Thursday, April 25, 2013

I'm repeating myself, but JK Rowling's CASUAL VACANCY holds up. So there.

Would you believe I'm still getting email and comments about my CASUAL VACANCY review? Seems like it bears repeating, and I'd love to hear what others think. Also, I'm recycling because I've been reading like a fiend but haven't had a good hair day on which to record reviews lately. (Actually, I'm working on my bookstore and writing a memoir with a really wonderful ghostwriting client.) Anyway, here's this, and having had some time to think about it, I still feel the same way.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beneath Bone Lake an Amazon Daily Deal

It's always gratifying when readers respond to a story of the heart such as my romantic thriller, Beneath Bone Lake. But it feels totally miraculous when the book, first put out by the teetering (and now defunct) Dorchester Publishing to very little fanfare and now picked up by Amazon's Montlake imprint, strikes a chord several years after its initial release.

Returning from Iraq, where she's been working as a contract driver, young widow Ruby Monroe can think of nothing but reuniting with the little girl she's sacrificed a year of her life to provide for. But when Zoe and Ruby's sister, who's been caring for the child, turn up missing and Ruby finds their house in flames, she begins to suspect she's brought the war home with her...and she'll stop at nothing to win the most important battle of her life, even if it means trusting the one man she's been taught to fear.

With the Kindle edition priced at only $0.99 through the end of the month and sales rankings breaking Amazon's Top 100, Beneath Bone Lake is the story of how war devastates everyday families when it's fought for profit. Pick yours up today, or if you'd prefer paper, wait until June, when a brand new print edition will be released.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Relentless Protector a Finalist

Few things are more fun than sharing good news, and, happily, I have some to pass along this morning. Relentless Protector (Harlequin Intrigue, 9/2013) has been named a finalist for the National Readers Choice Awards Contemporary Series Adventure/Suspense category. (Click through for the full list of finalists.)

Congratulations and good luck to all the finalists. I'm thrilled to be among you.

Winners will be announced this July at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta.

Friday, April 19, 2013

THE HURRICANE LOVER is "a powerful book that deserves to be read"

This week, Catriona Troth interviews author Joni Rodgers on the Triskele Books blog and reviews The Hurricane Lover:

"There is a filmic quality to the writing that means that the book played out in my mind in a series of vivid images. Rodgers has an ear, too, for the rich language of the Louisiana: colourful, gutsy and laced with Old French... 
The book has an undoubted political edge. It’s hard to miss the deep underlying anger at the woefully inadequate response to the hurricane. It comes through in Corbin’s railing against head-in-the-sand attitude of the authorities, and also in the verbatim reproduction, as chapter headings, of published emails to and from the Head of FEMA – the organisation charged with preparing for and coping with the disaster. Yet Rodgers avoids polemic by giving the ‘opposition’ their own rounded, sympathetic characters. 
This is a powerful book that deserves to be read both for the yarn it spins and for the real-life story it uncovers. Highly Recommended.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

In the Houston Area? Come Meet Barbara Taylor Sissel at Barnes & Noble This Friday

If you're in the Houston area this Friday, April 12th, don't miss the chance to meet BtO's very own Barbara Taylor Sissel, signing her breathtaking new novel, Evidence of Life (MIRA books) at Barnes & Noble Champions at 5303 FM 1960 West, Houston, TX 77069, 281-631-0681 beginning at 7:00 PM.

There'll be a reading, an open coffee bar, and authors a-plenty if you're interested in chatting.

Here's a blurb from Barbara's book, which I've read and loved:

On the last ordinary day of her life, Abby Bennett feels like the luckiest woman alive. But everyone knows that luck doesn't last forever… As her husband, Nick, and daughter, Lindsey, embark on a weekend camping trip to the Texas Hill Country, Abby looks forward to having some quiet time to herself. She braids Lindsey's hair, reminds Nick to drive safely and kisses them both goodbye. For a brief moment, Abby thinks she has it all—a perfect marriage, a perfect life—until a devastating storm rips through the region, and her family vanishes without a trace.

When Nick and Lindsey are presumed dead, lost in the raging waters, Abby refuses to give up hope. Consumed by grief and clinging to her belief that her family is still alive, she sets out to find them. But as disturbing clues begin to surface, Abby realizes that the truth may be far more sinister than she imagined. Soon she finds herself caught in a current of lies that threaten to unhinge her and challenge everything she once believed about her marriage and family.

With a voice that resonates with stunning clarity, Barbara Taylor Sissel delivers a taut and chilling mystery about a mother's love, a wife's obsession and the invisible fractures that can shatter a family.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Storage Wars for the reading man

Long before there was a TV show about it, Gary shared with me the startling news that if a storage unit is abandoned by the drug lord or dead person or illegal alien or otherwise tragic figure who leased it, the contents are auctioned off after a certain period, and any enterprising or morbidly curious individual who shows up can purchase the contents, usually for a relative pittance. The catch is that you may not cross the threshold until you are declared the winning bidder. You may only survey the stacks from the doorway. It’s a grab bag gold mine for flea market moguls who see dollar signs on every forsaken kitchen chair and for novelists who see a human head in every Rubbermaid bin. I was so there.

Following the storage facility manager down the long row of padlocked steel doors, Gary and I quickly fell in with an interesting assortment of auction regulars. An eighty-nine-year old man regaled us with stories of WWII. A cadre of aggressive yard sale mavens were dubbed the Banger Sisters. A young, African American version of Indiana Jones told us, "I make a better than good living buying and selling these units. I have an uncanny knack for guessing what’s inside the unmarked boxes."

“Ever stumble on anything bizarre?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” he said darkly.

I totally wanted to know. “Dead bodies? Drug money?”

“Nothing that exciting. Cremains. You know. A cremated person. Like in a big jar or a plastic box from the funeral home. Some kinky stuff. Once I found a stack of construction grade windows under an old shower curtain.” He brightened with the memory. “Turned them over for twenty-five hundred bucks.”

The manager raised the door on the next unit up for bid. It was empty except for a futon bed with a broken steel frame and visibly crawling mattress next to seven large Rubbermaid bins bound with duct tape.

"Meh," said one of the Banger Sisters. "Five dollars."

“Gary,” I whispered, “if ever there was a human head in a storage unit, I am looking directly at it.”

He gave me the Easter Island face and said, “Do not bid.”

“Ten dollars,” said the old soldier.

“Fifteen,” called the Banger Sister.

“What do you think is in the bins?” I asked Indie the Uncanny.

He squinted, divining for a moment, then said, “Books.”

“Twenty-five dollars!” I shouted.

The Banger Sisters gave me the stink eye. Gary huffed something Cramdenesque. Who cares? The unit was declared mine!

We hoisted the heavy bins into our truck, guiltily offloaded the wildlife infested futon in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant (the other catch is that you have to leave the unit and empty and clean swept) and spirited our treasure trove home to the garage. I slashed the duct tape on the first bin, which yielded a disappointing selection of dusty candles, cheesy inspirational plaques, and pedestrian tchotchkes, the sort of suburban relics that travel from Dollar General to your Aunt Myrtle’s curio shelf to the church yard sale and so on until the Littlest Angel’s head falls off and rolls under the sofa into the landfills of forever.

“Next time, let’s light the twenty-five dollars on fire and drop it down a sewer grate,” Gary said. "Not as many venomous spiders involved.”

But as predicted, the second bin and the five that followed were filled with books. Mostly hardcover. Lots of politico and satire. Hunter S. Thompson, PJ O'Rourke. Tons of terrific fiction. Thomas McGuane, Larry McMurtry’s older, better stuff.

"Bingo!" First edition hardcovers of Cold Mountain and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of my all-time favorites. "Shaboom!"

I was a big ol' Banger Sister about it, efficiently parsing stacks for sale and keeps. By the middle of the third bin, the story began to emerge. Tom Clancy told me this was a man's book shelf. A thinking man, Carlos Casteneda added. As I sorted the stout library of reference books, including a heavily annotated Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, I realized that this man was (or wanted to be) a writer.

The next bin contained a less interesting assortment of Chicken Soup for the Soul spinoffs and self-help books, including... oh, dear... The Anger Workbook for Women.

The last bin was mostly literary fiction from a variety of brave small and micro presses. I smiled to see a few friends of mine. These were books you have to search for, not books that come easy. Wry, biting, off-the-main-road books. Quietly profound books that so rarely get the attention they deserve.

Marking his place toward the end of a William Gay novel was the last page of a letter from the reading man's mother, pledging whatever help and support she could offer "now that you're handling the boys on your own." A telling PS urged him to reconsider his choice to enroll one of his sons in a program for gifted students. "Sometimes it's better to fit in with the regular crowd," she said, "rather than try to stand out." A nice steamy cup of Chickenshit for the Soul.

At the bottom of the bin, there was a 1950s children's book about park rangers in Yellowstone and three editions of a high school literary quarterly circa 1971 to 1973. I flipped through the dry pages, looking for the man's name, and I found his byline beneath a few heartfelt but uncompromisingly guy-like poems. The primary contributor to the lit mag was a girl who appeared to be in a very Janis Ian state of mind, which was so me at seventeen.

The last book in the last bin was a little hardcover with a swirladelic orange and magenta cover: India Love Poems published in 1967 by Peter Pauper Press. It surprised me not at all to find that it had been given to him by Janis Ian girl. "Because it seems to me that you brim with love," the inscription said.

She urged him to pursue his dream, expressed certainty that he would someday write important books, and wished him a life filled with peace and joy. The binding of the little book had been gnawed by mice, the pages rippled by moisture and heat. It was the only volume in the entire collection that was in less than immaculate condition, the only one that showed signs of a fearless journey.

So I guess there was a human head in there after all. And a human heart. Evidence of hope and wreckage, of memory and moving on. A lesson in why we keep things. Or don't. Or can't.

I made a conscious decision not to track this man down. His life was his life and none of my business. If he's dead, it's not okay for me to co-opt that tragedy, and if he's alive, it's not my place to Google him up or message him on Facebook, saying, "Here, take back these things you left behind."

It was tempting, though. I'd fallen in love with him a little. Sitting on my garage floor, holding his reverently cared for copy of The Bushwhacked Piano, I cried for the reading man. I too wish him peace and joy.

Friday, April 05, 2013

When Midnight Comes: Friday Finds: eBooks For Under A Dollar

When Midnight Comes: Friday Finds: eBooks For Under A Dollar

Thanks so much to author Cassandra Curtis for featuring my bayou thriller, Beneath Bone Lake as her Friday Find, which points readers to eBooks for under a buck. Amazon's Montlake, which has taken over the book's publication from the defunct Dorchester, is offering this dark ride of a romantic suspense at this special sale price, but I'll warn you, it's unlikely to stay there long.

Read more about BBL at Cassandra's site, and while you're over at Amazon, please be sure to check out her erotic romance!

Joni reviews THE MAPMAKER'S WAR by Ronlyn Domingue: "A challenging, magical, wonderful work."

Really enjoyed Dr. KatPat's interview with author Ronlyn Domingue this week, and I highly recommend this unusual novel of love and conflict. What a challenging, magical, wonderful work. The voice and style are unlike anything I've ever read - which might speedbump some readers, but for me, it's a strength. The universal aspects of war and love ring painfully, beautifully true.

I definitely want to read more of this talented author's work. Meanwhile, I'll be posting more video reviews here on BoxOcto from the Stella's Umbrella review blog, I'll Have What She's Reading. Let me know in the comments if you agree, disagree, like my dog, think I should get a cat, made a huge mistake painting my kitchen cabinets red or any other opinion you'd like to vent! (And as always, I want to know what you're reading!)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Sprinting with the Muse--without Tripping Over Your Own Self Doubt in the Process

Less than a month ago, I received an offer for a project so intriguing, I decided to ignore the fact that my brain was foaming at the mouth and raving that it was impossible to get it done by the insanely-short deadline. But, hey, I'm a writer. Ignoring reality comes easily to me.

Ignoring fear and self-imposed limitations, on the other hand, is quite another story.

I've written or contracted for a couple dozen books, which might make me seem prolific by most writers' standards. But the truth is, my daily output is quite low, usually less than a thousand words, and a spend a lot of time endlessly putzing with and rewriting even those. I'm steady about it, though, usually writing six days a week, sometimes seven, so somehow I plod along to meet my deadlines.

This time, however, there could be no plodding. There could only be a full-bore frontal assault, and there was also zero (and I mean zero) time for self-doubt. I had no time to listen to resistance hissing in my ear that a good story couldn't come that quickly, that the resulting efforts would be so messed up, a skilled team of editors couldn't possibly save it. I had no time to call myself a hack or second guess the snap decision I'd made. I could only act on it, and by act I'm talking butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard, and writing, writing, writing rather than telling myself that Facebook and its evil time-stealing games are a valid way to relax until the muse showed up.

Without the luxury of waiting around for the fickle bi-atch to put in an appearance, I forced her to catch up to me instead. And wouldn't you know she came running to do just that. I found that the faster I wrote, the more confident and assured my writing became, the story building on itself more quickly and fluidly than any of the books I've wept and struggled and slaved over for far longer.

The end result was over 36,000 words written in just under three weeks, the final 12K written in a white-hot two-day marathon which was possibly the finest, most pleasurable writing-in-flow experience of my life. You know, that writer's high you get when the rest of the world vanishes, time stops in its tracks, and there's only the story that's spilling like an ink pot through your brain and dripping straight down through your fingertips?

Better yet, I loved every word of that story and feel one hundred percent confident the readers, too, are going to love it. (Apparently, my mental voices of doom and second guessing haven't yet caught up with the muse and I on this trip. They will, I'm sure, but until then, I'm enjoying their rare silence.)

Though I can't yet talk about this "secret" project, you can be sure I will be at a later date. Until then, I'll be thinking--and I hope you will as well--about all we can accomplish when we stop beating ourselves up...and the simple joy of running in a wild sprint alongside of our muses.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Still hopeful for her "little beastie" -- Part Two of our interview with novelist Ronlyn Domingue

As promised, today we continue talking with The Mapmaker's War author Ronlyn Domingue.  Here Ronlyn tells us about the fascinating journey behind the novel's construction and dishes about what's happening with the book now in the wake of the Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble contract dispute.

BtO:  You worked on the seeds for The Mapmaker's War for a long time, resulting in the "birth" of not one, but two novels.  Can you describe this process a little for us, and how you felt when you realized that you were really dealing with "twin" novels?

The genesis of this book actually began many years ago. I wrote an alternative assignment for a literature class, a feminist fairy tale about a young girl who lived in a kingdom where women weren’t taught to read. I thought it would make a good novel, so I tried to make a go of it after college, although I had no clue what I was doing. Before I finally shelved it, a subplot emerged about a woman named Aoife who had some distant tie to the narrator of the novel.

Skip forward about 10 years. The project I was working on after my first novel’s publication simply didn’t have much energy. One day, I was procrastinating and found the files for that novel buried in a closet. I started to read the old text. Some of the characters were still interesting to me, and a few sentences weren’t too poorly written. And then, like some strange science experiment, the story transformed within two days. That’s to say, what I had originally planned to write was no longer what this book would become.

And that, too, transformed. The Mapmaker’s War wasn’t supposed to be a novel. I expected Aoife’s subplot to be a small part of an epic story. But in February 2011, during a period when I was concentrating on her alone, I suddenly realized that I was writing two books at once—Aoife’s own and the story to which she was connected. At first, I was frustrated, quite frankly. I hardly felt I had much control over this project to begin with, and then it decided it would be two separate books, requiring a great deal of attention to how Aoife’s story and the other one would work in relationship. Then later, I found peace with it. There was no way I could argue with what the books wanted. Aoife had to have her own say, in her own words. To limit her as a subplot would have been an injustice to the message she ultimately brings. I’m glad it turned out this way.

BtO:  I was dismayed when I heard that The Mapmaker's War was one of the novels caught in the contract dispute between Barnes and Noble and Simon & Schuster. What can readers do about it?  How are you dealing with it?

What’s the proverb…May you live in interesting times? It’s definitely an interesting time to be a writer. For those who aren’t familiar with what’s going on, since late January, Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster have been in negotiations over terms, from the prices at which books are bought from the publisher to the fees S&S pays for special placement of new titles in stores. I’m among dozens of S&S authors, from debut novelists to mega-bestsellers, whose new books were released this spring. Until this matter is settled, few, if any, copies of our books will be physically available in the stores and none of them will be prominently displayed on the front tables and out-facing shelves. There’s a slight exception for big bestselling authors, but even their stock is limited. This is a really tough situation for everyone involved. We’re all losing something right now—B&N, S&S, and the authors.

What can readers do? Buy our books wherever they choose to and tell their friends about our books. Word of mouth support is what really matters here—and these days, that means readers telling other readers through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, blogs, and good old-fashioned e-mails. Posting reviews online is a big help, too. 

How am I dealing with it? I spent five years on The Mapmaker’s War. It pushed me to my limits as a writer and human being. I believe in this book and its message of peace and hope, which is why I’m not giving up on it. I’m networking with other writers, using social media to the extent that I can, appealing to my readers to get the word out, and reaching out to independent bookstores that are carrying the book. The support I’ve received from fellow authors has been a tremendous source of strength and comfort. I remain hopeful for my little beastie.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Gender Roles and Speculative Settings: 3 Qs for Ronlyn Domingue

Helllooooo fellow blogmates!  I know, I know, it's been awhile!  I am thrilled to bring to you novelist Ronlyn Domingue, whose first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, I fell in love with so much I just had to meet her and interview her about it.   Ronlyn's new novel, The Mapmaker's War, accounts the life of an exiled mapmaker who must come to terms with the home and children she was forced to leave behind.  Ronlyn was gracious enough to take the time to talk with us only a couple of days before she comes here to Houston to read at Blue Willow bookshop.  As usual, her answers were thought provoking and meaty--so much so, in fact, that I decided to break this interview in two parts.  In this one, she tells us how she deals with gender roles in all of her book-length work so far, and in part two, she discusses the novel's journey from the germ of its initial conception over 10 years ago to the final product that she will be reading from Thursday night.

BtO: Both The Mapmaker's War and your first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, feature a strong female protagonist who rebels against the gender constraints of her world. Is this a theme in all of your work? How different was it casting this theme in a speculative setting versus an historical one?

I deal with gender issues in all of my book-length work so far. It’s not limited to women, though. Men are just as shaped and confined by their gender as women, but the benefit of privilege takes the edge off a bit, or so I assume.

It wasn’t especially difficult to contend with gender in a speculative setting. The Mercy of Thin Air was grounded in periods I could objectively research, the 1920s and recent contemporary times, while The Mapmaker’s War takes place in an era that feels like the Dark Ages. Regardless, I’m still dealing with characters out of step with their sociopolitical environments. On some level, I make the assumption that women have questioned their roles in families and society since our earliest human beginnings. I guess that there were women who secretly felt they were capable of more, wanted to do more, than what they were allowed because of their gender or class. Few ever found a way to break from those roles or to redefine them. Only within the last 100 years or so have we seen a dramatic shift in women’s opportunities in some parts of the world, and there are billions of women waiting to experience the same thing—education, freedom of choice in marriage and childbearing, employment, property rights.

That leads me to Aoife (pronounced ee-fah), the narrator of The Mapmaker’s War. She’s born into a noble family, which would allow her more leisure than labor throughout her life. But she wants more. She has a deep inner sense of her capabilities as well as clarity about what she doesn’t want for herself. As driven as she is, there’s a point in her life in which she realizes her accomplishments aren’t due to her own talents. She writes, “You were not so different from other women. Your life depended on the favor of men. Your freedom was an illusion that you dared to dream.” This is relevant in our time, here and now, especially when we consider who holds political power and what can be done with the passage of a few laws.

Tomorrow, I'll post part two of this interview, where Ronlyn will discuss the story behind The Mapmaker's War as well as how she is handling life "in interesting times" as one of the authors with a novel caught in the contract dispute between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster


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