Introducing… Citizen Kill

Stephen Clark’s debut novel, Citizen Kill, is coming out July 4th 2017 and he’s been kind enough to give me a sneak-peak of the book.

35037319.jpg

In a not-too-alternative-present, Citizen Kill tells the story of how a new administration reboots the War on Terror after the president’s young son is killed in an explosion. A CIA program targeting U.S. citizens suspected of radicalizing Muslims, has more than just re-education in mind. In this version of events, these people are presumed guilty as soon as flagged and to save any doubt, approved for assassination.

CIA black-ops agent Justin Raines is among the recruits in the new program, but haunted by a botched assignment overseas, Justin has a developed a healthy scepticism for authority and the new administration. And when one of his targets, turns out to be respected educator, who he believes is innocent, he grows disillusioned. Justin knows, if he doesn’t find a way to prove, beyond a doubt, her innocence, he’ll still be expected to eliminate her. And if he doesn’t, they will both be assassinated.

“Washington stops at nothing to protect the nation from terrorists, while Justin Raines risks everything to protect the nation from Washington.”

Check it out on Goodreads here

http://stephenclarkbooks.com

30492f_b6a0fbd90ae047a481eb9df6567d62cf~mv2.jpgStephen Clark is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of FoxNews.com.

As a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, he won a New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Distinguished Community Service for his investigation into the financial struggles of nonprofit services.

 

Guest Post: Portraits of Montserrat: AP McGrath

This week, Guest Blogger, Photographer and Author A .P. McGrath talks about his novel “A Burning in the Darkness” and his portraits of Montserrat.

Don’t forget, A Burning in the Darkness is available for free kindle download only until the end of today. So grab it while you can. And don’t forget to leave A.P a review!

“The small town in south Tipperary in Ireland where I grew up had a population of 5,000 and when I was a teenager I began taking black and white photographs of local people in the places where they worked and lived. My mum knew the editor of the local newspaper – everybody knows everybody in a town that small. He liked the pictures I was taking and offered a weekly slot entitled ‘The Town and It’s People’. I would approach shop owners, butchers, pub owners etc. and ask them if I could drop by some day soon to take their picture. I realised they would dress up a little and strike a certain pose, but people reveal themselves through these self-conscious acts as much as they do when they are caught unawares. These folk had a certain pride in their living or work places and I wanted to capture these spaces as much as the people themselves. I was interested in the details of the old shops that were giving way to the more modern out of town shopping. I liked the light and the tonality and the resonances of past times. The weekly portraits were a hit with the townsfolk. Indeed on more than one occasion I remember my mum remarking to me “Oh, I hear Mrs O’Reilly is disappointed you haven’t taken her photograph”. The townsfolk wanted themselves seen in and certain light and, in truth, I probably had my own slightly selfish reasons for taking the photographs. I knew that I wanted to leave.

“Probably all of the world’s biggest airports have a quiet prayer room offering sanctuary before a journey. A traveller might be embarking on a whole new life in a new country. Maybe he or she has planned an escape from an anxious past or is simply going on a welcome family holiday in the sun. Travel can also be a dreary necessity. We may need to make a business trip or a journey because of events that are beyond our control, as in the death of a family member or loved one. One friend told me she was about to go on a business trip when she miscarried her second pregnancy. She was in her mid to late forties and knew it was probably her last chance to give her young son a brother or sister. She entered the quietness of the prayer room and had a think and a good cry before she carried on with her journey. The prayer room had been a welcome and necessary shelter.

Smaller cover McGrath_DRAFT2 #2 Smaller Size (1)“In a novel, place is inseparable from character and events. Indeed it can become an effective character in itself, a protagonist, soaked in mood. My novel A Burning in the Darkness begins in the prayer room of one of the world’s biggest airports. There is a tiny confessional box and in its anonymous darkness a voice confesses a murder to Father Michael Kieh, but a young boy has witnessed the killer go into the confessional. Michael becomes the main suspect in the murder investigation because of a group of pitiless antagonists, but he doesn’t betray the identity of the young boy nor break the Seal of Confession.

“The airport is a cinematic place. It is a frenzied cathedral dedicated to travel. It is also a lonely place. Michael is one of a number of faith representatives tending to the needs of more than 80 million passengers who pass through its gates each year, yet he rarely gets to see members of his flock more than once. His environment is constantly changing and he begins to question his faith. As a consequence, he is drawn to the companionship of an art dealer, Joan, who frequents the airport for business trips.

“Michael grew up in Liberia in the midst of its brutal civil war. His childhood experiences shaped him and made him what he is: a good man. I wanted to explore the idea that he had the freedom to think differently from his environment. He had the ability to strike out against its dominant mood because he wanted the world to be good and not characterised by the destructive madness of war. And he had the strength of character to do it.  

“I studied English and Philosophy at University College Dublin, but I also trained and studied as a photographer. In the late eighties I had the opportunity to go to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat and used my time there to take portraits of some of its people. Some months ago, after I’d finished writing the novel, I was doing a clean-out of the attic and came across the photographs which had been hidden away for many years.

APMcGrath Montserrat 5aI was struck by the way they explore the intertwined relationship between character and environment. In technical terms the portraits are taken with a wide angle lens so that you see both the person and the surroundings. I was drawn to the looming Soufrière Hills volcano at the centre of the island and it becomes the backdrop to many of the photographs. However in July 1995, the volcano erupted and destroyed most of the main habitable areas, including the principle town, the airport and docking facilities. Two thirds of the population was forced to leave, mainly to the UK.APMcGrath Montserrat 6a

Most of the photographs were taken in parts of the island ravaged by the volcano. This area was designated an exclusion zone and it covers more than half of the island. So there is poignancy to these photographs that capture a world now lost.

Several months before the publication of my novel I realised I had to set up a web site. I’m not a corporate person. I couldn’t see myself in a smiling brochure portrait, passing myself off as a kind of salesperson. But I could see that the photographs of Montserrat might say as much about me as they do about the people in the photographs. APMcGrath Montserrat 4aThe quality of the relationship between the subject and the artist is crucial. The degree of imaginative sympathy for the subject is something that sets a good work of art a part from others. The ultimate skill is not in mastering the camera or a fancy ability with words; it is getting the subjects to reveal themselves – even if the subject is entirely your invention.”

AP McGrath

You can find more portraits of Montserrat on AP’s web site: http://www.apmcgrath.com.

Get A Burning in the Darkness free on Kindle, now. Last Chance.

Yippee! Free on Kindle. A Burning in The Darkness

Get your free kindle edition here

A Burning in The Darkness by A P McGrath

‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.’

Michael immediately recognised the voice. ‘What do you wish to confess?’

‘She won’t be waiting for you.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I’m truly sorry,’ the penitent whispered, his voice breaking with remorse. ‘This was commanded. I was angry with her. I was angry with you. I’m begging God’s forgiveness.’

‘What have you done?’        

‘The worst thing…’

Smaller cover McGrath_DRAFT2 #2 Smaller Size (1)Michael Kieh is a faith rep in one of the world’s busiest airports. His own experiences during the Liberian civil war compel him to help those in need, but he becomes embroiled in a gruesome murder mystery his own compassion will make him a suspect.

His struggle to prove his innocence will lead him on a charged journey that pitches love against revenge. He’s innocent, he must be innocent….But is there something about Michael we don’t yet know?

A Burning in the Darkness is available for free download on Amazon from June 12th – June 17th 2017.

Get your free kindle edition here

Rainbows and Unicorns! Why your unicorn is a homophobic, has-been ready to die a mythical death.

 

unicorn1

I won’t do a big intro. We’re all busy and no one reads intros. I’ll get straight to it.

We’re all being bombarded with unicorn things in the tackiest sales pitch of the century. It’s bullshit and we know it.images2 But it’s even darker and more cynical than you realise.

 If you like unicorn shit, you can buy it

Yeah, unicorn fluff, that’s poop and it’s meant to be funny. You can also buy meat, milk, burps, blood and spunk and other ironic unicorn related stuff.
But the spunk is probably the only trustworthy unicorn product on the market.

Because – in mythology a unicorn is an erection… basically. It was a horned beast who would show up if a maiden flashed her baps (English for, going topless). But like all things weird, somewhere along the line it got hijacked, firstly by the Renaissance painters who liked to paint anything that could be interpreted using bare breasted women and later by cartoonists from France to Japan.7eec1992b2ce68565782df8b38769cd0

 Why are we seeing them now?

Nostalgia. Plain and simple. It sells and the Millennials are suckers for it because the world right now is so shitty and unpredictable. Those cartoons that have been doing the
rounds since the 80s, Rainbow Bright, The Last Unicorn, My Little Pony, She-Ra, tended to have a unicorn of two in.

Hang on. Did someone say Rainbow?

Yeah. Me. Rainbow Bright. If you remember your nostalgia accurately, you’ll also remember she didn’t have a unicorn, but ask most people and they’ll swear she did. Why was that? It’s the association with rainbows. In the last few years, we’ve started putting unicorns and rainbows in the same sentence. i.e. “Rainbows and Unicorns!” (Transl. Think Positive).

 OMG! I love rainbows!

Rainbow colours in my hair, on my nails, in my ice cream – happy, happy, happy. I love rainbows. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. But guess who really loves rainbows. The LGBT+ community. Oh… wait… hang on… marketing trend toe curl… “If we say rainbow when talking about all things rainbowy, won’t we sound, well… a bit gay?”

Gay_flag.svg

Yes. And there is the reason all your pretty, multi-coloured stuff got rebranded as UNICORN. It’s not because it’s pastel. Look at a rainbow. Rainbows are pastel. And none of this stuff has anything to do with horses or horns. It’s because firms like Starbucks want to cash in on your desperation to buy something colourful and happy but they don’t want to risk losing 50% of these potential customers who might have negative feelings towards rainbows.

HUnknown1owever..
Thanks to Starbucks and the like, the nostalgia of a unicorn is now being replaced with real, recent memories, which might not be so sparkly. Anyone who’s had a Unicorn Cappuccino will realise, while your drinking your sugar fluff, your phone still rings, your boss still loses it and people are still using your tax money to drop bombs on children in other countries.

So either way, we’re over it. The Last Unicorn will die soon. But rest assured, something equally meaningless is waiting in the shadows to take its place.

 

How to format your novel / book for Createaspace: The easy / lazy way.

 

So, after pressure from friends and family who still read on paper, I just formatted Dead Memories for Print On Demand on Createaspace.

Here’s the cover, cute eh? 1

But…why oh why? What did I do in a previous life to deserve that?

Maybe it’s just me, but even using their template, formatting a book for Createaspace drives me absolutely mental! The mirrored headers and footers and different sections just jump about all over the place and when you finally think you’ve got it, you hit save, close it, open it again and it’s changed.

I know I’m not alone because at least twice a month, someone asks me to help them format their book. So, this time, when I did it, I wrote the steps down. And here they are.

NB: 1 Before you start, if you’re working from the UK or anywhere else using the decimal system, go to PREFERENCES > GENERAL. At the bottom of this box, switch over your measurement preference to INCHES. The Brits hate to do this, but as you’ll be submitting to Createaspace and they do everything in inches too and as most book cover designs are in inches… well you get the idea.

Here we go…

PART ONE

  1. Open your finished manuscript (Which is already in the right fonts and sizes) and go to LAYOUT > PAGE SETUP > MARGINS > CUSTOM MARGINS. (This is the route in the Word Tool Bar. In full screen, this is the only tool bar you’ll see)
    1. Make the top margin 1″, the bottom 1″, the inside .9″, and the outside .6″.
    2. Tick Mirror Margins and OK
  2. In the same window, hit PAGE SETUP go to PAGE SIZE and scroll down to CUSTOM SIZE (There’s a SIZE under PAGE SETUP too, but no custom options here. So if you’re here, don’t panic. Back out and go the long way)
    1. Pick your size according to the print size options in Createaspace. e.g 5” x 8”, 5.5″ x 8.5″ etc. Click OK
  3. Go to FIND > REPLACE and type 2 spaces into FIND and one space into REPLACE. This will remove any accidental double spaces.
  4. SELECT ALL or APPLE + A and
    1. Change line spacing to 1.5.
    2. Justify your margins.
    3. Still in SELECT ALL go to LAYOUT > Hyphenation and click Automatic. Save                  images

Before we go any further, you have 2 format submission options in Createaspace and now is the time to consider these. If you chose to submit in WORD, Createaspase will convert your doc to a PDF and it may look a little different to your original. However if you submit a PDF you’ll need to make sure your program can also provide you with the size of page you have selected (5” x 8” etc).

PDF is the easier option! Also if you use a PDF you can skip the SECTION BREAK stuff and just make 3 PDFS (Front Matter, Story, Back Matter) and then combine.

It’s up to you.

But if your PDF maker doesn’t give you the right sizes, stay in word and submit in word watch out for SECTION BREAKS (ODD and EVEN) like this…

images

PART TWO

  1. Your Front Matter should include
    1. A title page with the title and your name in a larger font in bold. A copyright page plus ISBN. Optional: a dedication page. Optional: “Praise for” page full of nice things people have said about your book. Optional: Table of Contents (for short story or poem collections only. No one looks up chapters in novels)
  2. If you click now on DOCUMENT ELEMENTS > HEADER you’ll see it says SECTION 1. This is your front matter section and it shouldn’t contain any headers or footers or page numbers.
  3. Go to the first page of you story Familiarise yourself with how it looks, bring your mouse up to the top of the screen and the standard tool bar will appear.
    1. In VIEW, select DRAFT. Your manuscript will now look like it’s just come off a 1980s printer but you can see the formatting more clearly.
    2. In Draft, on the page before your story beings, after the text on that page finishes, click in, and go up to the to main toolbar INSERT > BREAK > SECTION BREAK . Insert a SECTION BREAK (ODD PAGE).
    3. Come back to View and select PRINT LAYOUT. Now the view looks like it did as before. Click in a header and it should say SECTION 2. New rules apply to this section as to the last.
  4. Go to the first page of you story Click into a header area, the HEADER & FOOTER toolbar shows up.
    1. Click the box for ODD & EVEN PAGES.
    2. Click the box for DIFFERENT FIRST PAGE
    3. Make sure LINK TO PREVIOUS box is not selected.
    4. Choose your Header Style. (Blank or Basic). Save
  5. Now go to the second page of your story and click into the header.
    1. Do a visual check in the tool bar for HEADERS AND FOOTERS that LINK TO PREVIOUS IS STILL UNCHECKED.
    2. Type the author name in caps.
    3. Highlight and right align it. (Some people prefer their name and title in the middle, but if you get the right, left alignment mixed up, the final version will look off. And this is the easy / lazy version of the formatting)
  6. Next page (third page)
    1. Click the Header and type the book name in caps.
    2. Highlight, left align it.
  7. You’ll now have your name on the left and your title on the right on the mirrored pages. If you prefer them swapped, swap them.
  8. Go back to the first page of the story and make sure nothing showed up in the header. If it did, go back to the Header Footer toolbar and make sure, different first page is still selected.
  9. Check the header hasn’t shown up on the Front Matter.
    1. If it has, you need to select this header, delete it, unclick LINK TO PREVIOUS
  10. Go back to the second page of your story.
    1. Click in the footer
    2. Go to DOCUMENT ELEMENTS in the toolbar.
    3. Choose PAGE NUMBER. Choose Bottom of Page. Choose Outside. (Because you already selected different First Page, you shouldn’t see a number on the first page. If you do, check these boxes again. You can also check the “Don’t show on first page” option, but if you haven’t selected Different First Page, you’ll still need to do this to stop the header showing up on the first page)
    4. Go to the next page and repeat. As these are odd and even pages, word will know to run them consecutively. Save.

images

PART THREE

  1. Go to the end of your story and add another SECTION BREAK. This time SECTION BREAK – NEXT PAGE. You can check in VIEW – DRAFT that it’s there come back to VIEW and click in the header. It should say SECTION 3.
  2. Now start your Back Matter: your bio, contact and follow data, thanks and acknowledgements.
  3. This section should also be free from Headers and footers and page numbers. Save

Now check and submit. Convert to a PDF if you like.

TROUBLESHOOTING (aka burying your mistakes)

Troubleshooting-e-faktur

So, some common issues in Createaspace that might come up are blank pages and odd pages starting on even numbered sides. i.e , the first page of your story shows up on the left hand side.

Both of these issues can be corrected with some creative additions of Section Breaks and page breaks. If you have 2 blank pages between your front matter and story, go back to the DRAFT view and see if there are section breaks or page breaks which are invisible in Print Layout.

If you story starts on the wrong side. I.e the left, add a SECTION BREAK (EVEN PAGE) right after the SECTION BREAL (ODD PAGE) as you see it in the draft view.

images1

 

 

I don’t know why we writers seem so inept when it comes to formatting a book, but hey, we do. And I suppose if the templates on CS were easier to us, they would be able to sell any of their $199 formatting packages.

All the best.

 

Here is my interview with Lissa Pelzer

Thanks for the interview Fiona!

authorsinterviews

Name Lissa Pelzer

Age  A lady never tells

Where are you from

The UK originally, but I’ve lived in the US, France, Japan and Denmark. I’m currently living in Germany


Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I first thought seriously about a career in writing during university. I was mesmerized by Patricia Highsmith novels and idolized her work and her lifestyle.


Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I go in and out of phases of considering myself a writer. Once I had a job as a content writer, churning out 3000 words a day for a salary, then I felt like a writer!


Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr Ripley. I desperately wanted to create a character than aspirational.


Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I try for an economic, plot driven style, but know that…

View original post 324 more words

Top 5 Writing Tips from Patricia Highsmith

I luuuuuve me a little bit of Highsmith… The prose is so economic but oh so gripping. She creates truly hateful characters, in whom we recognise people we also may have held deep, 182782032dark dislikes for, people we may have fantasised about ‘doing away with.’ For some, reading Highsmith is a kind of therapy, but for others it’s a master class in how to create teeth grinding tension with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve learnt a lot about writing just from reading Highsmith, but my favourite 5 of these….

1.”The Germ”

Highsmith described the origin of her stories coming to her as a “germ of an idea”… that she would have some tiny small piece of inspiration and then have to grow it out until the story followed. This is an excellent way of seeing the beauty in a good book. All too often  popular books are created instead of written, and seemingly through an arrangement of ticked boxes. Hook – Push off – Tension – Relief. The self-help writing books also endorse this formulaic method, so it’s no wonder, so many books seem to be lacking the fundamental element of a burning idea.

UnknownLooking out down on to the beach at Positano at 6 am one morning, Highsmith saw a young man with a towel over his shoulder walking alone on the sand.

This was the germ for The Talented Mr Ripley. A single soul walking along a deserted beach at day break. Where had he been and what had he done?  Where was he going and to do what? My mind reels at the thought of the process that she would have gone through to ultimately arrive at Tom Ripley. Was he an American? He’d have to be – she was still a young writer and hadn’t started imaging foreign heroes. How did he get there? Was he wealthy – no that’s dull. How did he feel? How did she feel in this town of judging glances, where if you say you write you are compared instantly to Positano’s other onetime residents Hemingway and Steinbeck? She put her thoughts and feelings into this vessel and grew the oak tree that became TTMR.

I’m a big fan of this germ-theory 😉 When you get a twinkle in your head, you can turn it over and over for years before suddenly it becomes what it became.

2. Ignore the rest of the world…if in doubt throw you typewriter out of the window

When Howard Ingram goes toTunisiato write a script in the ‘Tremor of Forgery’, things start going down back in the USA. A friend commits suicide and his girlfriend is probably having an affair. But Howard doesn’t get on a plane to dive right into what could have been 2949a different plot. He stays put. He starts working on a novel and as he waits for a letter from the girlfriend to explain what’s going on, he sorts out his plot and accidentally, possibly kills a man with a typewriter. Luckily this gives him lots of opportunity to explore feelings of guilt. In this example, I see the power of not following the expected plot line but rather fighting against it, letting it build and build until your protagonist is ready to tackle it. Because if we all dealt with our issues right away, we wouldn’t have any.

3. Write about what you know and if you find something you want to write about and have never done it…Do it.

In the Suspension of Mercy, Sydney Bartleby actually makes the lady next door suspect him as murderer to harness the feeling of being a suspect. He buries an old carpet, he acts dodgy as hell. The old dear ends up keeling over out of terror and pretty soon the cops really do think he’s killed someone. This fake body burying thing always struck me as something Highsmith actually did. Because she doesn’t skimp on the details, just as anyone who’s ever carried a drunk friend out to a taxi or tried to move a wardrobe knows, they are heavier than they look and the pure strain and fear of having either one halfway up the stairs and wobbling is enough to lead to blind panic.

I like to imagine Highsmith is heavy boots and a thick jumper, pacing around Montmachoux, pulling on a rolled cigarette, looking into damp wooded lots and “setting her jaw” as she would say, trying to work out if you could stash a body in there. I wrote a passage a few years back about someone fighting and being killed as he slipped down a set of icy  concrete steps in Stuttgart, Germany. The scene is set in a real place, the steps rise up between pre-war apartment building and cross two roads as a short cut. I saw them everyday from the bus I took to work and I kept telling myself, I have to get off the bus and stand at the top of those steps next winter to see if it looks as scary as I think it is. I was so thrilled when I was invited to a Christmas party shortly after and realized as I followed the map that I was at the top of the steps. I almost turned around and went straight home.

4. “You don’t write a book with your little finger.” -You’ve got to commit.

This is a straight dig from Tom Ripley about Marge Sherwood’s writing schedule. When Tom asks Dickie where Marge is, he tells him she is having a good day with the book and suggests that she is on a roll with her work. In the same breath he remarks that she might come along to the beach after lunch. PathighWe all know this type of writer, faffy types (as my mother would say) who seem to spend more time at Nanowrimo socials than at home in front of the computer and we snigger with satisfaction when Tom makes this remark. However, we are all guilty of occasionally being this type of writer, so it cuts both ways. It says, I know what is needed of me to be satisfied with my writing efforts and I am still not doing it, not always. This is a very important lesson from Highsmith and one which I hear in my head whenever I switch off the computer to read an episode of The Killing (I haven’t quite mastered Danish yet

5. Move on.

In Plotting and Writing Suspense, Highsmith shares with the reader her failings and talks about the stories that never got published. While trying to put the idea out of my head that I should immediately rush off to the archives in Switzerland (kidnapped publisher in tow) and demand to see these silenced masterpieces, I am reminded that if Highsmith was able to shelve her failures definitely I should be able to do so too. I spent 7 years on and off trying to write one particular novel that contained my own alter-ego. He became so diluted by all the experiences I imagined for him that he was almost translucent at the end. I recently had some boxes sent over from the UK and found reams of pages of the same-same but different chapters. Literally years of work… for nothing. However, my first impulse was to write it again…. properly this time!

Highsmith would give herself 20 opportunities to publish a story and after the 20th rejection she would take “a few days” and then start fresh. With this in mind, I resealed the box and put it back in the wardrobe to try to forget about it. Of course I failed and spend 10 whole days over the Christmas break,  rewriting it, 14 hours a days, for no reason. After all – just because I’ve learnt the knowledge from the master, doesn’t mean I mastered it myself.

Interview: Saigon Dark Author, Elka Ray

 

saigon_darkAfter reading SAIGON DARK last month, I reached out to Elka Ray’s publishers at Crime Wave Press with some interview questions, and was amazed at some of the replies I received. As readers, we get used to authors reaching deep to bring our innermost fears to the pages of their books, but we don’t often expect them to come from real life experiences. However, Elka Ray’s Saigon Dark is anything from the usual…

LISSA: In Saigon Dark, a really unusual drama creates a platform for exploring, among other things, issues of trust. Did you decide on the plot first or draw the plot around the themes?

ELKA RAY: Ten years ago, my first daughter died as a baby. It was a total shock. I’d believed my child would outlive me. Instead, I was cremating her. How could this have happened? Why her? Why me? Was this a punishment for my failings and mistakes? I had all sorts of crazy thoughts. The trauma of her death shook my trust in the world. I felt unsafe – like a door I didn’t even know was there had opened and couldn’t be shut. If this unthinkable thing had occurred, more bad luck could follow.elka_ray

Without trust, we can’t function normally. We trust other drivers to stop at red lights. We trust the food we buy is not poisonous. We trust our friends have our best interests at heart. Most importantly, we trust ourselves to make reasonable choices.

When you doubt yourself, you’re lost. You can’t trust anyone or anything else. This was the starting point for Lily Vo, the main character in Saigon Dark. I wanted the novel to explore grief, trust and paranoia.

The plot centres around passing one child off as another. This idea came to be shortly after the birth of my son, whose first passport photo was taken when he was three days old. He was squinty and bald – indistinguishable from most newborns. That passport was valid for five years, which gave me the idea: it could be used for almost any kid.

LISSA: You chose to make the main character a Vietnamese woman who was born and raised in the US. Did this allow her to behave differently or be more identifiable to non-Vietnamese readers than a native, or is her background incidental to the story?

ELKA RAY: To make Saigon Dark work, I needed the main character, Lily, to be as isolated and stressed as possible. Her marriage to a local man has just broken down. She’s a single mom in a foreign country. Her youngest child is unwell. She has no real friends nearby. She’s leery of the police and feels judged by the locals.IMG_4873.JPG

This story wouldn’t work if Lily trusted the authorities. It wouldn’t work if she had family nearby. Someone with a strong support network would get help. They’d make less desperate choices.

When I first heard Lily in my head she was American Vietnamese – and that worked perfectly for the story.

My husband is Australian Vietnamese. Some of my closest friends are American Vietnamese. In Vietnam, Viet Kieu (Overseas Vietnamese) face special stresses compared to other foreigners. They often come here expecting to feel “at home” only to experience profound culture shock. Many local Vietnamese don’t understand that culture is learned – not passed down in your blood – and judge Viet Kieus for not speaking fluent Vietnamese and behaving like natives.

With suspense, your goal as an author is to keep adding pressure and building tension throughout the book. You’re stacking the deck against your poor protagonist to test how strong they can be.

LISSA: Your previous work include kids and more mainstream fiction. What tempted you over to the dark side? And most importantly, are you staying?

ELKA RAY: My first novel, Hanoi Jane, is a romantic mystery. It’s light and funny – a book about a young woman rebuilding her life after a bad break up – but there’s still a crime at its core. And my short story collection, What You Don’t Know: Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia is packed with crimes and ill will. I’ve always been fascinated by why people behave like they do, especially when their actions seem unreasonable. Crime fiction is about motivation – and that’s crack for me.

Many thanks to Elka and Henry Roi at Crime Wave Press for the interview! 

Patrick Hamilton: Why Book Titles Matter

Yes, Patrick Hamilton, that guy you’ve never heard of, him again, the play-write and novelist. Not to be confused with Hamilton the play… Anyway…

He achieved success at a very young age and was only 25 when his hit play, Rope made him famous and rich (as plays did back then). The Midnight Bell (novel) followed and then Gaslight (from where the term gaslighting originates) and by then he was much better known than any of his still famous contemporaries… such as Graham Greene.

That’s right, at 27 he was more famous that Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American etc –And yet, you’ve still never heard of him… so why on Earth is that? Some people like to think it’s because of his weird lifestyle and existence. (He came from wealth, fell in love with prostitutes, regularly and got hit by a car that took his nose with it). Even after that he carried on writing hits, war-time dramas, comparable to For Whom The Bells Toll (1940) but with more tension, more drama, more guts.
patrickHamilton_2541749k

Perhaps the reason we don’t treasure Hamilton in the present day is because he didn’t treasure himself. Take for example, Gaslight. He actually “borrowed” the idea of a flickering gaslight from a failed book of his brother Bruce’s, To Be Hanged (1938),

It was a massive success as we’ve already said. In New York, it had the longest run of a foreign play in Broadway history and by 1944 it had already been adapted for film, not just once but twice. However, Hamilton wrote it as a pastiche, and didn’t love it. gaslightAnd the name, Gaslight kind of suggests that.

“What should I call it? Blah! Gaslight. Done!”

It reminds me of a friend asking me (a longtime ago) What’s gaslighting? She knew the term but couldn’t guess the meaning. That’s lot like how you have no idea what his books are about from the titles.

Martin Amis wrote once that book titles shouldn’t be too clever. That a title such as Hangover Square (referring the famous Hanover Square in west London, which was (is) a drinking haunt) and excessive drinking, was a guaranteed way to make people put your book down before they had read it. And he may have a point, Rope? What happens, no idea? There’s a dead body in a box…okay? The Slaves of Solitude, well that sounds both impersonal and depressing, nothing like the funny, weird, knowing book of the same name.

With that in mind, I have some suggestions for the next time Penguin re-releases some Hamilton stuff… Maybe they should rename the books and Photoshop a smile on that face too.

I for one can’t wait to re-read:

“Maniac with a nine- iron” (Hangover Square), “The Talented Mr Gorsly” (Gorse) or “There’s a f**king body in the box, can’t you smell it?” (Rope).

So when we’re naming you books, looking for clever titles that will make the reader go ‘ahhhh’, maybe we should just not. Spell it out. People are busy.