I am an author addict (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

On his blog this week, author R.A. Salvatore announced the cover of his newest book Neverwinter Wood to be released in fall of 2011.  Let's all take a moment to sigh over this drool-worthy cover.

I like the green tone and the dragons in the background and of course, the fighting figures promise all the action adventure that I know the book will hold within its pages.  But I have one little problem with this book cover.  See that small print beneath the title?  "Neverwinter Book II"  Okay.  I'm sure you're thinking to your self, "Self, what's wrong with it being book two?"  The problem is - and I almost hate to confess this - I haven't read book one!  Gauntlgrym (aka book one) was released in October 2010 and I still have not read it!!!  Before you click for the comments and convince me that this is no big deal and I really need to settle down over since I still have a good ten months to consume book one before book two hits the shelves, there's something about me you all should know:  
I am an R.A. Salvatore addict.  
He is my most favoritest author and has been so for the larger part of the past two decades.  I've lost count of how many times I've read (and reread and reread) Homeland, and when I actually got to go to a signing and meet Mr. Salvatore, I was so freakishly giddy that my mouth hurt for a week from smiling so much.  (Okay, that's an exaggeration - it only hurt for about three days.)  So now you can understand a bit of why I'm wigging out on this one.  Here we have a book by an author I adore that's been accessible for over ninety days and I still have not read it!  I really need to get on this.

In the meantime, I'll be oohing and ahhing at the cover of Neverwinter Wood.  What cover art are you fawning over this week?  Do you have any authors that you read obsessively?  What's the longest you've waited for a newly released book that you've been dying to read? 

This post is part of my new feature A Weekend to ReCover that spotlights catchy book covers.  Feel free to join in and link up your own post about book art that's caught your eye lately!

Princess Academy (Fairy Tale Fridays)

 In the past I've used Fairy Tale Fridays as a chance to explore classic fairy tales such as those by Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm.  However, I also want to use this meme and my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge to focus on some modern books that very easily fit into the fairy tale genre.  Today's pick is from an author that composes fiction for readers of all ages.  I previously read and reviewed her novel The Actor and The Housewife, but today I want to spotlight a different book by Shannon Hale.

Princess Academy is a cute fairy-tale story perfect for youth or young adults but easily enjoyed as a light novel for grown readers too. The book tells the story of Miri, a young girl from a mountain village who feels useless to her town since she is forbidden to work in the rock quarry with her family. One day an emissary from the king comes to the mountain and reveals that the king's priests have determined that the prince's bride is to be chosen among the girls from Miri's village.

Miri and all her friends are sent to a special Princess Academy to learn the ways of royalty but as Miri progresses through the school she finds that, even more than becoming a Princess, what she really longs for is a place to belong. With themes of the importance and potential of all people, and with a story that is sweet and yet unpredictable, Shannon Hale's Princess Academy is a charming tale that deserves all the accolades showered upon it.
I don't want to give away too much of this story, but I will say that it's a lovely fairy tale.  For those looking for a recent publication of an ages-old genre, this is definitely a short novel that you won't want to miss!

"You've Read a Good Book"

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." ~ Paul Sweeney
Have you ever felt a bit of an emotional let down after finishing a really excellent book?  How would you finish the sentence: "You know you've read a good book when..."?


Set in a strange dystopia where lovesickness is much more associated with sickness than with love, Delirium by Lauren Oliver introduces readers to Lena, a young teen who dreams of her eighteenth birthday when she will receive "the cure" - a procedure designed to vaccinate against love. Of course as the date of her long awaited step into adulthood approaches, Lena begins to question the world around her: Is the cure all it is promised to be? Is love as dangerous and deadly as she has been taught? Is there something missing in what she has been told about her family's strange history? Amidst these tumultuous questions, Lena then does the unthinkable and dares to fall in love.

I was impressed with the creative premise of Delirium and enjoyed Lauren Oliver's writing, which drew me fully into the world and characters she created. What started out as a somewhat predictable setup took several unexpected twists and turns, and I was pleased to see Oliver take the story on a more intriguing path than what I expected. Many young adult writers seem content to deliver a simple, entertaining narrative but Delirium is a book to challenge readers and inspire thought outside the tale it tells. This book works as a standalone novel, but with the complex setting and protagonist, I would be plenty pleased to see a sequel to this captivating work.

I received an Advance Review copy of this work from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.  This review represents my honest and unbiased opinions.  Delirium is on sale Tuesday, February1st.

And the Winner Is... (J.C. Phelps Grand EBook Giveaway)


In a rare stroke of generosity author J.C. Phelps declared a multi-way tie for second place and allowed me to award multiple copies of the second place prize (Color Me Grey).  In other words, if you left a comment, you won!  Thank you so much to all of you for reading, following, and commenting at Her Book Self and for entering this contest!  But... for the super special winners, I'd like to congratulate:

for winning first prize which was a code for Color Me Grey and Shades of Grey!  And super duper congratulations to:

who has won the grand prize containing codes for Color Me Grey, Shades of Grey, and Reflections of Grey - the entire Alexis Stanton Chronicles thus far! 

Thanks to everyone for entering the contest and I hope you all enjoy the book(s)!  For those that want to know a little more about J.C. Phelps (besides what she shared in our interview) check out her great blog to find out more about she's currently reading and writing!

The 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Last September, I was introduced to a charming blogger named Tif and her delightful blog Tif Talks Books!  Amidst her book reviews and literary conversations, Tif had a meme that I fell in love with called Fairy Tale Fridays!  I joined in for several weeks (my posts can be found with the tag "FTF") but discovered this month that Tif had been blogging Fairy Tales since last January and only planned the meme to last for a year.  Knowing how much I enjoyed the weekly trek into Fairyland and seeing how a few of my Fairy Tale posts remain in my top ten most read posts of all time; I definitely want to continue posting about fairy tales, which is why I am delighted to see Tif present her readers with the 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge!

Now, I'm not normally big on challenges and generally prefer to let whimsy dictate my reading material, but this is blogging goal that I want to place upon myself.  I'm stepping into this challenge full throttle and going for the highest level of Happily Ever After (check out Tif's challenge post for level descriptions) and will aim to post a review or analysis of a fairy tale 12 times from now until December, which should figure to be about once a month!  For convenience sake, I'll still call these posts "Fairy Tale Fridays" - to maintain my already existing "FTF" tag - but technically they are now part of the 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge.  If you have any great tales (classic or modern) to recommend or that you want to hear my thoughts about, feel free to leave me comments and if this challenge sounds like fun to you, hop over to Tif's blog and sign yourself up!

Author Interview - Thomas M. Sullivan

I love to laugh almost as much as I love to read and I consider it something of a double bonus when a good book makes me laugh out loud... even when this leads to others casting me odd glances on my city's public transportation system.  So it is with great pleasure that I can introduce all of you to an author that did make me laugh in his memoir, Life in the Slow Lane.  Join me in welcoming Thomas M. Sullivan!

*applause, applause*

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started as a driving instructor?

I had been a teacher for a number of years before teaching drivers ed. I taught computer software (things like Microsoft Word and Excel) to people retraining for new careers. When my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon I tried being a computer draftsman for a state agency, but the climate was too grim to continue. So, I started looking for teaching jobs, landed on the drivers ed thing, and figured “Why not, this could be fun.”

How and when did you make the decision to record your teaching experiences as a memoir?

We had very erratic scheduling, so I would end up with a few hours between lessons and little to do. So, about a month into the job I started jotting down notes on funny stories (like the girl who couldn’t practice at home because Mom wrecked the car at a Starbucks drive-thru). Then I decided to tell the whole story, and the longer book emerged from those chunks of time.

Were you interested in writing before tackling driver's ed as a career?

I’d always been an avid reader, but I hadn’t considered writing. And if you want to write, there’s always the question of what to write about. So, when I got into drivers ed I figured it was a strange and unique enough experience to warrant a book.

You have great stories in your book about life as an instructor, but do you have any anecdotes from when you were a teenager learning to drive?

I was a well behaved student, so my learning phase was fairly mundane. I did, however, blow out a clutch on the family Camaro just after getting my license. I was thinking about something else and got the gears mixed up while downshifting. I went from 3rd gear to Reverse coming down a hill. Big grinding noise, smoke, etc. I’m not one for multitasking and try to avoid it.

One of the things I loved about your book is that parts of it had me literally laughing out loud! Do people generally consider you a funny person or do you save your humor for your writing?

I’d say that people think I’m pretty funny. That or they’re just humoring me so I’ll go away and let them get back to work. I’m learning that the humor that “works” among friends often should be avoided at the DMV or airports or with the police. Humor is a very objective thing and it goes nowhere with grim people, so anticipating your audience can be tricky.

The company you worked for displayed appalling levels of poor management and unprofessionalism. What kept you from simply walking away from the job?

Probably the same things that keep anyone mired in a bad job. You’re hoping things will change when problems are identified. You don’t want to look for another job. You don’t want to forego the income. You don’t want to add to the workload of others. And so on. You assume the CEO will figure out the email system and stop sending those inappropriate photos to every employee in the company – but he doesn’t.

Mostly, I’d worked so many different short-run jobs in the few years prior that I didn’t want to job hunt again. One thing I’ve learned over the past twenty years is that bad businesspeople are usually stubborn creatures, a quality that makes them awful at what they do. It’s best to get out sooner rather than later.

Are you planning to write any more books? What projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a collection of nonfiction/humor essays that I hope to publish at some point. The stories range in topic from an encounter with a Flowbie-wielding hair stylist to a strange run-in at the DMV to a ridiculous encounter with a road-rager. The weirder life gets the more fun it is to write about.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

A number of the essays I mentioned above have appeared in online journals. I have collected several of these and linked them to my author website. If anyone would like to read these, they can go to www.thomassullivanhumor.com.

Thanks for the interview!
 Check out Life in the Slow Lane - available now!

Life in the Slow Lane

Driver's Education is a teenage rite of passage for many in the United States, and like most, I can recall an anecdote or two of the successes and mishaps from my first times behind the wheel.  However, I never gave much reflection to the people who accompanied me on those first perilous driving trips: the driver's ed instructors.  This perspective changed when I picked up a great new book.

Thomas M. Sullivan opens the door to the life of a driving instructor in his nonfiction memoir Life in the Slow Lane. From the bureaucracy of the company he worked for (and argued with), to the past-their-prime cars he used, and the unpredictability of a job centered around teenagers overly-confident or excessively nervous; Sullivan takes a direct and witty approach to his narrative. The appalling stories of demands placed on him by his employer are juggled with hilarious anecdotes and observations from his time with his students.

For anyone who ever wondered what a teacher was thinking when they stepped on the instructor's brake, Life in the Slow Lane offers a unique glimpse through the eyes of the passenger in a driver's ed car. Cleverly crafted and highly entertaining, Sullivan genuinely captures the humor of the mundane. Whether you fondly recall "Student Driver" as a rite of passage or a terrible teenage travesty, this is a book that will shed a green-means-go light on the world of driver's ed.
I'd highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy humorous memoirs.  I'm always trying to incorporate more nonfiction in my reading repertoire, so Life in the Slow Lane was a delightful discovery!

Stay tuned this week for my interview with author Thomas M. Sullivan!

Heroes of the Valley (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

Welcome to my first official hosting of a meme!  You might recall ReCOVERy Friday as a really fun meme discussing book art that was hosted by Miss Page-Turner's City of Books, but Miss Page-Turner has graciously allowed me to take over the meme and make it my own! So it is my privilege to welcome you all to A Weekend to ReCOVER!   The principle of the meme is simple: post an image of a book cover or other bookish illustration or artwork and talk about it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday!  Hopefully it will be great for a quick weekend post after a long week of blogging, working, studying, etc.  Since I'm just starting this out, I won't use a linking widget yet, but feel free to create a "Weekend to ReCOVER" post of your own linked back to Her Book Self and leave a link in the comments section with a post of your own!  Hope you'll join me in this fun artwork based meme!

 The first cover I want to spotlight with the new version of this meme is a book called Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud!
I first discovered Stroud's writing with The Amulet of Samarkand and the subsequent books in The Bartimaeus Trilogy.  I loved the complex plots and characters, as well as the witty humor, and knew Stroud was an author I wanted to read more from.  However, Heroes of the Valley was a book that I lifted from the shelf based on the cover, even before I noted the author's name.  I like the mystical lighting and the lone figure in the cloak on the cliff raises all sorts of questions and images in my head.  Cover art alone prompted me to look closer at this title and a familiar author and intriguing description solidified it as a purchase and it's eagerly awaiting me in my TBR pile!

What do you think of the Heroes of the Valley cover?
What great book cover has grabbed you recently?

Special thanks again to Miss Page-Turner's City of Books for starting this meme and allowing me permission to take it over.  MP-T'sCoB is a great blog and if you've never checked it out I encourage you to do so!  Along with great reviews and other fun memes, you'll find a sidebar Cover of the Week and an ongoing feature called COVEResque Feat comparing book covers from multiple countries. 

A Cup of Friendship

I was first impressed with the clear storytelling voice of Deborah Rodriguez when I read her memoir Kabul Beauty School. Though that book was nonfiction, she proved her expertise with descriptive techniques and relating day to day occurrences in a fluid and interesting style. Knowing the quality of her writing ability, I was pleased to see Rodriguez try her hand at fiction in A Cup of Friendship, a novel that is equally as good as her debut work.

The story centers around Sunny, an American living and running a coffee shop in Afghanistan - a profession that Rodriguez also held while living there. Sunny meets and takes in a young woman named Yazmina, who is a pregnant widow, a condition seen as shameful in a culture where husbands rule the households. Also entering the story is Halajan, a mother with a rebellious streak and a hidden love of her own; Isabel, a journalist from England; and Candace the wealthy American divorcee. In the setting of a country where women have little voice, the stories of these characters merge together and artfully intertwine.

A Cup of Friendship is a wonderful story about making a difference in the lives of others and how every person has influence and gifts to better the world around them. It is a book about love, family, independence, tradition, and of course, friendship. Rodriguez proves that fiction or non, she knows how to capture the spirit of Afghanistan on paper, and in either genre, she draws from her life experiences to compose a compelling and powerful book.

An advance review copy of this work was provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.  This review represents my honest and unbiased opinions.  A Cup of Friendship is on sale January 25, 2011.

Warning: Satire to Follow

 On the New (and Improved?) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A Satire by Lisa G.

Hello, my fellow book bloggers and book blog readers!  By now I've read that many of you are abuzz with the recent news that a publishing firm has decided to release an edited version of Mark Twain's offensive so-called classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  This new masterpiece will have the word "slave" replacing... well, you know... I'm not going to say the dreaded word that is currently being omitted, but can I just say, it's about time!  For years high school students have been subjected to this awful word alongside Twain's hideous spelling and grammar in an attempt at what the author claimed was capturing the dialect of the people - supposedly giving life to the spirit and culture of the time period.  This is not what we want our school children being exposed to.  If the idea were ever planted that these "characters" that Twain wrote about were in any way similar to the actual people that populated the United States in that time period, we may actually run the risk of having students relate to their country's history.  Following that, young adults may go so far as to judge the actions of the former leaders and citizens of this country and dare to learn from their history.

Thankfully, Huckleberry Finn is not an actual depiction of the South in Twain's day.  It's an exaggeration, a fantasy.  Twain never meant to actually write about people and things as they were.  By converting the word... well, um... the offensive word to the term "slave" we can remove any thoughts that readers may acquire about the dehumanization that people of African descent may or may not have gone through during that time period.  As we all know, "slaves" were properly treated and cared for by their white counterparts so there is no need to convey racial tension by using such an offensive term as... um, you know.  In fact, why are we stopping by simply changing the words Twain used?  We could certainly go further in improving this work if we were to remove the institution of slavery from the book altogether.  Huck and Jim could simply be buddies, equals - two guys on a raft, cruising the Mississippi and having some grand adventures!  But then again, that...ahem...word is far more abhorrent than the actual institution of slavery.  The occurrence of one group of people enslaving another simply due to skin color could not come anywhere close to being as offensive as a certain arrangement of six letters.

But while I'm on the subject of further changes to the book, I still must take umbrage at the character of Huck Finn.  Many groups were content to call for the banning of Twain's book simply over two hundred uses of the word... well... you know... but now they can focus on the real problem with the novel.  Huck Finn himself is actually quite in need of some character reform.  Here we have an unkempt, impoverished boy who routinely curses, smokes, skips school and church, and runs away from home.  I am glad that those who call for the banning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can now focus on their second, third, fourth and fifth reasons to want the book kept out of schools.  In fact, in what many scholars quote as the most impactful scene of Twain's novel, the so-called boy-hero makes a despicably wrong choice!  And then goes on to swear about it!  I hesitate to post this passage because it does contain the word - that most definitely needs deletion - and that one word will seriously overwhelm and deter from the point this passage is trying to make... but if you can possibly get past it and muster your constitution (keep your smelling salts handy) I would dare be so bold as to share it with you:
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter - and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
~The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Can you imagine that this is dared to be hailed as one of Twain's greatest pieces of writing?  I lost count of the number of grammatical errors within the first half dozen sentences!  Was there a "warn't" in there?  Warn't?  Really, Twain?  Not to mention again, the horrendously offensive word that by its very presence negates any potential value of this passage of writing.  No wonder we need a revised edition of this novel!

In the scene I quoted we witness the misguided Huck Finn choosing to go against the laws of his country for the sake of a second-class citizen that he dares to cherish as a friend.  What kind of an example is this to present in a book that most Americans read in high school, around fourteen to seventeen years of age?  These newly developing minds and personalities of students are far too fragile to be exposed to these types of rebellious ideas.  Also, because the majority of them will read this book in school, and likely never again in their adult lives, if we can alter Twain's ridiculous profanity and grotesque grammar for this audience, we may actually succeed in preventing any and all Americans from ever being exposed to the original version that currently exists!

And so, to the publishing house that has the gumption to alter and adjust a work that has stubbornly stood steadfast against controversy since the dawn of it's first printing, I congratulate you.  American Literature will never be the same and I can't wait to see what you dare to revise next. 

*Please note that this post is intended entirely as satire.  Please accept it with the full course of humor, sarcasm, and absurdity it is intended to convey.  If I've dared to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities, blame my high school English Lit instructor who first introduced me to the geniuses Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope.  I hold Mark Twain in the highest regard among my favorite classic authors. Please contact me, the author, before reposting any portion of this document.  Special thanks to author M.Clifford who started me on my soapbox about the alterations to Twain's writing.  Clifford's novel The Book deals with the issue of censorship and political adjustments to classic works of literature and I am among one of many who never imagined that his creative dystopia could mirror reality so well so soon.*

Reining In

Two things I love are good book recommendations and new-to-me authors.  And vampire novels.  Okay, so that's three things, but they've all combined in a book that I heard a lot of buzz about before I actually picked it up and tore through it.  Recommended to me by several other readers (and most recently by author J.C. Phelps) I recently read and enjoyed Reining In - book one of The Network series by Dawn Judd.

Khalida is a vampire, and in the thousands of years she has existed she's managed to pile up some secrets, as well as a group of trusted individuals hired to help guard them. Her group is called the Network and their talents range from personal security, to computer hacking, to tracking her enemies, to reinventing Khalida's identity when she's stayed in one place too long. Her life doesn't foster the ability to get close to others very often but when the lives of the few she calls friends are threatened by events from Khalida's ancient past, she must do everything in her power to protect those she cares about.

Reining In offers an interesting take on vampire mythology in a fast paced, high-action story. Author Dawn Judd creates an intriguing heroine in the vampire Khalida. With a genre populated by sparkling, spooky and seductive males, the female with fangs was a refreshing change of pace. Equal parts dangerous hunter and vulnerable friend, Khalida is the element that makes this novel a worthwhile read and I am eager to see where Judd leads her characters in the sequel Phantom Rising.

I read this book at the end of last year but I held my review until now as part of the tour that's currently going on for Reining In from the blog Author AdvenTours.  For those unfamiliar, the site is designed to connect authors and bloggers introducing the former to new avenues of publicity and the latter to great new books.  I'd like to give a special welcome to anyone visiting Her Book Self for the first time, I love both comments and new followers (and new followers who leave comments).  And for my fellow bloggers, feel free to pop over to Author AdvenTours and check out the fun opportunities to discover new books and authors!

(Also, my apologies that this post was supposed to be accompanied by an interview with Dawn Judd.  This interview was postponed by me due to craziness surrounding the holidays, however, the kind Ms. Judd has agreed to an interview that will hopefully be coming later in the year with my review of The Network Book 2 - Phantom Rising)

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

I first read the book Little Women about two years ago.  (Insert gasps of shock and disbelief - I know!)  I had seen multiple versions of the movie when I was younger, but I never got around to reading the actual text until recently.  The movie, of course made me a little angry.  Maybe I was just refusing to see how any girl in her right mind would refuse a proposal from a pre-Batman Christian Bale, but I really wanted Jo and Laurie to be together.  I wanted them to have a happily ever after and the Laurie/Amy and Jo/Professor pairings just didn't work for me.

Then I read the actual book Little Women.  I think the deeper insight into the characters made things click for me.  Suddenly Laurie's playful spirit complimented the artistic Amy and the Professor's scholarly intellect was a better challenge for brainy Jo.  However, I know I'm not the only one who wondered about the what ifs of a Jo and Laurie pairing and it is this fictional love story that rests at the heart of Kelly O'Connor McNees's book The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

McNees sets her book in 1855 a year from which no journal entries or letters of the author Louisa May Alcott exist.  A fictional version of Louisa is the protagonist of the story and with her parents and three sisters, she is also the reflection of her character Jo March.  Similarly, a young boy Joseph Singer is fabricated into the tale and in McNees's imagination he is the boy who inspires the character Laurie. 

This novel was a really interesting, albeit fictional, look at the life of Louisa May Alcott.  The historical setting and facts from Alcott's life were smoothly blended with the story in a way that had me checking the afterword carefully to determine fact from fiction.  For readers who enjoy a little game of "what if", this is an interesting and enjoyable book.

Author Interview - J.C. Phelps (Plus a grand eBook giveaway!)

I've raved enough about Color Me Grey and its sequel Shades of Grey so it's with great joy that I get to introduce you all to the author herself!  In case learning about J.C. Phelps isn't quite exciting enough, read on after the interview for a great opportunity to win free eBook copies of  this awesome series...

*applause, applause*

Hi J.C!  I think anyone reading your books would be hard pressed not to love Alexis Stanton. How did you first conceive the idea of her character? Throughout writing the books, has she changed from your initial vision for her?

Thank you for saying that! I, of course, love Alex.

I first came up with the character idea from reading another author’s book. She had a “side-line” character who was just about perfect. I decided that was who I wanted to be, kinda. Alexis is actually nothing like the character I’d gotten a small glimpse of but she is the result of the feeling I got while reading that book.

My original vision for Alex was more of a feeling of a person. I didn’t know her until I started writing about her and I’ve been learning more and more about her as the stories progress. She doesn’t like to share much until she has to.

Alex manages to hold her own as a woman in a male-dominated business. Have you ever had a similar experience trying to prove yourself in a boy's club situation?

I grew up with very few girl friends and most of them were cousins. But, I have two younger brothers and usually hung out with the guys. My grandparents were a bit old school though. I was probably ten when I went out to the garage to help my grandpa and a neighbor boy work on a car. I really wanted to learn how to fix cars but Grandpa told me to go away because this was boy stuff. My father, on the other hand, always told me that I could never rely on a man to “take care” of me. I chose to follow my father’s advice instead of that of my Grandpa. Though, my interest in working on cars has dwindled considerably.

Alex is also an avid reader - what books or genres is she usually devouring?

She will read absolutely anything! Most of her reading has become research but when she gets the time to read for pleasure she is partial to Thrillers, Mysteries and Fantasy. She has a tendency to pick up a lot of non-fiction. For some odd reason she feels compelled to be studying something. One genre she has never tried past a page or two is Romance. However, she has snuck a peek at an Erotic novel, once. But the constant looking over her shoulder as she read was too much for her.

How much research goes into your novels? Did you have background knowledge of weaponry and special ops training before starting this series or did you study the things Alex learns specifically for each new novel?

There is actually quite a lot of research that goes into my books because I do not have background knowledge of most of what I write about. I try to think of something that would be exciting and fun for someone like Alex or her partners and try to incorporate that into my stories somehow. For example, in Color Me Grey she completes SCUBA training, which I think would be so much fun. It just happened that SCUBA training came in very handy for her main job in the story.

What authors or works would you say have inspired or influenced you as a writer?

I would say that every book I have ever read has been an inspiration and an influence. In high school we did a letter-writing project and I wrote to Piers Anthony. I was deeply involved in his Xanth series at the time. AND, he wrote back to me and sent me a copy of Flowers for Algernon. I still walk around with my chest puffed out when I think of it. However, the biggest push I received was when I was reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I could really relate to her style of writing and it was unlike anything else I’d ever read. I had stuck mainly to fantasy and mystery and Evanovich was a little outside my comfort zone. However, I’m very happy I took that leap across my regular genres. Since then, I’ve done a lot more genre hopping and am enjoying every word I read.

You recently completed the fourth Grey novel as a NaNoWriMo project. Tell us a little about your experiences. Do you normally write at such a frenetic pace or was 50K words in a month a bit of a stretch?

Well…. I did not complete the fourth Grey novel during NaNoWriMo. I did get my 50,000 words but it was just a beginning. I started out writing like I normally do. I write a bit then go back and redo what I think I need to but then I got into the spirit of NaNo and as per NaNoWriMo style I just wrote and wrote without much care for edits or sometimes content. I will be rewriting from the beginning with a better sense of things. So, in that sense, NaNo was a major win for me. It gave me better direction for the story I really want to tell and not the one that somehow found it’s way to my computer screen.

I’ve never really paid much attention to how much I write at a given time until NaNoWriMo. However, Color Me Grey came quickly. I had the book completed in 21 days. I set up a goal to write a chapter a day and I almost fulfilled it. There are 17 chapters in Color Me Grey. The other two books took a lot more time to complete. I’m afraid Book Four (still untitled) might take more time as well.

As for 50,000 being a stretch or not; it is a big stretch to come out with something even close to being publishable but as for just writing scenes and worrying how to incorporate them later, 50,000 is nothing. I truly believe anyone who has trouble with the NaNoWriMo deadline has this problem only because they are too critical of what they are writing. Let loose and allow yourself to just outline a section or skip ahead in the story or write something totally off the path of your story if it pops into your head. Save the editing for later and 50,000 will be an easy task. Editing the manuscript will probably turn out to be a nightmare though.

I often use Color Me Grey as a recommendation for people that have never read a book by an indie author before. Can you give a shoutout to a fellow indie author and inform me of the next greatest indie work (besides yours) that should be added to my MUST READ pile? (Optional: For fun, can you compose a haiku or two extolling the merits of the book you want to recommend?)

I am extremely honored that you would use Color Me Grey as a recommendation.

I’d love to shoutout to two authors, if I may.

First of all, Dawn Judd. I have read her books “Reining In” and “Phantom Rising” (the second book in the series). I love the story she is telling and she also does a lot for fellow Indie authors. She hosts The Breakout Books Blog and Facebook page as well as Author AdvenTours. She is a great lady that I may get the pleasure of meeting in person one of these days.

Secondly, Karen Cantwell. She hosts the blog Fiction For Dessert and has self published “Take the Monkeys and Run” and “The Chronicles of Marr-nia”. These two books I HIGHLY recommend, especially for women readers. She has a similar voice to Janet Evanovich, a great wit and readers can easily relate to her character, Barbara Marr.

Cantwell and Dawn Judd
Are great authors on the scene
I hope you read them!

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, marketing for my first three books takes up the majority of my time but I’m still working on the fourth book in my Alexis Stanton Chronicles and I have a few ideas knocking around in my brain that I hope I can get to before they fade away. I’d love to write a thriller or mystery.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

I can be found at:

Blog: http://jcphelps.blogspot.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/JC-Phelps/116756508344894

Email: authorjcphelps@yahoo.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.C.-Phelps/e/B003FG7JIW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jcp

Thanks again for agreeing to this interview!

Thank you so much for having me!
And now for the Grand Giveaway!  J.C. Phelps has generously offered to sponsor a giveaway of some of her novels in eBook format.  The winners will be given free codes for Smashwords to download the books in formats compatible with various eReaders.  Three winners will be chosen - One Grand Prize winner will receive codes for the entire Alexis Stanton Chronicles thus far: Color Me Grey (book 1), Shades of Grey (book 2), and Reflections of Grey (book 3); One First Prize winner will receive codes for Color Me Grey (book 1) and Shades of Grey (book 2); and One Second Prize winner will receive a code for Color Me Grey (book 1).  To enter leave a comment below including your email address (winners will be notified by email).  Contest is open internationally and closes January 20th, 2011!  Good Luck!

Shades of Grey

In Shades of Grey, book two of the Alexis Stanton chronicles, J.C. Phelps creates an ideal sequel. The story continues where Color Me Grey left off and carries the continuing story arc of Alex Stanton - also known as Ms. Grey - and her work as an agent with White and Associates. Though the books are connected, each one tells a succinct and contained story so they can be enjoyed individually as episodic adventures. Of course, once the reader has a taste of Alex Stanton's life, one book is definitely not enough!

Again, it is the endearing characters that fill this novel with heart. Alex is kind and caring, but also sassy and strong - keeping pace with her male colleagues. The relationships in the book are realistic and believable and the story delves deeper into Alex's family and her growing friendships with her coworkers. The romantic tension between Alex and Mr. White continues to build, and Alex is all the more likable for her character's wisdom and integrity. She doesn't simply fall into bed with the men she's attracted to but thinks honestly about her relationships and the results of romantic attachments.

Phelps keeps the action high and layers on the intrigue throughout the book. It's a delight to witness Alex develop her skills, holding her own as the heroine, as tough and talented as her male counterparts. For those that loved Color Me Grey, Shades of Grey is a wonderful continuation. The third book in the series Reflections of Grey also promises more of the same, and I can't wait to read it!

Stay tuned this week for my interview with author J.C. Phelps... and a Grand Giveaway!