty even. I like horror and existentialism for these qualities. They feel dirty and often made me queasy, which sounds like a negative, but it really struck me and this stuck with me. In yet another way, I was naturally drawn to sci-fi for the incredible imagery and mind-blowing concepts, but it often seemed too clean, too empty. In the end, I wanted something that had it all. There are authors that do that for me. More and more, I see incredible writers pushing boundaries. I love it. I want to join them in the ultimate storytelling experience.

YANG: Yin’s answer was kind of incredible. I wish I had something that honorable to say but I didn’t really think about the genre that deeply until I had already written for several years. I never really stopped to think, “Oh, wow, what genre should I write?” Grim took a life of its own and I let it drag me along for the ride. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was existential, fantastical, and even gritty. These are things I love in a story, so Yin and I work hard to bring something unique and full into this world. In a way, I want it to feel real and raw despite the elements of fantasy. 

FQ: “For as long as we can remember, we have been either plagued or blessed with dreams of the vast universe we call Euphoria.” What would you say sparked your dreams that eventually inspired the Grims’ Truth series?

YIN: Good question. The Universe? Who knows? My dreams have had a life of their own for as long as I can remember. I’m just the passenger and I don’t tell them how to voice themselves— I just write it down so I can sleep.

YANG: I think not knowing is part of what compels me to write it. Readers often jokingly say that not fully understanding Grim is part of reading it and I feel that it is the same for us co-authors. We understand the Universe entirely but how it got there? Well… I suppose that’s a mystery in itself. 

FQ: There are a total of sixty books in the works for this series. What stimulated you to create such an ambitious project?

YIN: Sixty books is not an accident — it’s quite intentional and that's about all I’ll say on that. It may seem ambitious, but I often worry if we can fit it all in.

YANG: Compulsive desire? Obsession. Like Yin said, everything is very intentional. The book count, the arcs, the organization of the series as a whole. We outline our plans over and over to make sure we can fit everything in. We’re asked how we intend to keep things interesting for sixty books and, meanwhile, we’re stressed about fitting everything into sixty books.

FQ: Your strong imagination has produced an incredibly detailed kingdom that includes relatable characters. If you were to put yourselves in the story, which characters would you wish to be, and why?

YIN: Each book is from a new perspective, so I guess I would have to say all of them. I live with them as I work on their part in the story. I’m not sure I’d wish to be any of them though. This is a dark story. I’d like to be someone before the Fall I think. That comment probably doesn’t make sense yet, but it will. LOL, that’s just the way of Grims’ Truth.

YANG: Yikes. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be a character in Grims’ Truth. They suffer too much. Though, readers might identify with different characters. That said, there’s definitely a character whose lens I gaze through when I’m working. It’s not much of a secret but I still like to see who readers think we’re most like rather than answer directly. It’s part of the fun! 

FQ: What do you envision to be your ultimate target audience, and why?

YIN: Adults or teens with adult minds. There are some disturbing situations in the series that would be excessive for a young mind. 

YANG: I find that our readers are usually either mid-twenties or in their forties. Occasionally, we have senior readers as well. I suppose we exist in a peculiar corner because of the cross-genres and complexity of the series. Sixty books is a long commitment for anyone. Readers who like to pick up context clues and read between the lines tend to enjoy the series the most. What I hope for is an audience who will debate over details and theorize. The story isn’t black and white, so it needs an audience who yearns to explore the areas of gray. 

FQ: Are there any plans for The Spinner’s Web to become a movie?

YIN: I would love to see this story in a visual medium. If only people could see what we see… now that would be something. A movie? The story is so big. I’m not sure how one would accomplish it effectively. A series maybe? Trust me when I say that it’s even bigger and more impressive than we can write so turning it into something people can see would be ideal. We do our best, but it has a mind of its own. I’m open to anyone who wants to tackle this beast with us though. 

YANG: I agree with Yin. I’d love to see this in a visual medium but it would need to be a series because of the size of the story. I think we reasoned that a season per arc or two seasons per arc, depending on the length of the episodes, would be most effective. Visually, Grims’ Truth has a lot to offer. Like Yin said, we do our best but we’re still learning to maximize its potential. 

FQ: Do you foresee continuing writing fantasy once you’ve completed the series?

YIN: I started laughing a bit when I read this. This series is so massive and encompassing that it is hard to see past it sometimes. In all honesty though, we both have side projects that we work on.

YANG: What Yin said. If I’m being entirely honest, we have this entire series mapped out and it’s a twenty-year plan if we launch an arc a year. Even though we have other projects, Grims’ Truth is all-encompassing. We really must dedicate every spare breath to it. Sixty books isn’t the entire history of this Universe, so who’s to say we won’t branch off into more Grims’ Truth after this? Even we don’t know. 

FQ: What words of encouragement would you give to those who have dreams of becoming a writer but are afraid to take the plunge?

YIN: A: You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
B: Don’t avoid it — even if it scares you.
C: Don’t overthink it. Get it down on paper and then once you have it — rework it until it’s what you want. 

YANG: Write for yourself as much as you write for others. There’s a fine balance between the two. Find the right motivations to do it. If you’re passionate, you will overcome obstacles, even within yourself. Despite what you think, there’s always room for improvement. Don’t assume that your first draft was perfect. If you feel it was good, make it even better. Ask yourself what you love in a story and constantly study the craft. Someone out there can appreciate your ideas but it’s important to write well so that they aren’t distracted from your work. 

FQ: You include a Book Club Guide at the end of the book. Do you have any other plans that would help engage the reading community with your series?

YIN: We made a full and growing database. It’s complete with images that we both made. You can see how we see the characters, regions, and much more. We have maps of the locations, a general breakdown of the Language of Ages, Clans, Breeds, Factions, and the likes. 

Like I said before, this series is massive. We want to help readers immerse into the universe Euphoria— learn about the people, their cultures, governing systems, and beliefs. This isn’t a simple story. If it appears straight forward, look again. Our beta readers have almost systematically returned to The Spinner’s Web after completing Arc 2. I think it takes a minute for people to realize how far we’ve actually gone. It’s a bit deceptive, but that’s just how this story goes. Neither Yang nor I want to keep the lid on this story. I can’t even tell you where it is, and I have no intention of looking for it. That being said, we have mapped it out to the point of obsession. 

Go see for yourself at grimstruth.com

The series is designed to take you somewhere else and yet feel an uncomfortable familiarity as the reader delves deeper. There are no accidents in Grims’ Truth — you found a mistake? Are you sure? Maybe you should rethink it and try to imagine the scene in a different perspective. We have multiple main characters so the reader will grasp the severity of what is coming next. No single perspective is without flaws.

Film producer Robert Evans said, “There are three sides to every story — yours, mine, and the truth.”
For Grims’ Truth you must follow the varied perspectives to discover the truth and in a universal scale story — there are a few.

YANG: Yin just about covered everything. The biggest part of reader engagement is the engagement that readers have with each other. That probably sounds redundant but since this whole series is about perspective, it takes numerous reader perspectives to piece everything together as well. Beta Readers who sit down with us to discuss the story usually come up with new theories together because they process information differently than each other. We’re frequently asked if it’s possible to figure everything out before the infamous book 12. The short answer is yes. Going back to The Spinner’s Web from later books will make the information you previously missed very glaring. Readers always come back and say, “I can’t believe how much you two put in plain sight. It was in my face the whole time.” Indeed. We’re not trying to pull a fast one.