Friday, August 19, 2011

Elegantly Chasing - A Conversation with Melissa Foster & A Look At Chasing Amanda.

I am really excited to be featuring the sublimely talented author Melissa Foster this week. Having just turned the final page on her latest release "Chasing Amanda", I wanted to feature Melissa here writ large because it is not often that one has the pleasure to read a story that is so engaging as well as being intellectually challenging and - put simply - a reading experience, rather than being just a good read. So let me begin by giving you my take on Chasing Amanda.

Chasing AmandaChasing Amanda by Melissa Foster My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nine years ago, Molly Tanner witnessed a young girl's abduction in the busy city of Philadelphia, shifting her occasional clairvoyance into overdrive. Two days later, the girl's body was found, and Molly's life fell apart. Consumed by guilt for not acting upon her visions, and on the brink of losing her family, Molly escaped the torturous reminders in the city, fleeing to the safety of the close-knit rural community of Boyds, Maryland. 

Molly's life is back on track, her son has begun college, and she and her husband have finally rekindled their relationship. Their fresh start is shattered when a seven-year-old girl disappears from a local park near Molly's home. Unable to turn her back on another child and troubled by memories of the past, Molly sets out to find her, jeopardizing the marriage she'd fought so hard to hold together. While unearthing clues and struggling to decipher her visions, Molly discovers another side of Boyds, where the residents--and the land itself--hold potentially lethal secrets, and exposes another side of her husband, one that threatens to tear them apart.

I tweeted recently that upon completing Melissa Foster's "Chasing Amanda" I declare that this is one of the most intelligent, engaging and luminous books of it's genre in 2011, so it is with much pleasure that I elaborate on those descriptors here and now.

Chasing Amanda transcends the conventional "who-dunnit" styled thriller yarn by introducing multiple potential antagonists into the narrative early that have you, the reader, thinking right from the get go. And just when you think that you might have figured the mystery out early, Melissa Foster throws in the most elegant curve ball that totally knocks you off balance and has you scrambling to revisit the clue-set once more in an attempt to regain the upper hand in the story experience. It is an intelligent mystery that is certainly the most unique I've read and it's definitely the most challenging - and I mean that in a good way.

We are witness to an unnerving tale - set in Boyd's, an 'every-town' in rural Maryland, USA. Through the eyes of Molly Tanner, an engaging woman who presents an attractive dichotomy of hardened determination underneath a vulnerable exterior, we journey through a complex narrative which has at it's center, a missing young girl for whom time is fast running out.

Molly's unique gift for clairvoyance - which is both a blessing and a curse, becomes a vital tool in the search for the missing child but it puts her at odds with the town's folk, the authorities and even her husband. It is here, in the relationship with her husband Cole that we are able to access the roots of Molly's "Knowing" and how it has impacted on her and her family.

Author, Melissa Foster, paints in several key back stories that serve as powerful drivers of the central plot and she handles them with an almost surgical grace, integrating them into the narrative so that they become a natural extension of it.

Her attention to characterization too, is a joy to read and none of the actors in Chasing Amanda, are there to simply be. The relationships are fully realized and they are sometimes painful to bare witness to. Motivations are defined cleverly and are revealed as they need to be. This is, once again, the genius of Foster's prose. Each of her characters serve the story wonderfully and it makes for a very satisfying reading experience.

The sense of mystery, tension and atmosphere are imbued deftly into the narrative and like Kwei Quartey - who I reviewed last week - Melissa Foster's style is sensorial - visual, aural and tactile. If you let it "Chasing Amanda" is a story that you can experience rather than just simply observe.

Upon completing "Chasing Amanda" I sat back and said aloud, "Wow...just Wow". I was exhausted but exhilarated, knowing that I had read a novel that had been written with consummate care and respect for the genre in which it resides.

Melissa Foster is a stand out author. "Chasing Amanda" is a stand out novel.

Now here's the real treat for you. Melissa Foster has kindly agreed to sit down in the luxurious DFA pad today to talk a little about Chasing Amanda and her writing journey and I began by asking her to fill me and you guys in on how that journey began.

Melissa Foster - welcome to my little patch of ground and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. You have certainly blazed quite a trail across the writing world with two brilliant publications "Megan's Way" - which I note, is being adapted into a screenplay - & "Chasing Amanda". Could you tell me a little about your writing journey and your background that has lead you towards Melissa Foster, Author?

Hi Dean, thank you so much for featuring me on your site.  I don’t know about blazing a trail, but I’m doing what I can to make my mark and help others along the way. I have six children, and I waited about fifteen years to be able to write full time. I think it’s for that reason that I savor every second of my writing day. I’ve just started a blog series about my road to publication and beyond, so I won’t bore you with those details, but I would be happy to share a bit of my path with you.

Like many other aspiring authors, I went the traditional querying route with Megan’s Way back in 2009. The economy was bad and the publishing industry seemed to be on the cusp of many changes and experiencing lay offs.  I was told by several agents that they liked Megan’s Way, but could not sell as story that was not upbeat. That was all it took. Tell me that something can’t be done, and I will find a way to prove you wrong. I decided to put Megan’s Way into the hands of readers and use it as a test of my writing abilities.  I quickly found out that readers enjoyed my writing, and found inspiration through Megan’s journey.

My next release, Chasing Amanda, was picked up (via referral) by a publisher the day after they read the book. That, too, proved to be an eye-opening experience. There are  benefits to using a small publisher and benefits to self-publishing. I’ve decided to query literary agents for my third book, since I have yet to go that route. Publishing  has been a learning experience. I really owe my readers a tremendous amount of gratitude. Without their encouragement, the process of being turned down when querying could be overwhelming. Thank you, readers!

Readers certainly are our target after all and I know, in my own experience, they are more important to me than any of the 'middle men' I have dealt with in my own journey. With "Chasing Amanda" you have crafted an exceptional story that is quite visceral - that is to say - we as the reader, are given the opportunity to go deep into the psyches of the central characters. It makes for a gripping reading experience and I know that, at times, I was certainly having to remind myself to breathe. Was it a challenge for you to explore those psyches - in particular those of the darker characters in the story? Did you find yourself exhausted by those explorations?

That’s a great question, Dean. I tend to climb into the heads of characters and remain there while writing from their perspectives. What I found was that I was continuously looking for the likable trait, the one thing that would salvage my attachment to them. It made me dig deeper into who they were and why they each did what they did. I enjoyed that level of writing. I wasn't exhausted by it, but rather energized by the process. I learned a lot about where characters could be taken.

That is some great insight Melissa and certainly encouraging for those of us who value character as drivers of plot. How much of your central character, Molly Tanner's experience in the story was informed by your own life experience? For example, there is a strong parental theme running through the narrative. How much of your own experience as a parent influenced Molly's characterization?

I always want to be able to say that the female characters are not at all like me, but honestly, some of those traits that you see in Molly, the way she interacts with Erik, the determination, that is partially drawn from my own life. I am not as brave as Molly, though. I’m not sure I could have done what she did at the end of the book. I won’t reveal it here, but I can only strive to be that brave.

I will note that in my next book, Come Back To Me, I am nothing like the main characters. I worked very hard to make sure that connection was not made.

Ahhh, you've already got me intrigued! Clairvoyance features strongly in "Chasing Amanda". What attracts you to this gift and how did you develop it conceptually for the story? What research did you undertake on the faculty of clairvoyance?

I’m drawn to the supernatural because of personal experiences. Some shy away from controversial topics, and I tried to do that, but I was unable to change that aspect. I finally decided that some people would enjoy that aspect of the story, while others might poo-poo it in general, and that was something I was willing to accept. I spoke to people who have many different “gifts” of clairvoyance, and the research was the most interesting I’ve done to date.

Those supernatural elements are definitely some of the most intriguing to me. How did you approach the story construction for "Chasing Amanda"? Did you structure a refined plot right from the beginning whereby everything was known to you or did you take a more organic approach that allowed the story to flow and for you to make the discoveries that we as the reader make?

I am a total panzer. I knew that Molly was going to look for Tracey, and I knew who had Tracey, the rest developed as I wrote. I feel confined by organized writing.  Outlines stifle my creativity, so while it makes for more work later (my editor ALWAYS wants an outline), it works for me.

Panzers everywhere just did a little happy dance of excitement Melissa! How did you feel upon completing work on "Chasing Amanda"? To me it was a roller coaster ride of intense imagery and narrative and I reluctantly closed the final page feeling quite exhausted - and I mean that in a good way! Did the experience of writing such a rich and cracking story leave you feeling the same way?

Thank you for the compliment, Dean. I began writing Chasing Amanda in 2006, when it was titled The Knowing. After the first draft, I set it aside and wrote Megan’s Way. When I returned to Chasing Amanda a year and a half later, the storyline had begun changing. The ride of writing Chasing Amanda was exciting, the ending elated me. When I figured out the best way to bring closure to Tracey’s situation, I remember a smile that would not fade. I practically screamed from the rooftop, and was excited to send the manuscript off to my beta readers.

Awesome! You have a strong and impressive presence across the social media landscape and your ethos towards the support and promotion of fellow authors is a lovely quality. What has been your experience in developing your promotional platform and how successful do you think it has been?

Wow, thank you. I don’t think of myself as having anything very impressive, besides The Women’s Nest, which, to me, is impressive due to the members and their caring nature, rather than what I’ve done to create it.

In social media, while I have to use it to market my books (don’t we all), I also see it as a way to remind people to be kind. I decided a few months ago that I was going to let my own personality come through, so you’ll see many posts about kids, kindness, peace, and promoting others. I gain great pleasure from helping people stop and smell the roses, and helping their days be a little bit brighter. If I could have an ideal job, it would probably be to walk around and give people compliments, help them to smile, hold doors open, etc. Sometimes I see people with such long faces, like life has just beaten them down, and I try to do something that will help them see the brighter side of life. Friendship goes a long way.

I think my nature has drawn people to me, and I’m thankful, because I’ve met some of the kindest, most giving and interesting people through social networks.

You certainly have attracted a lot of people to you and I must say, in my own experience, you are truly a joy to know. I look forward to your Tweets! Now, there seems to be some exciting developments happening in your world, most notably with your other work "Megan's Way". How is the development of the book as a screenplay progressing and what new projects are you looking towards?

There’s been a big change in that arena—including a change in directors. Megan’s Way is now gearing up to be a major motion picture instead of heading for film festivals. It’s quite exciting. I’m not at liberty to disclose much more than that until I’m given the go-ahead, but it’s very exciting indeed!

I’m hoping to have my next release, Come Back To Me, published soon, and in September I’ll get back to writing Shades of Gray, a YA/women’s fiction crossover.

Lastly, I will be launching the WoMen’s Literary CafĂ© in a few weeks, bridging the gap between readers and authors, and bringing author services and cross promotions under one easily navigable venue. This will be the ultimate give-back to the writing community, and the goal is to teach authors how to promote and cross promote without associate costs. There are several authors who are partnering with me in this venture, and together we hope to help everyone gain a solid platform and name recognition.

Thank you so much, Dean, for giving me the opportunity to be a guest on your blog. The Women’s Nest Book Club is reading Hambledown Dream in September, and we are all looking forward to discussing it with you later in the month.

I am so excited for you Melissa and I sooo hope that this wonderful opportunity comes off in a big way. Melissa it has been a true pleasure talking to you and I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to drop by and have a chat. And I especially want to thank you for supporting me. I am so looking forward to chatting with your readers over at The Women's Nest

Read more about Melissa Foster over at her official site Melissa Foster Dot Com.


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(Dean purchased the Kindle edition of "Chasing Amanda").

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Prayer for the Children - "Children Of The Street" by Kwei Quartey

Children of the StreetChildren of the Street by Kwei Quartey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"In the slums of Accra, Ghana’s fast-moving, cosmopolitan capital, teenagers are turning up dead. Inspector Darko Dawson has seen many crimes, but this latest string of murders—in which all the young victims bear a chilling signature—is the most unsettling of his career. Are these heinous acts a form of ritual killing or the work of a lone, cold-blooded monster? With time running out, Dawson embarks on a harrowing journey through the city’s underbelly and confronts the brutal world of the urban poor, where street children are forced to fight for their very survival—and a cunning killer seems just out of reach."

The West African nation of Ghana is the setting for this second entry in Kwei Quartey's signature protagonist Inspector Darko Dawson.

"Children Of The Street" is a meticulous and compelling detective yarn, wherein a series of murders among children of the slums of Accra - Ghana's capital - presents an almost impossible case for the determined Darko Dawson. But the novel transcends the genre by opening the shutters on a nation and a culture that is complex & nuanced, where crushing poverty is a way of life and the chasm between the haves and the have nots is just that - and a yawning one at that. Additionally, Quartey writes for the senses. He encourages us through sight and sound, smell and taste and touch, to enter the world of West Africa and Accra and live it completely. You can truly experience the streets through Quartey's writing. He brings all these denominators into his narrative and plot effortlessly and one finds themselves receiving a valuable education as well as being thoroughly entertained.

I was immediately struck by the challenge Quartey had set for himself in crafting a compelling detective thriller given the geopolitical circumstance in that country. But I also found from Quartey's style an intimate knowledge of Ghana through experience and research. Child homelessness is rife. On doing some further reading, I note that Ghana rates of homelessness among children stand in between sixty to one hundred thousand at any one time. The young converge on the capital - Accra - in search of work, a means of earning an income and a faltering hope that they might be able to pull themselves out of poverty towards a notion of a better life. It is into this potent melting pot that Quartey inserts a malevolent killer, who begins a cold and clinical pattern of murder that incites fear amongst the slums and renders Dawson and his colleagues baffled in the opening pages.

I arrived at this novel having not had the opportunity to read Quartey's "Wife Of The Gods" but I need not have worried as Quartey introduces Dawson comprehensively through thought, action and life. Dawson is a dogged and meticulous investigator, operating in a severely under resourced police department and thus he employs some unique techniques in his pursuit of the killer. He cultivates working relationships across all walks of life in Accra that bear fruit when it counts. Dawson is a loving, compassionate husband and father and it is within the scenes of family and life after hours that we are given a fully rounded view of an attractive and heroic man. Dawson is not without his failings either and Quartey adds a layer to Dawson that reveals a weakness in character that serves only to make Darko Dawson a more interesting protagonist. I did in fact enjoy this aspect of the novel the most.

Quartey's writing style is attractive, well paced and gripping. There are confronting moments within the narrative that are appropriately gut wrenching. Quartey juxtaposes fear and tension beautifully and human interactions are convincing and real. The dialogue had a particularly genuine quality about it which at times was a challenge for me - but I must stress here that it wasn't a failing of the author. Quartey has captured the 'speak of the street' beautifully. Quartey's attention to procedure is an additional stand out - another aspect of the novel that I found extremely satisfying. Whether it be police procedure, the scenes of autopsy or the more nebulous analysis of the psychology of the killer, Quartey handles each of these deftly, working them into the narrative seamlessly, without heaviness.

I left the novel and the world of Accra reluctantly but totally satisfied.

"Children of the Street" represents a considerable achievement for Kwei Quartey who taken the the murder mystery/detective thriller genre in a refreshing direction. It is at once engaging, suspenseful, atmospheric and very human.

I urge all fans of the genre to add "Children of the Street" to your shelves as soon as you can.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kwei Quartey is a physician practicing in the Los Angeles area, but he cites writing as being his first love. At the age eight, he wrote three short novels that he bound with colourful cardboard covers. They were mystery stories, and Quartey has retained his preference for that genre into adulthood. His novel WIFE OF THE GODS is a murder mystery set in Ghana, West Africa. Quartey is able to set his story in that country because he grew up there until his late teens. He is the son of an African American mother and Ghanaian father.

While in medical school and during his training as a physician, Quartey found little to no time to write, but once he began his practice, he was able to return to his very early ambition to be an author. The arc of his career began with a UCLA extension class in creative writing, then about three years of belonging to a writing group. Thereafter, Quartey settled down to writing on his own. One novel, KAMILA, was subsidy published, which gained him no traction in the publishing world.

(Kwei Quartey kindly supplied me with a copy of "Children of the Street" for review).


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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hear Me - Retrospectively.

In mid 2010, I sat down at my computer with a hope in my heart and a glass of the good stuff next to me, to record an audio book version of my novel "The Hambledown Dream". My intention was to release it onto the web as a way of enticing potential readers into the world that I had created, in the hope that they would run out afterwards and by the book itself. 

Recently, I made a passing mention to the audio book on my Twitter feed and I instantly got messages of interest from the 'verse as it were. "You made an audio book???" 

So, as a way of rewarding those who might still be interested and for those who love the sound of my accent ;) I would like to present the complete audio book sampler comprising the first quarter of "The Hambledown Dream" here for your listening pleasure once more. 

Download it, spread the word about it, give it a listen and tell me what you think and, most importantly, if you like it enough - consider purchasing the novel and treating yourself to the entire story. 

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three. 

For now, I'm off on holiday for a week or so and I'll be planning a couple of great author features for when I return. Stay tuned.