Tag Archives: reading

Interview with Paranormal Young Adult Author Airicka Phoenix

Next up in my sporadic series of author interviews is Airicka Phoenix. I can’t remember who followed whom first, but it’s safe to say that my Twitter feed certainly became a lot livelier once Airicka was amongst the little blue pigeons! She’s got a good sense of humour and is always fun to talk to, so I thought I would have a few words with her about her new novel.

So, Airicka, the soapbox is yours. Could you start by telling us a little about your path to becoming a writer?

I suppose the only answer I can give to this that will make no sense at all is that Beauty and the Beast brought me here. It was grade 3 and we were supposed to draw pictures that told a story then put words to them. I was obsessed with Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast, but I never liked how Belle didn’t get the chance to kick butt and it was too sappy (I was 8!). So I rewrote the story. The pictures were horrible and you can’t make out a word, but it was good enough to get framed by my mother! Lol. I’ve been hooked to writing ever since. Touching Smoke is only one book in a long line of plots and characters just waiting to get out.

Airicka Phoenix's Touching Smoke will be released at the end of July 2012.Tell us about Touching Smoke.

Touching Smoke is about a girl’s desire to know her past, only to discover her past is better left in the dark. It’s a young adult cocktail of romance, adventure, mystery, and fantasy and paranormal. The story stars Fallon Braeden, a sixteen-year-old gypsy on the run with her mother in their beat up Impala. Things haven’t always been normal, but they take a drastic dip for the downright insane the day Fallen starts an earthquake and everything falls apart. Suddenly, she finds herself hunted by creatures with unusual abilities, haunted by a ghost baring a frighteningly familiar resemblance and falls in love with the last person she should ever give her heart to. So as her foundation crumbles beneath her, Fallon teeters on the brink of two devastating revelations: follow her heart or save the world.

What inspired this trilogy?

Touching Smoke came to me by accident. I was actually vanquishing a demon in another story when the idea for Touching Smoke popped into my head. It took me about a day to write out the plot, fill in the characters and Touching Smoke was born.

You describe yourself as a paranormal young adult (or YA) author. The genre has been made very popular of late by the Twilight books. Did they have an influence on you?

Getting inspired has never been an issue. Getting all the stories bubbling up in my head out is the real problem. On whether or not Touching Smoke was directly inspired by Twilight or any other book/movie, etc, I can say with complete honesty that it wasn’t. However, in that same breath, Touching Smoke was inspired by another book that I will be releasing soon.

Can you tell us anything about that book?

It’s also a YA novel. I like to think it is a Buffy meets Romeo & Juliet. It’s about a girl named Clara who is a Hunter for the human race. Her job is to kill the supernatural, until she comes across a demon she can’t kill and breaks all the rules to keep him alive.

I’m not sure when this book will come out, but I’m hoping soon.

What is it that drew you to the paranormal YA genre?

I have my mom to thank for that. I grew up watching The Witches, The NeverEnding Story and The Labyrinth, just to name a few. My mom always had a passion for anything that had magic so our house was always full of superstitious stories and stories of romance and danger. My mom had a flare for making up some of the most amazing stories and I would sit up for hours listening to her. When I got older, I started writing my own. The young adult genre has always held something special for me. I love the innocence of the characters and those stages between childhood and adulthood when everything is the most fragile.

Touching Smoke will be published via Treasureline Publishing. What made you work with them rather than go it alone?

I thought of going at it alone several times, but the process had always daunted me so much that I kept waiting for Touching Smoke to get noticed by a publisher or waste away on my hard drive. Treasureline Publishing actually published my first short story, Torrid, and took up Touching Smoke after I got to talking with the lady in charge of the company. She took Touching Smoke under her wing, I designed the cover and the rest is history.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be a writer?

It’s only as hard as you let it be. Be wary of who you let into those fragile moments when you are at your most vulnerable and always keep moving.

And, finally, what’s the problem with red Smarties?

OMG! LOL!! I think I cracked a rib! Oh my goodness! I thought we agreed this discussion would remain hush-hush! *sigh* all right, well, I actually have a phobia against most ‘red’ foods. So it’s not just smarties. I won’t eat or drink or touch most things red. But I do like strawberries, raspberries and applies which seem to be exempted in my weirdness.

If this has whetted your appetite, you can download Touching Smoke here (if you’re in the UK) or here (if you’re in the US)will be released at the end of July. You can also visit Airicka’s website and let her know what you think of her red food phobia. She’s on Twitter and Goodreads too, so she hasn’t anywhere to hide…

5 Books Every Fantasy Writer Should Read

I’ve previously posted a list of five books every writer should read, irrespective of genre. But, once you’ve read them, I’ve got five more that will not only help fellow fantasy writers but are chock-full of inspiration! So, in no particular order:

Medieval Lives by Alan Ereira and Terry Jones.

The majority of fantasy literature is inspired by medieval England which, we know, was full of ignorant peasants in brown, noble knights saving damsels and maybe some royalty with absolute power. Thanks to Ereira and Jones, we know different. Peasants could be smart and colourful, knights were often thugs, and royalty wasn’t all that. An easy and entertaining read and your fantasy world will feel more real for it.

Lore of the Land by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson

One of my very favourite books. A veritable tome of folklore and superstition, every page is full of budding story ideas. Spring-heeled Jack, the Seven Maidens, King Arthur, the Swan Knight, mermaids, there’s just so much crammed in it will keep you inspired for years.

Celtic Mythology by Geddes & Grosset

Mythology is always a plundering ground for authors, but all too often it’s the Norse, Egyptian or classical myths that are plundered. Celtic mythology is just as rich, and this book serves as a good introduction to give your fantasy world a unique flavour.

The Real Middle Earth by Brian Bates

Published at the height of The Lord of the Rings movie fever, this book tries a little too hard in places. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic exploration of dwarves, elves, dragons, ents and so on as they were seen by our Dark Age forbears.

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Like the sound of Odin, Loki and Thor and want to know more? This is the place to go. A fantastic modern telling of the myths, along with an introductory essay on the Norse society and beliefs and capped by an appendix and index. I’ve never wanted or needed another resource on Norse myths, which I think says it all.

These are my suggestions but I’d love to hear yours. Let me know if there are any other books that ought to be in this list!

The Most Important Books of the Year

It has begun: No More Books 2012. I can’t buy any books until 1st January 2013. So I’ve had the past two weeks to buy all the books I’ll buy this year. How did I do?

Pretty well, actually. I felt stocking up would undermine the result I’m hoping to achieve (to wit, reading the backlog of books I’ve built up). So I’ve only bought three books in that time. Three books in two weeks: it’s a personal best!

They were:

In Her Name: Empire by Michael R. Hicks. This looks like a good SF romp with lots of action. I picked it up because it was free, to be honest, but I’m looking forward to reading it.

Don’t Fear The Reaper by Michelle Muto. This was recommended to me by Airicka Phoenix on Twitter. A great title, a great cover and a great premise, Don’t Fear The Reaper is a dark paranormal young adult book that I can’t wait to read.

Last but not least is Charlotte Bronte’s World of Death by Robert Keefe. This is a book I found towards the end of my dissertation but didn’t have time to read. I’ve wanted it for ages and the thought of not being able to buy it for ten months was just not acceptable.

So that’s what I bought with my last two weeks of book-buying freedom. I’m sure it says something about me. I’m just not sure what.

Is Apple Looking to Get Into Self-Publishing?

It’s being reported that Apple are hosting an education-focused event on January 19th, and a fascinating quote has emerged over the last few days: “GarageBand for ebooks”.

What does that mean?

We know GarageBand enables mere mortals like you and I to make a professional sounding song, allowing us to record live instruments as well as adding loops and editing tools. But for ebooks? Whilst ebooks can be difficult to format, it seems unlikely Apple would be happy offering a formatting tool. It’s not whizzy and exciting enough for Apple. And, let’s face it, formatting a document is neither whizzy nor exciting.

It’s far more likely that this will be an app for creating interactive ebooks. Interactive ebooks can range from children’s picture books with narration, sound and touch elements to adult books that incorporate sound and video. The iPad is a perfect platform for such books and could help Apple challenge Amazon for dominance of the self-publishing market.

What does this mean for writers and readers? Well, up until now, writers who wanted an interactive ebook would have to find and hire a developer to do all the work for them. But if they can buy an application from Apple that makes it easy to do it themselves, they can create that ebook for a fraction of the cost. So more creators can create the ebook of their dreams. And for readers? Just as with more traditional ebooks, readers will have the opportunity to enjoy a greater variety of books and often at a lower cost than those with expensive developers behind them.

Of course, this is all conjecture at this stage. But Apple have a golden opportunity to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the self-publishing market. Here’s hoping they take it.

Books Are Dead?

I recently watched the BBC documentary Imagine: Books – The Last Chapter?, thinking it would be an interesting look into the current revolution surrounding books and reading. The programme is sadly unavailable for viewing on BBC iPlayer, so allow me to summarise:

Alan Yentob spends an hour smugly foretelling the end of books, pointing out that ebooks and apps aren’t the same as a proper book and therefore don’t count.

That is, perhaps, a biased summary. But then, it is a reaction to the programme’s bias. There seemed to be a token effort at balance, with most of the screen time given to those who agreed the book was an endangered species. And Yentob really was very smug.

But did he have a point? Is this really the end for books?

Actually, I think he’s rather missed the point.

Personally I think an ebook is pretty much the same as a printed book; it’s just printed on a screen instead of paper. An app, of course, is a different kettle of fish. Apps are often interactive and/or blend written narrative with sound and video. But whether ebooks and apps replace books doesn’t really matter. It’s the stories that matter.

Stories were once transmitted exclusively by word of mouth. Writing was such a laborious process that it was reserved for the most important or loved tales. The advent of the printing press that heralded books as we know them. At the time, it was vilified by many for destroying the status quo; sound familiar?

The point is that printing didn’t destroy stories. It enabled them. Storytellers used printing to reach a wider audience and engage them like they never could before. Do ebooks and apps destroy stories? No. They enable them too.

Is the printed book under threat? Yes. We can get weepy over that fact if we want to, but they’ll never disappear. Just as digital downloads haven’t eradicated the CD (nor, indeed, has the CD eradicated vinyl), neither will ebooks and apps eradicate the book. But what matters is that, vinyl, CD or mp3, music lives on. So too will stories.

Eyes As Clean As Jesus

Even the most Luddite of readers will have heard whisperings of the self-publishing revolution made possible by the advent of the ebook. Armed with a shiny new ereader I’m jumping head first into that revolution to see if it’s worth all this fuss.

First up was Cornerstone by Misty Provencher. Misty has quite the story behind her first novel. She found an agent to represent her not once but twice before deciding to go it alone (you can learn more at her website. But what about the novel itself?

Well, it’s a young adult novel following the ostracised Nalena Maxwell. Her father is absent and her mother spends all her time scribbling notes over mountains of paper. Nalena spends her time trying to fly under the radar until Garret Reese, hot young stud, starts talking to her. Nalena soon learns that she is part of a special community and, not only that, but she is special herself: a Cusp, an unexpected divergence who could herald great or terrible things. Oh, and her father has shown up.

Cornerstone is a nice little gem, the story unchallenging but with some wonderful ideas and imagery that prevent it from being a popcorn read. Nalena is a great protagonist, instantly endearing and easy to empathise with. We have all, to varying degrees, experienced the social exile she has to live in, and Misty’s prose is heartbreaking in its reality. Nalena is also easy to respect because she isn’t desperate to be accepted by anybody and everybody, just the people that matter. Misty has a talent for dialogue, too; it was delightfully frustrating to watch her characters fail to say what was on their minds just like real people do.

My only real gripe with the novel was a scene in which Nalena gets a spirit guide. Perhaps I was looking forward to the climax too much, but I found myself impatient whilst reading and it seemed that the guide didn’t have much of a role to play. But this is the first part of a series and I imagine the guide concept will play a greater role in later installments. So, really, I shouldn’t be complaining at all until I’ve read the sequels.

Which I will be reading. And if a book passes the sequel test, what better recommendation can you give it?

Cornerstone is available for the Kindle in the UK and the US and, if you’re in America, in paperback too.

Hands-on with the Kindle 4

So amongst the usual stack of books I received this Christmas was a shiny new Kindle 4. I had reservations over ereaders for a long time and few who know me thought I would ever own, let alone enjoy, one. But were they right?

No.

I love my Kindle. It’s fab. Here’s why:

• It’s like reading a book; e-ink really is as good as the printed page. There’s no glare, no eyestrain, no headaches. Brilliant.

• It weighs less than a book; War and Peace will no longer break your wrists.

• It’s not a book; I don’t have to worry about breaking the spine (I’m the sort of person who makes a sound of agony when I see someone breaking the spine of a book. I figure it’s my way of helping the voiceless book express its pain.) It also means I can read with one hand and still turn the pages, allowing me to multi-task.

Downsides? I won’t lie, there are some. It is, of course, never going to be the same as reading a real book (for which I have a true love). If the book has a great cover, for instance, you don’t get to see it when you pick it up (this also means you can’t show off the oh-so-clever book you’re reading to your fellow commuters). You can’t flip back a hundred pages or so; flicking the pages involves finding a location (how the hell do I know what location the dining room scene was at?), and the real page numbers mean nothing on an ereader. And it’s a little hard to get attached to a digital file in the same way as a physical book. Although some might say I could do with a little less attachment to books.

But then an ereader shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for books any more than mp3s were a replacement for CDs. It’s an enhancement, and I’m thrilled to be able to expand my reading experience with a new tool.

A few tips for anyone thinking of picking up the Kindle 4:

• Registering is no picnic; the Kindle decided my username and password weren’t valid and forced me to register on the Amazon website using the serial number. If you need this, you can find it in Device Info, under Settings.

• The onscreen keyboard is pointless; you’ll use it if it’s an absolute necessity only. This makes buying ebooks on the Kindle itself a chore. I recommend using your computer or smartphone. If you’ve not got one or you want to buy books on the Kindle, pay extra for the Kindle Keyboard.

• The Kindle ships with a USB cable only. This means you can only charge it from your computer out of the box. If you want to charge it from a wall socket you’ll need to buy an adapter. You can use any USB adapter, though. I use the one for my iPhone.

2011 Roundup

Ah, who doesn’t love end of year retrospectives? They’re a little nostalgic, often wear rose-tinted glasses and sum up a whole twelve months in fifty words or less.

This post won’t be like that. I’m not hip, you see. I’m not down with this new-fangled stuff you kids are listening to. While the world is raving about Bruno Mars, I’m discovering Bruce Springsteen. So my top five books of 2011 weren’t published in 2011; that’s just when I read them. So, in no particular order:

Skulduggery Pleasant
Derek Landy (2007)

A story about a magical skeleton detective, Landy’s book has heart and humour and fun. In short, it’s bloody brilliant.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Brontë (1848)

A powerful tale of a woman who finds herself trapped in a marriage with a reprobate husband who is leading their young son astray. Her choice between duty and self-preservation is moving and admirable.

The Brontës
Juliet Barker (1994)

The definitive biography of a family that produced four creative geniuses. Barker manages to provide a wealth of information within a compelling narrative. Its size is formidable and intimidating, but worth it.

Encyclopaedia of Fairies
Katharine Briggs (1978)

Briggs is the definitive authority on fairies and the folklore and beliefs surrounding them. This book is full of fascinating tales and names and folkloric beliefs. It will quickly dispell any notions that fairies were just little people with wings; they play an integral role in the construction of our modern world.

What Alice Forgot
Liane Moriarty (2009)

The surprise hit of 2011 (for me). Alice takes a knock to the head and forgets the last ten years of her life. Instead of being in a fresh new relationship, she’s got three kids and a messy divorce. It sucked me in from the word go and I ached and laughed in all the right places. In fact, it may be my book of the year.

So, okay, so this isn’t much of a 2011 roundup. But they’re all great books, and, if you read them, 2012 will be a good year for books. For you, anyway.

Will Cheap Ebooks Devalue Books?

Has the cheap ebook had its day? When Amazon first made indie publishing possible, it seemed the $0.99 novel was where the money was. Authors like Amanda Hocking were reaping in the pennies and it seemed everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Today the gold rush is over. But has the damage been done? Has it decimated the perceived value of books?

When I first got my Kindle I thought cheap ebooks were brilliant. I spend a lot of money on books so anything that saves me money is a good thing. I was also put off by a high priced ebook; why not pay the extra and get a physical book? But $0.99 seemed the perfect price for someone with a new and empty Kindle. It led to many an impulse buy and, in the hey-day of the $0.99 ebook, it seemed like cheap ebooks were the way to go.

But here’s the rub: I still haven’t read a lot of those cheap and free ebooks.

The impulse buy is always that: an impulse. It doesn’t lend itself to the investment of time and energy that a book requires and so many $0.99 ebooks languish on ereaders, unread, whilst the owners read the more expensive book they really wanted all along. But, in the meantime, a lot of writers are worrying that readers are getting too used to bargain basement prices. Why spend £10 on one book when you get ten cheap ebooks for the same price? Will readers stop buying new releases in favour of cheap ebooks?

No.

I mean I’m all for seeing both sides of the story. But the existence of secondhand and remainder bookshops never hurt the publishing industry, did it? Cheap books can co-exist with “expensive” books. And it’s not as if all the cheap books are of the same quality as those with a higher price. As with all things, the 99% rule applies: 99% of cheap ebooks are bad, 1% of cheap ebooks are good. (Of course, in the interests of impartiality, 99% of expensive books are bad too.)

Cheap ebooks won’t devalue books. As long as whatever is within the covers is of good quality, people will always pay for it, don’t you think?

The Ereader Wars Are Already Over

With Christmas galloping its way towards us at a frightening pace, a gift that’s guaranteed to be popular this year is an ereader. Even for us poor Brits, though, there’s plenty of choice out there. But I’m here to tell that there is no choice at all.

You’re probably already scoffing at me now. There’s plenty of choice, you may cry. iPad, Kobo, Android tablets, Kindle, Sony, Nook and many more! All viable ereaders with similar technology. And whilst this is true there is, to mind, only two things that matter.

E-ink and content.

Tablet computers use LCD displays which produce glare and chew up battery life. E-ink is like reading a physical page and consume so little power a single charge can last a month. For ereaders, e-ink is the only way forward.

Content, you might think, would boil down to how many books you can get on a particular device. Tablets actually win on this score because of their ability to offer different bookstores through apps. But, on the dedicated ereader, Amazon has launched a torpedo that struck true.

The .AZW format.

This is the format that all Amazon ebooks are sold in. It’s also a format that isn’t supported by any ereader other than the Kindle; it’s owned by Amazon and they won’t let anyone else play with it. That means that anyone who buys an Amazon book must have a Kindle or Kindle app to read it on.

Sure, you could just buy all your books elsewhere. But Amazon have 152 million customers who have already been lured in by the fact that Amazon sell almost everything. You’re probably one of them. And the odds are that most of those customers won’t go somewhere else to buy ebooks. It’s too much of a bother. And once you’ve bought that .AZW ebook, you’re stuck with a Kindle. And, as previously discussed, there’s only one real choice in that department.

So don’t let people convince you there’s an ereader war. There isn’t. Until Amazon open up support for .AZW ebooks, or adopt a more open format, there’s only one ereader that matters at all: the Kindle 4.

Don’t agree? Feel free to put me in my place.