Sunday, January 01, 2017

I've made pretty much the same five resolutions every New Year's Eve for the past four decades, so I've decided to exit 2016, one of the most craptastic years on record, by updating a popular 2012 post in which I resolved to remain unresolved. I'm launching 2017 with a single guiding principle: Screw it. I'm just going to be myself.

Top 5 Non-Resolutions for 2017:
#1 Stop using bad words. Yeah. Fuck that. I plan to use words appropriate to the occasion, including the occasional F bomb.

#2 Lose weight. Based on 45 years of empirical study, I can conclude with some certainty that dieting, self-loathing, guilt and constantly talking about my weight is not going to make me a size 9. I am a size 16. Bam. Weight problem solved.

#3 Work smarter, not harder! "Smarter" too often translates into "what works for other people." I have to do what feels right to me as an artist and works for me as a sole proprietor, and so far, working insanely hard seems to have yielded the most fruit. I am a workaholic woman dedicated to a life in publishing, in the words of JFK, "not because it's easy but because it's hard."

#4 Be a purveyor of shalom. This is a lovely ambition in theory, but sometimes the world needs shit-disturbers, tell-it-like-it-is-ers, boat-rockers and contrarians. For 20 years, the only prayer I've spoken on behalf of my career is "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace." Praying for book deals or for certain people to get syphilis is too narrow-minded for the wide-open possibilities of modern publishing, so I plan to stick with that, but genuine, lasting peace usually comes in the wake of healthy change, so upheaval serves that goal - in personal and professional arenas - far better than denying one's self and placating others.

#5 Be a better mom. Over the years, the specifics ranged from making a daily hot breakfast to chore charts to a total ban on television in our home for two years. God knows what my kids (now in their mid-20s) will tell their analysts about me, but they are a couple of awesome blossoms, no one's been arrested lately, and I can go to sleep at night knowing I did my best. My role from here on out is to love them, not to finance their foolishness, enable their self-doubt or critique their decisions. The best thing I can do for them is give them permission to be themselves by living the mandate I'm resolving to better embrace:

"To thine own self be true."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Merry awesome stomping robots! (C. Lonnquist's MAGi Book 2 is out today)

If you were irrevocably sucked into the mystic mecha/fantasy/action world of C. Lonnquist's debut novel, The Will of Machines, rejoice! The Will of the Faithful, drops today, picking up the story of these mammoth mechanical beasts and the intensely human characters who pilot them.

From the flap:
In the eagerly awaited sequel to The Will of Machines: MAGi Book I, C. Lonnquist returns fans to the planet Alterra, where the MAGi—giant sentient suits of armor that mysteriously fell from the sky—carry their Pilots through the embattled Warlands of Ord. A year has passed since the fall of the Black Palace and the revelation of the MAGi’s origins. The Pilots go their separate ways, driven apart by a horrifying new threat to the homelands they love. The Faithful, Cardinal Ecclesius’ army of corrupted MAGi, readies to march on Jarn. Soulless. Insatiable. Unstoppable. 
Kaie, the young druid from Jarn, has grown from a girl to a woman to a warrior, fully prepared to die defending her peaceful people and the traditions they hold dear. She pilots the behemoth Cern—for now. The MAGi’s personality is evolving, becoming more complex. Some say dangerously so. Kaie and Cern, accompanied by resourceful Rozo and sarcastic scientist Max Roarn, journey to the mysterious Lizard Islands to seek help from the most reclusive Jarn tribe. Only their mystic boneseer can tell them if they’re already too late. 
Oliver, a ruthless witchhunter turned spiritual warrior, walks towards a new light but is still plagued by his past. Piloting the Devout while struggling to regain his own lost humanity, Oliver leaves for Roku to meet two new MAGi Pilots from the Silent Lands. But someone else—a darkly beautiful destroyer—lies in wait, patiently calculating, plotting to reduce Oliver’s ironclad cynicism to naked vulnerability.

The Warlands rumble as old conflicts awaken, and now, the presence of the MAGi threatens to upheave a precarious status quo the disparate nations have maintained for thousands of years. The giant machines carry within them immense power, and the Pilots within them struggle with each other and with themselves—good and evil, war and peace, life and death, destruction and salvation—as the fate of Ord itself hangs in the balance.

This remarkably talented young author is a Transformers fanatic who grew up to be... well, he's pretty much still a Transformers fanatic, but he's evolved along with the genre and brings a more thoughtful voice than the typical mass paperback. It's been a privilege to edit the first two books, and I can't wait to see what happens in Book 3, set to drop in 2017.

Fun Fact: Chilling, wormy-mouth cover art is by the author's brother, Erik "DoA" Lonnquist, a world-famous eSports caster who lives in Korea. (Also notable: these ridiculously cool dudes are my nephews. I feel like my best shot at a little checkmark on Twitter is to change my handle to Aunt Joni.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

You look like you've seen a ghostwriter

Bumping this up for Halloween, a few ghosts who might startle you--bestsellers, Pulitzer, Nobel, and Oscar winners--writer's writers who moonlighted...

Katherine Anne Porter
In 1962, Porter's novel Ship of Fools sailed to the bestseller list and in 1966, she won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for her Collected Stories. But her first published work was My Chinese Marriage by Mae T. Franking, a memoir about an interracial relationship (something almost unheard of in the 1920s.) Not surprisingly, after Porter became a literary icon, Franking's heirs collaborated on an annotated edition with Porter's name on the cover.

Larry McMurtry
Before he collected his Pulitzer for Lonesome Dove or his Oscar for...what was it--Terms of Endearment or his adaptation of Brokeback Mountain?--anyway, long before he was Larry McMurtry, he was the invisible hand behind several books, including Daughters of the Tejas by Ophelia Ray.

HP Lovecraft
Steven King, Neil Gaiman, and many other contemporary novelists claim prolific horror icon H.P. Lovecraft influenced their reading and writing lives, but Lovecraft wasn't a tremendous commercial success during his life. He made bank ghostwriting many short stories and several books, including Harry Houdini's Imprisoned With the Pharoahs.

Sinclair Lewis
In 1930, he was the first American to win a Nobel Prize for literature. He'd turned down a Pulitzer ten years earlier and was known for his critical views of capitalism. But even idealists gotta pay the rent. It actually makes sense that Lewis ghosted Tennis As I Played It for Maurice E. McLoughlin, who transformed tennis from a sissified rich man's game to a spectator sport the masses could,

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Who is Lucy Forrester? Jane Davis talks about her new novel and the transformative impact of childhood illness

I've been too buried to blog lately, but I couldn't let a new Jane Davis novel drop without a shout out. Jane is the fabulous Brit who wrote (among several) Half Truths & White Lies, winner of the Daily Mail first novel award, and I Stopped Time, one of my favorite reads last year.

Today, Jane pops in to answer a few questions about her new book My Counterfeit Self, in which political activist Lucy Forrester (a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood) is nominated for a prestigious award by a dead man with whom she had a love/hate relationship. Was it a cruel joke or a rare opportunity? Who is this Lucy Forrester?

And another question...

What’s the story behind your latest book?
It’s the story of a radical poet and political activist called Lucy Forrester, who’s a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the New Year’s Honours list. (This is list prepared by the Queen for people who have made a considerable contribution to British life in some substantial way – arts, culture, business, charitable works and so on). To be honest, the idea of writing about the life of a poet came directly from reader reviews. Several comments that my prose was like poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does.

It’s an intriguing title. What does it mean to you?
Lucy’s parents behave so appallingly that she is freed from any feeling of obligation to live up to their expectations. She moves out of the family home, decamping to bohemian Soho. In distancing herself from her parents Lucy adopts a new personality that she hides behind. Although she insists that she lays herself bare in her poetry, it’s keeping secrets from those who love her most that is her undoing.

We meet Lucy Forrester as a young child. How difficult is it to get inside the head of a young child and convey their consciousness without ‘talking down’?
I remember childhood as a very frightening place, and all of the articles I have read about childhood psychology reinforce that memory.

I don’t have children of my own but the mother of my godson put to me, ‘You only know what comes out of their mouths. You don’t know what’s going inside their heads.’ But, of course, the author does have to know. I don’t think that a child’s head is an uncluttered place. They are absorbing any number of new facts daily, and have to give them a context within their limited knowledge, something we as adults have to do less often – although we still experience similar pain barriers, learning a new piece of computer software, for example. I hope there is nothing twee about the way that I write children.

Lucy is a polio survivor. The impact of childhood illness interests you, doesn’t it?
Very much so. The child is set apart, both literally and figuratively. They’re looked at differently by family and friends. And, of course, they have to draw on tremendous inner reserves. I saw a documentary about Jim Marshall, inventor of the Marshall amp. He suffered from tubercular bones and spent his childhood in and out of hospital. At the time, with no effective antibiotic, his condition was potentially fatal. The disease starts in the lungs, spreads through the bloodstream and attacks the spine and weight-bearing joints. Cocooned in plaster casts, he missed out on formal education. It was his father who suggested that he try tap dancing as part of his physical recovery. That gave him an incredible ear for rhythm, and the rest is history. It’s impossible to say how different Jim’s story would have been if he hadn’t contracted the disease, but it’s fair to assume it changed him.

When I started researching the polio, I was surprised by just how many people in the public eye have suffered. Martin Sheen, Donald Sutherland, Joni Mitchell, GwenVerdon – and like Jim Marshall, Gwen was encouraged by her mother to dance as therapy for her polio-afflicted legs.

In Lucy’s case, I also wanted to give the idea of physical separation, a life lived on the attic floor of her parents’ home, her sense of abandonment, which leads to a fear of abandonment in later life. She calls herself the Out of Sight Out of Mind Child.

Why Polio?
At its peak in the 1940s and 50s, polio was the world’s most feared disease, paralysing or killing half a million people a year. Lucy contracted the disease just before the discovery of the vaccine, but even after the availability of the vaccine, people continued to die. In 1961 there were 707 acute cases and 61 deaths. And, of course, like the folk singer Donovan, a few unlucky children contracted the disease from the vaccine.

This isn’t the first time you’ve tackled the issue of survival.
No, I addressed it in These Fragile Things when my main character Judy faced her own near-death experience. In both books, there is the idea of a trade-off. You survive, but there’s a price to pay.

In My Counterfeit Self, Lucy isn’t the only survivor. Obsessed by her fear of nuclear bombs, she had been sold the line ‘the victims wouldn’t have known anything about it’. And of course, for many, that was true. But the final death toll at Hiroshima was double the estimated number of immediate casualties. Some survived only to die slow deaths, and then there were those who had to go on living, who had to rebuild.

You’ve mentioned Hiroshima. CND is the main political cause that Lucy throws herself behind. Why that choice?
Lucy is a rebel with a cause. Again, the timeframe of the novel made CND an obvious choice. Her early memories are of war. Fear that there was going to be a third world war permeated her adolescence and then 1956 happened, the year in which so many people were spurred into action because the government seemed determined to drag the country into war with Egypt over the Suez Canal. CND is one of the few causes that has remained in the news. Whichever your viewpoint, feelings tend to run high. I must admit, until I started my research for this novel, I was totally unaware of the plight of the British atomic veterans who suffered injury as a result of taking part in peacetime nuclear testing. I should point out that there isn’t a direct link between CND and the atomic veterans, many of whom are pro the nuclear deterrent. But the fact that our veterans remain uncompensated seems very unjust. Given the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I refuse to believe that the risk of likely injury wasn’t foreseeable. I felt that the atomic veteran’s cause was something Lucy would throw herself behind unreservedly. And I took my steer from a Yeats quote that says it takes fifty years for a poet to influence an issue.

You also focus on the treatment of women at this critical moment in history. Why was that important to you?
It was impossible to skirt around it. I read about Carol Ann Duffy’s complaints about old-school poets groping young female poets and the sense of entitlement they had. When I think how things were when I first went out to work, I can’t believe how little I challenged that sense of entitlement. There were certain men you were warned not to get in a lift with (invariably older, invariably management, so there was no one to complain to). On the other hand, these were men you didn’t want to meet in the stair well. So you had the choice. The lift or the stair well. The lift was quicker. You took the lift. That was how it was. But this was the mid-eighties. You only have to watch a film like Twins - something considered to be family entertainment - to see that it was thought acceptable to ask a woman to dance and then grab her arse.

Arse-grabbing aside, at the time there was an inclination to treat work produced by women differently from work produced by their male counterparts. I read an article about the poet Stevie Smith recently. There was talk of her cropped hair, baleful expression, little-girl dresses. We were told she was dotty, batty, silly, odd, childish, droll, or “fausse-naïve” (Philip Larkin’s term). It’s difficult to imagine these descriptions being applied to a man. But the article goes a step further. Readers, we are told, are ‘reluctant to think of her as a professional poet, more as an amateur folk artist, a hit-or-miss ingénue (or enfant terrible).’ (Ouch!)

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1-bsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos.


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