Today I’m pleased to have Margaret Mendel as my guest on the blog. Welcome, Margaret!
by Margaret Mendel
How cool! Today, I’m a guest blogger on Sara Jayne Townsend’s Monday Blog. I love the subtitle of her website, ‘Imaginary Friends’. My first response is, well, of course, writers have imaginary friends. Ah, but how far back do imaginary friends go? I do not believe they are the creation of adult minds. In fact, I think they have their origins in the imaginary play when authors were children.
When I was a kid, I didn’t think I was living with imaginary friends, I was just playing. Though looking at my childhood with a backstory angle, that’s exactly what I was doing, living in an imaginary world whenever I could. I grew up in the country. Schoolmates did not live close. My father worked all the time; mom didn’t drive, so that left my sisters and I to fill our world with the bits and pieces that tumbled out of our young minds.
The concept of imaginary relationships has frequently surfaced in my writing. It’s not the actual imagined people from my childhood that I remember, but the experience of living in another world, for an afternoon, for a few minutes, for long enough to have the situation resonate even many years later. Children take for granted their imaginary worlds. Make-believe is their play. Here is an excerpt from one of my short stories, “If I Die Before I Wake.” This story gives a brief look into where fantasy and reality mixed together in my childhood.
In the farthest corner of our backyard, on the border between our land and a quiet neighbor, a Maple tree thicket grew with long branches that jutted out like feather fans from a cluster of rotting stumps. The branches parted at one edge of the thicket, leaving an opening just big enough for my sister and I to squeeze through. Inside the thicket, the ground, soft and sunken like a huge bird nest, made a space sufficiently large enough for us to sit. Everything was exactly the right size. My sister and I would sit in this thicket, a magical hideout of leaves, branches, and secrets.
From this hiding place, we spied on Mom as she hung the wash or picked the dead leaves from her dahlias. A thin woman, Mom always looked as though she carried a load equal to her own weight in her arms, either the laundry, one of our two younger sisters, or the bushels of vegetables she dragged in from the garden for canning. She worked like an ant, always dragging, lifting or pushing something.
The dahlias were a different matter. To tend them she would actually tiptoe into her garden. My sister thought she did this to be quiet, but Mom said she did it to keep from packing down the soil. Once I saw Mom lift a blossom slowly, cupping the giant flower in both hands, as though she was looking into a face. She smiled. I thought she intended to kiss the bloom. A couple of times I saw her talking to her flowers. My sister didn’t see this, and said that Mom wouldn’t talk to flowers. My sister may have been right Mom did not have time to spend talking to flowers. She hardly had time to talk to us girls.
My sister and I never fought when we were in our hideout. We took turns cooking the twigs and leaves, serving these dinners in the palms of our grubby little hands. Usually, outside of this magical place, I wanted to tell my sister, who was fourteen months younger than I, what to do. In our hideout, I felt different; I felt softer and I could be taken care of, instead of having to be the boss. I could be the baby, my sister could be my mother, or we could both be lost children, huddled together, trying to outwit the wicked pretend witch in the gingerbread house.
The air inside our retreat smelled sweet with the juicy bark of twigs, dusty leaves, dead bugs, and rotting stumps. It was a perfume that made us feel welcomed. It was our air.
When I grew older — or maybe it began to happen when I grew taller and kept bumping my head on the low branches of the thicket — I began to feel as though I had become an intruder. About this same time my sister and I became bored with our make believe world. So I abandoned the hideout, my sister came with me, and our younger sisters took command of the retreat. We saw them poke their heads out through the branches, watching us as we walked down the road to run errands for Mom.
By the time I left the thicket, the musty odor of our make-believe world still in my hair, with my long skinny legs and low-slung, gangly arms, I looked more like a spider creature from the woods than a girl. My sister and I walked away from our childhood and headed towards our father’s world. It was a dark scary place. He listened to the news on the radio every night, informing us of every detail. The world was in a cold war, he said. No one was actually shooting at each other. “That,” he told us, “is just a matter of time.”
When I left the thicket, I began to seek other means of solitude. There was an apple tree on our property, a gnarly old thing that produced misshapen, but deliciously juicy fruit. It had a low-slung limb, perfectly situated to help hoist me up into the cradle of branches. I sat in that old tree many afternoons daydreaming. Those days of youthful solitude, of playing pretend worlds with my sister in the Maple tree thicket and sitting in an apple tree was probably the beginning of my writing life.
I have a sense of longing when I look back on those days. Nostalgia reinterprets the past and those alone times away from parents and siblings now seems magical.
As I write my novels and short stories I often wonder where the characters I create come from. My latest novel, PUSHING WATER, about an American woman in Vietnam in the late 1930s, came to me as I was reading about the history of Vietnam. But I wonder was there a seed of my protagonist, Sarah, growing many years ago in that Maple thicket where my sister and I lived in a magical world of our own? Some times I greet the characters that join me in my quiet moments at the computer as though we were old friends. There is something familiar about many of the characters that find their way into my writing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s as though we were old friends. I wonder could the characters that now step into my short stories and novels be the characters that kept me company when I sat in that old apple tree? I like to think so. Are some of your characters really old friends from a childhood’s imagination?
Margaret Mendel lives and writes in New York City. She is an award-winning author with short stories and articles appearing online and in print publications. Her debut novel, “Fish Kicker” was published in 2014. Margaret’s latest novel “Pushing Water” was published in February 2017. She is a staff writer and photographer with the online magazine Kings River Life. Many of her photos have appeared in websites, online travel journals and book covers. Several of her photos have been exhibited in Soho Photography Gallery in New York City. Check out her photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/margaretmendel/ You can read more about Margaret and her writing at: Pushingtime.com.
Her latest novel, PUSHING WATER, is now available from MuseItUp Publishing.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I’m a bit late with this round-up since it’s now 1 February. So how have I been doing in the first month of this year? Let’s see…
Nothing new out, but I’ll take this opportunity to pimp the existing works.
Crime (Contemporary Amateur Sleuth)
Short Story Collection
No guest blog posts to report. However, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH for February, with two free paperback copies of the book to giveaway. You can enter here. Please note this is for UK entrants only, due to postage costs. Please promote the giveaway if you are able to – I am hoping to raise awareness of the book and perhaps get a few more reviews. There will be more giveaways over the next few months so watch this space.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Work has started on a new horror novel. Since this one is to be delivered to KGHH this year I am pressing on with it, and I have achieved nearly 10,000 words in the first month of the year. It is set in the Arctic, and it has the title OUTPOST H311.
Meanwhile the fourth Shara Summers novel is also a work in progress.
Plenty to keep me busy, then. See you at the end of February!
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Sometimes people ask me how I deal with the commute to work. I spend a good three hours a day – often four – travelling by public transport, into London and back again along with hundreds of other commuters.
The singular thing that keeps me sane on my commute is that I use the time for reading. Losing myself in a book allows me to find some pleasure in this daily ordeal.
For the last few years, I’ve participated in the Goodreads challenge by setting a goal for myself on how many books to read in the year. For the first time in some years, I did not complete my challenge in 2016 – I set myself a goal to read 70 books and only read 68.
Generally this time of year I list the best of the previous year’s reading, which is guided by which books I gave five-star ratings to. And in 216 there were four, as follows:
Defending Jacob – William Landay
Witches Abroad (Discworld #12) – Terry Pratchett
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
Try Not To Breathe – Holly Seddon
There’s one comic fantasy, one crime thriller and two psychological thrillers. Further details, as well as a link to the Goodreads page for each book, are listed below.
I had to read this one for my book group, and it left me utterly gripped. The story is told from the point of view of Andy Barber, district attorney, whose life is rocked when his fourteen-year-old son is accused of the brutal murder of a classmate.It throws up an interesting moral dilemma: what is a father to do when he suspects his own child might be a murderers?
I’m still working through my re-reading of the Discworld books, and I have to admit that the books featuring the witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick – are my favourites. In this book the witches have to venture to much-suspect ‘foreign parts’ to stop the happy ending of a well known fairy tale. Because there’s so much more to the story than the one that we’ve heard. I love the witches and their very different but forceful personalities.
I tend to run into Sarah Pinborough at most of the conventions I attend these days, and know her well enough to say hello to. Not only is she a lovely person, but she’s a phenomenal writer, and one of those people that occupies a spot on the writing career ladder that’s much higher up than me, and I can only look up and hope that one day I can get to the same spot.
Sarah Pinborough writes in many different genres. This novel is pegged as YA, but I really hate that label because when I see it I assume it’s referring to a kids’ book. The main character of this novel happens to be a teenage girl, but the genre is most definitely psychological thriller. The main character is rescued from a freezing river and revived after being technically dead for 13 minutes, and this is where the title comes from. How she got there is the main plot of the story, and it soon becomes evident that all the main characters are hiding secrets. As well as being a gripping story, this also serves as a reminder as to just how bitchy teenage girls can be. I’m so glad I don’t have to go through all that again.
Try Not To Breathe
Another psychological thriller, I had to review this for Shots and I found it utterly compelling. It involves the story of Amy, who was attacked and left in a coma when she was 15. Fifteen years have passed and she is still in the coma, but the story of how she got there is gradually revealed through three viewpoint characters, one of which – disturbingly – is Amy herself, who still has active brain function within her coma although she is tragically unaware of how much time has passed.
For this year, I have set myself a target of reading 68 books – the same number I managed to read last year. However, due to the fact that there are a lot of problems on London transport at the moment and I am spending four hours a day on trains, buses and underground trains I have been getting a lot of reading time in and I am already two books ahead of schedule.
If you’re on Goodreads and want to compare books with me, or even check out some of mine, connect with my profile here.
My first guest author of 2017 is Kevin Hopson. Welcome, Kevin!
SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?
KH: I think it was when I went through several career changes and I eventually chose writing over everything else. I had an interest in writing as a child, and it blossomed again while in college. Looking back, though, I really didn’t have a clue about what it took to be a writer. Now that I do, and I have willingly accepted those responsibilities, I’m fully committed to the craft.
SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?
KH: I’m a huge fan of Michael Crichton, David Baldacci, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly. I think these authors have influenced me the most in recent years, especially Lee Child and Michael Connelly. I read Child’s Jack Reacher series and Connelly’s Harry Bosch series almost religiously now. I love their characters, dialogue, pacing, plot, etc., and I’ve noticed their writing styles creeping into my own Jacob Schmidt series.
SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
KH: I remember getting dejected early on in my writing career. I knew it would require a lot of practice to get where I wanted to go, but it took me a while to realize this. Even the best authors were rejected at some point, and I always used this as motivation. However, it never occurred to me the type of investment that’s needed to pursue a writing career. I’m not referring to the financial commitment, though this can still be significant for some depending on how they choose to market themselves. Instead, I’m talking about the time commitment. Outlining, plotting, character creation/development, research, editing, promotion/marketing, submissions, contracts, etc. It’s something I was kind of thrown into and had very little knowledge of. Because of this, anyone starting out in writing should do the proper research before diving in. Knowing what to expect will make the road much smoother.
SJT: Tell us about your latest release.
KH: CHILDREN OF THE SNOW is a short story that was released by MuseItUp Publishing on January 3. It’s the second book in my Jacob Schmidt series, which revolves around an Atlanta police officer. This story was initially written for a themed anthology so it can act as a stand-alone apocalyptic tale, but I still consider it part of the series. In fact, we meet a new character in this story that ends up being a major player in future instalments. Below is a blurb for the book.
“A historic snowstorm decimated an American Indian tribe in the nineteenth century. Thousands died, some ultimately eating their own in order to survive. Now the snowstorm has returned, and something sinister hides within it. Something detective Jacob Schmidt will witness firsthand.”
It is now available from Amazon.
SJT: Your character Jacob Schmidt lives in Atlanta, Georgia – a place where this Brit didn’t think there was much snow. Do you have a fondness for the snow or are you more a sun worshipper?
KH: I’m assuming you’re referring to the cover for Children of the Snow. Even though Jacob Schmidt lives in Atlanta, I make no mention of this in Children of the Snow. I did this on purpose so the historical fiction aspect of the story would remain somewhat believable. For example, I don’t think there are any federally-recognized Indian tribes or reservations in Georgia, so the setting could be another state in the U.S. South or U.S. Southeast. This is fiction, however, and the story does have a “soft” apocalyptic setting, so Atlanta could still be a feasible location. In reality, the city doesn’t get a lot of snow. Personally, I loved the snow as a child. In fact, I still do, but I only like to see it once or twice a year. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more of a sun worshipper.
SJT: What are you working on at the moment?
KH: I just finished another Jacob Schmidt story (the fifth in the series), but I haven’t decided what I want to do with it yet. It deals with domestic abuse, and I want to use it as a charity story. My only issue is deciding whether to self-publish it, keep it with my publisher, or try to market it elsewhere.
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
KH: In addition to writing, I really enjoy making book trailers. I also love to read and watch movies. All of these things keep my creative juices flowing and act as stimulants for my writing.
Prior to hitting the fiction scene in 2009, Kevin was a freelance writer for several years, covering everything from finance to sports. His debut work, World of Ash, was released by MuseItUp Publishing in the fall of 2010. Kevin has released nearly a dozen books through MuseItUp since then, and he has also been published in various magazines and anthology books. Kevin’s writing covers many genres, including dark fiction and horror, science fiction and fantasy, and crime fiction. His website can be found at http://www.kmhopson.com.
So here we are at the start of another year – a time to reflect on the year that’s past and look at what one might want to change for the new one. And when you put your New Years’ Resolutions into a blog post, you can’t really ignore them.
I resolved to finish the two novels I was working on in 2016. One of them was SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, the third Shara Summers novel, which happily was finished, and submitted, and at this point in time it is scheduled for release by MuseItUp Publishing some time in Autumn 2017.
The second was an as-yet-unnamed horror novel. Unfortunately I ended up shelving this project. I got about 20,000 words in and decided it really wasn’t working, all the characters were cardboard cut-outs and the plot was too thin.
I’ve spent some time over the Christmas period plotting the outline of a new idea. It’s very early days yet, but this one I am rather more excited by, and I hope to have the plot outline finished over the next few days, and then I can start writing it. Just as well, since I’m contracted to Kensington Gore (which is now officially known as KGHH Publishing) to release another horror novel in 2017.
So, as at the beginning of 2016 I am once more resolving to have two new novels finished by the end of the year: one is the aforementioned horror novel, and the second is the fourth book in the Shara Summers series. Which is already nearly 30,000 words into the first draft, so good progress has been made thus far. It would be good to be able to have the fourth book done by the time the third book comes out.
And that’s pretty much the only resolution I’m making for 2017. Connected to that is the need to be way more disciplined in the writing. I whinge about having to get up early to fit the writing in around the day job, but most writers have to juggle the writing around other things so I am not in a unique position. We all have the same number of hours in a day. What we choose to do with those hours is up to us.
I am going to endeavour to pay more attention to this blog, which has been somewhat neglected over the last couple of months, but I made the same resolution last year. I am going to carry on with my ‘Monday’s Friend’ feature, which is open to writers of any genre, so if anyone wants a slot, get in touch.
I’m not going to spend time discussing the things going on in the wider world. I don’t have any control over any of it, and I am making a point of trying to be less stressed about the things beyond my control. The only things I can control are the decisions I make that directly affect my life, and the way I organise my time. So this is what I will focus on for 2017. The universe will unfold itself the way it sees fit, whether I like it or not.
I wish you all a happy and productive 2017, and I wish you luck in achieving your goals for the year, whatever they may be.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Well the blog has been somewhat neglected over the last couple of months. I resolve to pay it more attention next year.
We find ourselves at the end of 2016, so this post will be a reflection of my writing year, and not just activities of the past month.
I pledged to have at least one guest appearance a month this year. I mostly succeeded to October, but the last couple of months of the year dropped off for various personal reasons. A full list of all my online appearances can be found on my website.
WORK IN PROGRESS
I’ve made some progress with the first draft of the fourth Shara Summers book, which is entitled DEADLY SUMMER. The third book will be released next year, and I hope to have the fourth book in a state to be submitted by this time next year.
I’m also contracted to submit another horror novel to KGHH in 2017. The one I was working on at the beginning of this year I have since abandoned since it really wasn’t working. I now have the plot of a new book formulated, so I need to get motoring on that one.
I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be a difficult year for many, so I’m sending strength and positive thoughts out there into the ether, to fortify us all.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I’m a week late with the latest round-up, since it’s now November.
Nothing new out this month, but another plug for my two horror novels. SUFFER THE CHILDREN is available in all e-book formats from MuseItUp Publishing, and THE WHISPERING DEATH, with its fab new cover, is available in paperback and in Kindle format from Amazon (US and UK).
On the last day of October I had a guest spot on the fabulous Joan C Curtis‘s blog talking about the discipline required for writing.
And I did my final convention of the year in October as well – Bristol HorrorCon. This one-day Con celebrating all things horror has now been going for two years, and is great fun. I did a panel on Horrible Crime, where we discussed the crossover between crime and horror (and digressed a bit as well), and I did a reading as well.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Work continues on the fourth Shara Summers book, DEADLY SUMMER. Which was initially a working title but I think it works so I’m inclined to keep it. Still on the first draft though, so early days yet.
See you next time!
This blog has been neglected of late. There’s been a lot of life stuff getting in the way of the writing, which I hope to talk about at a later date.
Today, though, is Hallowe’en. As a horror writer I feel I can’t let the day go by without comment.
The irony is that for the first ten years of my life, Hallowe’en completely passed me by. Living in the North of England in the 1970s, we didn’t really celebrate Hallowe’en – possibly because we have Bonfire Night five days later, which was a much bigger deal – when the whole neighbourhood would throw their scrap wood in a pile on a vacant lot all year, and then on 5 November it would be lit to create a big bonfire, and everyone on the street would gather to watch fireworks and light sparklers and eat Parkin and black peas. And if none of these things mean anything to you, you’re probably not British.
Anyway, in January 1980 we moved to Canada, and in October of that year I experienced Trick or Treating for the first time. I was a week past my eleventh birthday. I dressed up as a princess. My sister and I went out with my mother and stepfather and a couple of friends, and we hit three or four of the neighbourhood streets. I came back with a haul of candy so large it lasted me pretty much until the following Hallowe’en.
I didn’t get many trick or treating years in, as two years later – a week past my thirteenth birthday and in Grade 7 – I decided I was too old for trick or treating and volunteered to sit at the front door handing out the candy. I ended up serving it up to quite a lot of my classmates that year. Which they seemed to find quite embarrassing.
What I’ve always loved about Hallowe’en, though, is the concept of dressing up – of being somebody I’m not, just for a day. In high school everyone was allowed to turn up for school in costumes for Hallowe’en. One year I decided to go as a punk. This was so far removed from what I usually looked like at school that most people didn’t recognise me. Which was the idea, of course. And it was quite liberating, to shed my usual goody-two-shoes image and pretend to be a bad-ass. Even if it was for just a few hours, and it was entirely theoretical because I was way too timid to be a bad-ass for real.
Nowadays I’m in the UK again and although Hallowe’en is more of a thing than it was when I was a kid, it’s still not as big a deal as Bonfire Night. Trick or treating happens, but not everyone buys into it and for stores it’s pretty much nothing more than another retail opportunity. Some kids may get to go to school in costume, and some retail outlets let their staff dress up in spooky costumes for Hallowe’en, but I don’t know any offices that will let you do so, and as I sit here typing this at my desk at the day job (I am officially on my lunch break, so even now I’m not breaking any rules), it’s just business as usual.
But in spite of that, I still want to acknowledge the occasion.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Well it’s been a busy old month since the last update. End of September? How did that happen? Before you know it, it’ll be time to think about the dreaded Festive Season…
But for now, on with the news.
I am pleased to announce that THE WHISPERING DEATH has been re-released with a new cover, hand drawn by the uber-talented Erin Kelso. I include it to the right. Nice and spooky, yes?
And of course SUFFER THE CHILDREN is available in all e-book formats.
I’ve had a few guest appearances online in the past month.
On 5 September I did a blog swap with Chuck Bowie, with a post about the importance of rewriting appearing on his blog. Then on 16 September I appeared on Diane Dooley’s blog, with a post about being a woman of horror.
My interview for the British Fantasy Society’s journal appeared in issue #16, which was released this month. The British Fantasy Society exists to supports British writers and publishers of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and the journal is free to members. If you’re not a member but want to be, check out membership options on their website.
And, speaking of the BFS, I attended FantasyCon, the SF/F/H convention run by the BFS which this year was in the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough. It was a great weekend, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and I had a panel and a reading as well. I read from SUFFER THE CHILDREN. Reading slots were organised this year with two authors sharing a half-hour slot. A very good idea, to my mind – it meant the audience was bigger. And my reading partner, Priya Sharma, is a fantastic short story writer and a lovely person.
WORK IN PROGRESS
I am making good progress with the fourth Shara Summers novel, which is currently titled DEADLY SUMMER. Still first draft, though, so a long way to go yet.
That’s it to report for now. See you next month!
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
This weekend I head for the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough for the annual British celebration of SF/F/horror literature, FantasyCon. FantasyCon was the first con I ever attended, some time in the late 1990s, and I still hold it in fond regard.
On this occasion I am travelling alone, since Hubby is not joining me. He claims to want a quiet weekend at home. I think he’s looking forward to a weekend of being able to play games, make models, watch the documentaries he likes in peace. That’s OK with me as long as he remembers to feed the cats.
Anyway, I shall be at the day job Friday morning, and then boarding a train to the wilds of Yorkshire mid-afternoon. Somewhere I have to change trains. I think it might be York. There’s not a lot of time between the two so I hope the first train doesn’t run late. I am supposed to get to Scarborough about 5:30pm. In plenty of time for the disco – hurrah!
In any case, I do have things to do for this particular convention. I am giving a reading at 3pm on Saturday. The organisers have organised author readings in half-hour slots, with two authors per slot. I rather like this idea. It means you’re less likely to have no one turn up to your reading, since there’s a good chance there’ll be someone there to watch the other author as well. My reading partner is Priya Sharma. I have not met her before, but looking forward to doing so on Saturday.
Then at 8pm I’ve got a panel called ‘Paint It Black’, which is all about why horror permeates so many other genres. My fellow panellists are Simon Bestwick, Jo Thomas, Timothy Jarvis and Phil Sloman, who is moderating. With the exception of Simon, who I’ve met in person, everyone else I only know from the internet so I am looking forward to meeting some new people.
Other than that, I shall be visiting a few panels and spending a lot of time in the bar, where I hope to be able to meet up with the people I only ever get to talk to at Cons. Although I might be tempted by the FantasyCon karaoke.
So if you’re there, come and say hello. If you tell me you’ve bought a copy of any of my books at any point, I might even buy you a drink.