Author Interview: M. Clifford (part two)

Welcome back to my continued conversation with Michael Clifford, author of The Book and The Muse of Edouard Manet!  (In case you missed it, read Part One of this interview here!)

In The Muse of Eduoard Manet, your descriptions of art conservation and authentication appear really well researched. Is this a subject you studied for composing Muse or did you already have background knowledge?

One of the most important elements for me as an author is to ensure believability and character. Emily Porterfield works in the art conservation department? Then I work in the conservation department. The Art Institute granted me a special privilege in 2005 to allow me a chance to tour their conservation labs and offices - including the exam room with the x-ray machine! I asked them thousands of questions, got to see them working on paintings up close and modeled my written description of the space around their laboratory. After another five months of research, I felt I knew enough (if not too much) to make her character as true as she could be. I plan to always give my characters such accuracy. As a reader, I absolutely hate when I can tell that the topic is poorly researched or simply embellished upon because, "hey…it's fiction." Sorry dude. If you're writing on the topic, you better be well-read on the topic.

The Book explores the advantages of digital readers but also extols the virtues of the printed word. Do you have a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or eReader or do you prefer traditional books?

I am definitely one to embrace change. I love change. As a novelist, my mind runs in different directions when being introduced to change. The moment I noticed someone reading a book from a Palm Pilot ten years ago, I immediately envisioned the government altering the text without the reader being aware. BUT the technology is great and the convenience is staggering. I think that if I had too many books to choose from I may start a book and then want to jump to another before I'm finished. Knowing my tendencies, I'm sticking to paper for now. I do love paper books. There are a lot of us out there that still love reading from paper books. The way they smell. How, like us, they grow old and worn over time. The cover gets wrinkled. The pages dog-eared. I obviously touch on this topic in The Book and romanticize it for those who still love paper, but in reality...I don't really see a future without both paper and digital. I'm hoping my book will play a role in keeping paper books around, but I can't see bookstores going away. Used or New.

What projects are you currently working on?

The second and third novel in the Time Chronicles series, which I've recently decided to make a nine part set throughout the duration of my writing career. The first three cover Emily's life. The second three, her daughter's life and the final three span her grandson's life. I'm already intending on losing years of my own life to research, as it took me two years for Muse and another two-plus for The Opera Ghost and The Vindication of the Ripper. So don't wait until I'm finished with them to start the series...

My current project is called The Felinian which will be out in the fall. To put it plainly, I've created a new monster. There once was a time when a vampire was a simple ideas. And then Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. I'm hoping the same will be said of The Felinian. When people hear that it's a book about a "cat-woman" they say to themselves that the monster already exists. Sorry to disappoint, but not in the way I created her. The Felinian is a girl who discovers that she has powers. Just as vampires, she has a need to feed...on boys. And like her counterpart, the werewolf, these needs arise during the cycles of the moon, the tides and the circulating seasons. "Cat woman" has been heard of before. But the being I created is vastly different in all aspects. Comparing the batman-style "cat woman" to a Felinian is like comparing Count Chocula to Count Dracula.

I say it's a "new monster" because I give her a gothic backstory. There is a deep mythology that plays with the idea that they've existed for thousands of years. The 4-book saga takes place over the course of her four years in high school with a deeply Halloweenian setting. It's interesting to engage with this high school dynamic and the social awkwardness that comes with those years, following someone who is different and who stands out from the crowd. As puberty sets in and she discovers that she is a monster, we see why this change would make her life a nightmare - including the introduction of older Felinian, which gives me license to show different times in history. The Felinian plays to that alluring eternal life aspect that readers are drawn to with Vampires. Vampires never age and the same goes for Felinian - until they lose one of their nine lives. At which point they age dramatically. What's interesting is that you can have a 14 year old girl who looks 100 years old and vice versa. Sorry, I know I'm gabbing on about it, but it's what I'm working on right now and I'm excited!

The story is fantasy, but there is a lot of history and suspense and it's darker than you would expect. But not inappropriately dark for a high school novel. It's young adult but will be enjoyed by the older reader in the way that Stephanie Meyer's books are. I know that the market is flooded with Vampire stories so I decided that, rather than add to the pile, I wanted to create my own new pile. Just like all these YA novels that take place throughout a school year - each book is self-contained and enjoyable on its own and will relate to the entire series. I notice how much young adults are reading books like Harry Potter and Twilight. My novel is fresh, but not completely dissimilar to what one can find in the young adult section of the bookstore. I came up with this book because I wanted to encourage this desire to read. This sort of answers the next question, but most of the English teachers I've been speaking to over the past months share the same sentiment that young students aren't reading. I want to help them out anyway I can. To provide another outlet, catch young interest and encourage them to become life-long readers.

Anything else you'd like to share? Where can we find out more about your upcoming work, appearances, etc?

In the fall, I'll be having a tour of high schools across the US. If you teach English, send me a line and I'll try to fit you into the tour schedule!

My thanks to Lisa for the opportunity.  Please look me up for more information, to ask me questions about my books and find out what's coming next:

Author Interview: M. Clifford (part one)

I met a lot of people in college and little did I know that one of them (so far!) would emerge an author writing books that would blow my mind.  Accepted into the quarter-finals - top 250 submissions - of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, The Book was met with rave reviews.  Equally impressive is The Muse of Eduard Manet, the first in an exciting trilogy called the Time Chronicles of Emily Porterfield.  It is my honor to present a two-part interview with author Michael Clifford.

*applause, applause*

Thanks for letting me interview you, Mike!

In The Book you explore a dystopian version of Chicago while The Muse of Edouard Manet is historical fiction with a bit of time travel. Was either genre more enjoyable to write?

I'll always have better memories associated with The Muse of Edouard Manet. It was my first *real* novel and so, I took my time. The Book was a journey but there was a lot of sadness associated with it. I was mourning my father and knew exactly what would happen in the novel as it progressed. When I started Muse, I was at a great stage in my life and there were a lot of places I wanted to explore in the first draft. Each day was enjoyable. I researched for two years to understand 19th century Paris and became an expert on a lot of topics - Impressionism, Edouard Manet, art conservation, Einstein's theories on time travel, etc. My wife was amazed, seeing me captivated by scholarly articles. But although my book is fantasy, it was important for me to keep the story as realistic as possible. If there was time travel, it had to be consistent and self-sustained. So much of that genre is built on rules that don't make sense. Rules that the author invented for the sake of the plot. It should be the other way around. My book allows those people, the logically-distracted reader, to finally exhale and give time travel a chance again.

Muse is Mainstream Fiction, so it covers a lot of genres - Romance, Fantasy, History, Science, Murder, Suspense, Mystery, Art History and much more. The best aspect is that (to borrow from Gaston Leroux, author of The Phantom of the Opera), my novel is "Faction". Rather than create the character of Edouard Manet, I studied the real person, devouring every book I could find on him. I then recreated him in full and molded my story around HIS character. Just as I had used the details in his paintings, I did not construct something within the story that didn't already exist. I think rules are important with writing. I make my own and stick to them.

Mainstream Fiction with daubs of Faction is more enjoyable to write because it's like going to a huge barbecue where there's all these different grills going and food being passed and so many differently flavors to savor and tastes to enjoy. Everything you could want and fit awkwardly on a paper plate, right before your eyes. With care, the meal can be amazing. These elements gain prominence with each subsequent novel. Muse was initially written to be a stand alone piece, but my wife wouldn't have it! She wanted to know what happened to the characters and how time travel could affect them all. Thus The Time Chronicles of Emily Porterfield was outlined and written.

I'm sure you've heard it a lot, but your wife is right! I couldn't agree with her more, and I can't wait to read the next installments of Emily's story.  :)  But moving on, are your reading tastes as varied as your writing?

I'll read anything. Especially if it's an audio book. I am very aural in nature and I focus better with an audio book. When I read from a book, I hear my own voice. It's good for an author to hear voices different than their own (did I just write that?). Silly. I usually try to get through 8-10 books a summer, but if it's audio and I'm working out, sky is the limit.

Which authors would you say have most inspired or influenced your writing?

Michael Crichton. He mixes science, mystery, intrigue and deep character-driven plots. He also weaves fact with fiction. After reading Jurassic Park as a kid, I watched an interview where he said that scientists were close to discovering the ability to clone dinosaur cells. I remember thinking, "How cool! This story could actually happen?" If you look at Muse and The Book, you'll see that (within the framework of the story) I set them up to be "possible". More rules, I guess.

The Book contains multiple references and quotes from other books and literary sources. At what point in constructing the novel did you gather them? Were there any that you wanted to include that were left out?

I knew I wanted some of the quotes when I started. Books that had an interesting past, regardless of their content. There also were serendipitous times during the writing process. Once, I played "book roulette". I went to the library, walked the aisles, pulled out a book by W. Somerset Maugham with a relatable title and opened it up. The first page I saw had someone reading a book. The quote was perfect, so I used it. I always knew that I was going to use The Catcher in the Rye, because I wanted my main character to get his name from a once well-read novel. A surly critic once told me that they didn't want to read a book about a character whose name is Holden with the surname of the author. I chose to give Holden my last name because he is a combination of me and my father (who is also named Michael). My father passed away just before I was about to write The Book, so it's sort of a "grieving process" novel. After his funeral, I dove into the favorite books of my youth which included Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. From day one I knew Fahrenheit would be included because I wanted my main character to share the same experience that Bradbury had given his - to be surreptitiously reading a forbidden book in the private comforts of his home. I thought that by using Bradbury's novel, it would be a nice homage to the man. There are other reasons I included some of my quotes, but I'm leaving some questions unanswered! Other quotes left out? I wanted to include some Michael Crichton and Stephen King, but I didn't want too many quotes cluttering the narrative.

Pop quiz - in one of the quotes I included, there is a single word that is different than the original text. And there's also one novel I included that doesn't exist.

On that note, I'm going to go do some searching through my copy of The Book, and try to come up with an answer! Part two of this interview will be coming soon!

The Muse of Edouard Manet

Living near Chicago is something that I rarely appreciate as the gift it is in my life.  One of my favorite high school field trips was for my senior year Humanities class in which we took an architectural walking tour of the city and ended up at one of my favorite museums, The Art Institute of Chicago.  With the iconic lions gracing the stairs on either side of the entrance, the outside of the building is gorgeous but displays only a tiny fraction of the priceless beauty inside.

 It's a place I could lose myself in for hours on end, and though I haven't been there in several years (a fact I hope to remedy this summer) I recently encountered a book that transported me there and reminded me how much I love the place and the stunning works contained inside.  The Muse of Edouard Manet is the second that I have read, but the first written, by my college friend Michael Clifford.

A conservationist at The Art Institute of Chicago, Emily Porterfield has always been attracted to the works of pre-Impressionist painter Eduoard Manet. When a Manet exhibit is scheduled to display at the Art Institute, Emily x-ray's one of the paintings and discovers a hidden letter written in lead white paint beneath the artist's scene. The discovery could change her career, but her life is even more drastically altered when, upon falling asleep after reading the letter, she is mystically transported to Paris in the 1870's and meets the artist himself.

Swept up in the amazing impossibility of time travel while dreaming, Emily finds herself getting to know, and falling in love with, the man whose work she would adore a hundred fifty years in the future. However, in the present, she faces the discovery of three "new" Manet paintings, seemingly lost during World War II. Whether the paintings are real or forged is a secret that someone might just be willing to kill to keep.

M. Clifford's work is a stunning blend of genres - science fiction and history, romance and mystery. The details of Edouard Manet's life and work are as intricate and precise as the expertly researched descriptions of modern day art authentication and preservation. Sweetly romantic, action-driven, and emotional, with a mix of information, humor and suspense, The Muse of Edouard Manet is a literary work of art!

The book tells a succinct story with a satisfying conclusion, but with writing this vivid and characters so enjoyable, readers will be eager for the soon to be released second and third books in The Time Chronicles of Emily Porterfield!

Along with being a really enjoyable read, this book reminded me how much I love artwork.  I actually took an Art History class in college and one of my fondest memories was actually being given the assignment to spend time in the art museum.  One of my favorite works was actually not a painting but a sculpture.  It's a somewhat creepy and disturbing work - image at left - called "The Blind" by Lorado Taft. (..but that's a rather long story.)  Do you consider yourself an art fan?  Do you have a favorite painting?  Van Gogh's Starry NightThe Scream by Munch?  Seurat's Sunday Afternoon?  I'd love to hear comments about what inspires or awes you!

And watch for my two-part interview with M. Clifford, coming this week!

"Remarkable Creation of Man"

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man:
nothing else that he builds ever lasts - monuments fall; nations perish;
civilizations grow old and die out; new races build others.
But in the world of books are volumes that have seen
this happen again and again and yet live on.
Still young, still as fresh as the day they were written,
still telling men's hearts, of the hearts of men centuries dead."
~ Clarence Day

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Gaile Parkin cooks up a wonderful novel with Baking Cakes in Kigali. As suggested by the title, the story takes place in the heart of Rwanda, but rather than returning to the horrific days of the genocide, Parkin's story is set in present day with a more united Rwanda whose people are healing from - though still haunted by - their tumultuous past.

Told through the life of Angel Tungaraza, a cake baker, multiple side characters come and go in the novel ordering cakes for various festivities and relating their stories and conflicts along the way. The vignette-like chapters are woven together with Angel's cooking and she becomes an epicenter for positive changes in the lives of those around her.

Wonderfully charming and easy to relate to, Angel is true to her name. Though her tea, desserts and sage advice provide growth, change and comfort for her clients, the story is equally about her personal journey. As an older woman raising her grandchildren as her own after the deaths of her son and daughter, Angel has her own steps of grief and healing to work through. The story provides a wonderful show of the strength that lies in community and family, traditional or otherwise.

Happy Father's Day / Pride and Prejudice

In May I gave a shoutout on Mother's Day to all the wonderful women in my life, and I'd like to do the same today for the men.  Whether you have children or not, here's to all the great men out there - fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, boyfriends, godfathers, and anyone else who's ever been a part of a bromance - wishing you a very special day!  My father is a huge blessing in my life and I probably owe a great deal of my nerdiness and my love of science-fiction to him.  My parents were both big readers and their eclectic tastes have led me to appreciate many different genres, and I think if they were both into the same authors, my reading tastes might not be as widespread as they are today.

I was trying to think of a good book to tie into talking about Father's Day and it occurred to me that two of my all time favorite novels - arguably two of the best books ever written - both contain key characters that are fathers.  In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, though the story revolves mostly around Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth's father, Mr. Bennet finds himself at the epicenter of many key plot points.  He's not an ideal father figure and seems to take great pleasure in mocking his wife and youngest daughters, but he does have a wonderful relationship of respect with his eldest daughters: Jane and Elizabeth (Lizzy).  Austen also managed to provide Mr. Bennet with some of the wittiest dialog and smartest lines of the entire book.  In one of my favorite scenes, Lizzy - much to the chagrin of Mrs. Bennet - rejects a proposal of marriage from Mr. Collins.  Mrs. Bennet, in quite a tither, tries to persuade her husband to intercede.

She would not give [Mr. Collins] time to reply, but hurrying instantly to her husband, called out as she entered the library, "Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her."

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.  "I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."

"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless business."

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."
 ~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice excerpt from Chapter 20

I suppose it's a much funnier line in the context of the novel, but essentially Mr. Bennet realizes what a bad match Mr. Collins would be for Lizzy and this is the amusing way he makes his point known. 

I think I'll leave my other favorite fictional father as a guessing game!  I've already given the hint that he is featured in one of my all-time favorite books, a book that many people consider one of the best books ever written.

Guess away!

The Red Pyramid

From The Lightning Thief to The Last Olympian, last year I read through Rick Riordan's entire Percy Jackson series.  I've long been a fan of ancient civilizations so I enjoyed the modern take on Greek mythology, but I was even more excited to dig into The Red Pyramid, Riordan's newest book in which he brings a contemporary spin to another ancient culture.

Carter Kane has spent his life traveling with his Egyptologist father.  For Christmas, Carter and his father head to England to see Sadie, Carter's sister, who lives with her grandparents and only sees her dad and brother twice a year.  Their visit is drastically changed after a trip to the British Museum when Carter's father unleashes a spell that releases five ancient Egyptian gods into the world.  It's up to Sadie and Carter, with the help of some unlikely bodyguards, to stop Set, god of chaos, from destroying the world.  Along the way, they'll have to learn about their father's secret life of magic and the truth of their family heritage.

It's difficult not to draw a comparison between this first installment of The Kane Chronicles with Rick Riordan's hugely popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but although there are many similarities, The Red Pyramid is a unique and original tale.  This story was told from both Carter's and Sadie's perspectives and both narrators infuse the story with Riordan's signature humor - including witty chapter titles.  The book is filled with action and packed with details and information about Egyptian gods and mythology, encouraging learning alongside entertainment.  

I found the ending of the book to be interesting and unexpected and I'm very curious to read how The Kane Chronicles will continue in the future.  Riordan knows how to weave a great story and fans of his writing will definitely want to pick up this book.

Interestingly enough, I started The Red Pyramid last week when Chicago was in the throes of Stanley Cup fever.  I really enjoyed this story about the Kane family and their connection to magicians of ancient Egypt, and I  also had a smile on my face watching the final game of the hockey playoffs as - in overtime - the Blackhawks #88 scored the winning goal, a shot that only he and the Flyer's goalie saw go into the net, to bring Lord Stanley back to Chicago.  Who was this miracle shot maker?  Who was this Blackhawk winger with a touch of magic up his sleeve?

Why, it was Kane, of course!

(Image from The Hockey News)

A Vintage Affair

I have to admit that I'm a stickler for an intriguing cover.  Something eye-catching will almost always persuade me to read a description of a book with a title I might otherwise overlook.  So it was with A Vintage Affair - a novel I requested from Library Thing's Early Reviewers program earlier this year.  The title alone was one I may have easily dismissed but the cover caught my eye and the description definitely drew me in.  This was the first work I had read by author Isabel Wolff but it was a wonderful introduction to her writing.

Phoebe Swift, reeling after the loss of her childhood friend, leaves her prestigious job at Sotheby's auction house to open her own vintage dress shop. With a keen eye for fashion and an open ear for her customers, Phoebe has a talent for matching people with their ideal dress or accessories. While buying a collection of dresses from an elderly woman, Phoebe comes across a child's antique blue coat in pristine condition and the story behind the garment draws Phoebe into its owner's life. Phoebe soon discovers that only by revisiting the past can she hope to really move forward with her life.

A Vintage Affair was a wonderful book. Multiple story lines are woven together in tale that is as artistic and charming as the garments that provide an anchor to tie them together. The book is a clever mix of family drama, historical fiction, friendship, romance, and fashion. The characters are well-drawn and entirely believable and the supporting cast is equally as interesting as the heroine. Isabel Wolff has taken a couturier's eye in crafting every detail of this beautiful novel.

The author I was most reminded of while reading this work was Katherine Center, and if I had to choose a read-alike title to compare it to I would pick The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Isabel Wolff's A Vintage Affair is on sale next week, June 22, 2010.  Oddly enough, the Amazon page for this book shows a much different cover for this work (perhaps one is the UK cover and the other is the US edition?) and I much prefer the darker one.  How much do book covers influence your decision to read a book?  Can a great cover pull you to check out an average title?  How about vice versa?

(An Advance Reviewer's Copy of this book was provided through in exchange for a review; this review represents my honest and unbiased opinions about this work.)


Back when my hometown still had used bookstores, I remember picking out a fantasy novel with an intriguing title and a somewhat familiar author blazing across a cool two page cover - the front page is a two-tone scene with the top displaying a green hued city and below a black bar bearing the title is a sepia picture of a tunnel with the opening cut out to reveal a purple image of the torch lined tunnel on the interior page.  The author's name on the top read "National Bestseller Neil Gaiman" and when I first picked up the novel, the name struck a chord in my memory from a series of graphic novels I read in late high school and college. And across the black bar at the center of the cover lie ten letters in white font reading "Neverwhere".

The story is an urban fantasy of a man named Richard Mayhew who, after stopping to help an injured girl on the street, is pulled into an alternate reality in the world of London Below.  Gaiman's premise is built on the idea that many people in the ordinary London (London Above) have slipped through the cracks into London Below, an underworld of magic and mystery.  Here people can speak to rodents and pigeons and the various London Tube stations have identities of their own: there is an Earl in Earl's Court and there are Friars in Blackfriar's Station.  Richard's fate and chance of survival in London Below comes to depend on the girl he helped, a young woman named Door whose family has been killed, and her companions the Marquis de Carabas and the fierce warrior named Hunter.  Pursuing them all are the villains Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar - hitmen, who are not quite men, with an unknown employer.  And then there's the Beast of London.

I don't want to give too much away about this book, but I will say it's one of my all time favorite novels and the one which first enamored me to Neil Gaiman as a writer (I like his graphic novels, but I love his prose).  Early in chapter one, Gaiman introduces two main characters with the following passage:

"There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar's eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry.  Also, they look nothing at all alike."
~Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere p. 7

If that passage incites nothing more than a shoulder shrug from you, I'd recommend not bothering with Gaiman's work.  But if you're like me, you find it highly entertaining.  From the opening words, the reader imagines Gaiman is about to describe slight differences between the individuals.  He continues with some brilliant descriptive writing, revealing both physical and character traits, and closes the paragraph by completely overturning the reader's original perception.  And all of this is done amid a somewhat fearful and suspenseful chapter.  The juxtaposition of humor and darkness is something of a signature in Gaiman's work and I think this passage is a good snapshot of what much of his work contains. 

I read this book years ago, and I'm sure some people are wondering: why blog about it now? 

This weekend I had the opportunity to see a stage production of Neverwhere at Chicago's Lifeline Theatre.  Adapted for stage by Rob Kazlauric (who also takes on the role of Richard with a very believable Scottish accent) and directed by Paul Holmquist, the show follows the novel quite closely and does a wonderful job capturing the humor, adventure and excitement of the story.  The cast was magnificent and each character seemed to have walked right from the pages of Gaiman's work.  The sets, sound, lighting, music, makeup, costumes, puppets, and props were all pulled together with fabulous details, and the love of the source material was evident in every aspect of the production.  For those in the Chicagoland area - or those looking for a reason to take a Windy City vacation - I highly recommend seeing Neverwhere.  The show has been extended to July 18th, but tickets have been selling out, so if you're debating, don't delay.  I should note too that I really liked Lifeline Theatre as well.  They are a venue that specializes in literary adaptations and I'm a little ashamed to admit that this was my first visit - however, as their new season advertises The Moonstone and Watership Down, I certainly plan on returning!

Book Fests!

Well I don't know that I'll make it to either, but I want to put a quick spotlight on two Literary events this month for those in the Chicagoland area, featuring authors I've already blogged about!

The first is Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago June 12-13.  In the long list of authors, I noticed Heather Webber, Audrey Niffenegger and Wendy Lyn Watson.

For suburbanites, the second is Glen Elyn Book Fest on June 19 which will have M. Clifford selling and signing books from 10-1. 

Summer's a great time for reading and a great time for outdoor festivals, so if you're in the area be sure to check out one or both of these awesome events!

Author Interview: Amanda Flower

When I started this blog last month, I had something of a pipe dream of including author interviews amid my book reviews and literary quotations.  It is with great pleasure and excitement that I present my first of (hopefully!) many such author interviews.  My esteemed guest is Amanda Flower, author of a soon-to-be-released mystery novel that I really enjoyed Maid of Murder.

*Insert Applause Here*

First off Amanda, how did you get started writing mystery novels? Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I was a kid in the 1980s and early 1990s at the height of the Baby-sitters Club craze. I too was a huge fan of the series, and my dad would always buy the latest book for me when he was out grocery shopping. At some point, the author Ann M. Martin decided to start a companion series called the Baby-sitters Club Mysteries. The spinoff series had the characters I loved, but they were crime solvers. They found lost dogs, jewelry, and money. It was the mysteries I loved the most, and they started my love of the mystery genre. As a teen and then adult, I gravitated to the mystery section in my local library. When I decided to write my first novel, I knew it would be a mystery because the genre is what I most enjoy reading.

What authors would you say have inspired or influenced you?

I read many different kinds of mysteries, not just funny cozies like I write. One author I particularly love is Nevada Barr. Now, our writing styles have nothing in common aside from the fact that we both write mysteries. However, I find her descriptions of America’s national parks and nature to be inspiring. She has a wonderful talent of evoking a sense of place in her novels.

I loved that Maid of Murder was set in Ohio. With so many books using New York or LA as a backdrop it was great to read something with a Midwest flair. Did you ever consider a different setting for the book? What prompted you to keep Maid Of Murder close to home?

I’ve lived in the Akron area most of my life, and I really love where I live. In my novels, I wanted to show off some of my area’s quirks. For one thing, this part of Ohio is part of the Western Reserve. The Western Reserve is an area that was sold to Connecticut farmers in the early 1800s to entice them to move to present day Ohio. It compromises most of the northeast corner of the state. Because of this, Northeastern Ohio has a little bit of an identity crisis. It’s in the Midwest, but some of the older families living here consider themselves to be more New Englanders than Midwesterners. When I was in college I worked a living history museum, Hale Farm and Village, and had to learn a lot of Western Reserve history as part of my job. I found it fascinating and knew it would be the perfect backdrop for my mystery series.

India Hayes is a multi-faceted heroine and I found her to be easy to relate to and realistic. From your author bio, I see that she shares your background in Library Science - what else do the two of you have in common? How would you say she is different from you?

Admittedly, India and I have a lot in common. She grew up and lives in suburb of Akron, Ohio, I grew up and live in a suburb of Akron, Ohio. She’s a college librarian, I’m a college librarian. Where we differ the most is in our personalities. India is much more phlegmatic than I am. All these crazy things, including murder, happen around her and she takes most of it in stride. If I were in half the situations she finds herself in, I’d have a panic attack.

Are there more adventures in store for India and her friends?

Yes, there will be. In the second book, India, much to her chagrin, is working at a folk art festival as a face painter. She does it as a favor to her older sister, Carmen, and gets tangled up in a murder investigation as a result. I am in the revision stage of this novel and have begun to research the third in the series. If all goes well for the third book, India and her eccentric landlady, Ina, will go to Ireland to find some of Ina’s long lost relatives.

Anything else you'd care to share about your work at this time?

In addition to the India Hayes Mysteries, I have written a middle grade children’s mystery called, The Mystery of the First Andora. I’m currently looking for a publisher for this title. It was important to me to write a mystery for children because I enjoyed them so much as a child.

Where can we find out more about your upcoming work, book signings, etc?

To find out of about my upcoming events, click on the Upcoming Events tab on my website You can also follow me on Facebook at or Twitter at

Thank you so much to Amanda for agreeing to this blog interview and hopefully plenty of people will check out Maid of Murder on sale June 16th, 2010!  (author photo used with permission)

Maid of Murder

This past March I was fortunate enough to receive an advance review copy of a mystery novel by an author that I predict has a successful career in front of her.  Here's my review of Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower, on sale June 16th:

Mystery lovers, meet India Hayes: artist, librarian, friend, sister, daughter, bridesmaid, and soon to be amateur detective. After agreeing to serve as a bridesmaid (ugly dress and all) for her childhood friend Olivia, India is torn between family and friendship loyalties, as India's brother Mark still carries a torch for his ex-girlfriend Olivia. When the wedding is canceled and a funeral scheduled instead, the cops cry murder and Mark is the prime suspect. It's up to India to come to her brother's defense when the whole town turns against him...and her.

Author Amanda Flower does a wonderful job of bringing to life the town of Stripling, Ohio. The supporting cast - India's activist parents, the Irish landlady, Olivia's rebellious teen sister, a pair of ill-tempered cats, and many others - creates extensive realism to the backdrop of the novel. Instead of just hearing a story the reader feels introduced to the town's life with hopes that this will be the first of future adventures involving India Hayes. The mystery in the story was well-layered and Flower kept the pacing right to build intrigue throughout the book.

Maid of Murder is a charming and well-written book with a fresh plot and unique characters. It was great to encounter a novel centered around a woman that did not involve her quest for a man, and Amanda Flower has created a winner in the witty, smart heroine India Hayes.
Of course, the book also got me thinking about my own varied wedding experiences.  I've been a bridesmaid four times and though I haven't had any occasions to re-wear the gowns I purchased, I was very thankful that they were all in good taste - if not entirely comfortable.  Does anyone have any India-type wedding-craziness to share?

And coming soon, my blog interview with author Amanda Flower!
(This book was provided by the author in exchange for a review; 
this review represents my honest and unbiased opinions about this work.)

"Spurn Them All"

"If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe, 
were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading,
I would spurn them all."
~ François Fénelon

Well, those are big words and I love the poetry behind them, but I also have to give myself their hypothetical challenge.  If someone were to write me a check in exchange for giving up reading, would I have a price?  Ten-million?  A Billion?  I know money can't buy happiness but if this were a serious proposal, I'd be a fool not to consider the offer.  A hefty sum like that could solve several issues (of both personal and world-wide natures) and I could exchange reading about far off places for actually visiting them... Could your love of reading ever be bought?

Great Blog Neighbor Award

Casey over at The Bookish Type recently bestowed upon Her Book Self the "Great Blog Neighbor Award"!  Since I only went public with this blog on May 1st, I was extremely flattered by this small recognition from a book blogging peer.  (And now would be a perfect time to check out The Bookish Type if you have not done so already - I was first drawn to The Bookish Type for "Monsters in May" and I'm eagerly awaiting the reviews to come with this month's "Jane in June".)  In the spirit of paying it forward - as seems to be the tradition with awards like this - I want to pass the "Great Blog Neighbor Award" on to three really awesome fellow bloggers:

A Present Opened Again and Again...  (by Ellen) is a wonderful blog about books for children and, as the title indicates, the thoughtful reviews are a good reminder about how books for youngsters are easily enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Ticket To Anywhere (by Irish) is a blog whose title extols the passport nature of literature.  Along with the fun feature of Book Trailer Mondays, there are frequent "interviews" with book characters, which I found to be an interesting and creative way of reviewing books.

A Bit of Light Reading (by biblioholic) is one reader's chapter-by-chapter thoughts on J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.  It perfectly fits the theme of this award: "Bringing Book Readers Together One Blog @ a Time!" 

Thanks again to The Bookish Type for this award and congratulations to the new recipients!

Dawn of the Dreadfuls

I was one of many readers that eagerly devoured 2009's quirk literary hit Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I was really amused by the retelling of the classic story with the inclusion of the undead, however I was hesitant to read Dawn of the Dreadfuls, feeling that without the mainframe of Jane Austen's text, it might be just an excuse for telling a tale of zombies running amok in Regency period England.

I was right in my assessment of the story, but wrong in thinking it would not be worth reading, for what is there not to enjoy about a tale of zombies running amok in Regency period England?  Dawn of the Dreadfuls acts as a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies telling the story of how the Bennet sisters rose to their positions as fearless zombie killing warriors. Though many people may lament the unfamiliar story (and the lack of Mr. Darcy) it still stands as a charming and amusing book.

Author Steve Hockensmith does a nice job of capturing the spirit of Austen's writing style but introduces plenty of humorous characters (and zombies) to keep the story out of a serious tone. In many ways, I liked Dawn of the Dreadfuls even better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and it definitely stands as strong entry into the new genre of Quirk Classics.

Part of me feels that the Quirk Classics idea is getting old very fast.  From Android Karenina to Little Women and Werewolves, I don't necessarily see it as a genre with long term appeal.  However, there is definitely an attraction to the parodies of tales when one is familiar with the original already.  If I were not already enamored with the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and her family, Dawn of the Dreadfuls would have been just another horror novel.  As it was, it was a second dose of what I already appreciated in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - which for me was exactly what I wanted to read.