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Thursday, January 19, 2017

J.L. Newton on the importance of environment in her novel OINK

We do love a touch of satire on Jester Harley's Manuscript Page, so it's a pleasure to have J.L. Newton with us today. The target of her humorous novel, Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery, is the world of universities. She wrote a very interesting piece for us about how the environment in your novel's setting can be far more than a backdrop.

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Making Environment a Character in Your Fiction
by Judith Newton

In writing Oink, a humorous send up of the university for its increasing devotion to self-interest, competition, and profit, I also wanted to emphasize the importance of values that are less about profit and more about the common good. I planned to do this, in part, through my characterization of Emily Addams’s campus community. It is comprised of faculty in women’s and ethnic studies who have come together to support each other and to resist having their programs defunded by an increasingly corporate-minded administration.

I wanted to do more, however, to engage the reader in positive feelings about community, and so I decided to suggest the interconnectedness of human and natural life in the very texture of the novel. To feel oneself in relation to the world of nature and to value the smallest forms of life are  precursors to valuing human community as well.

I decided that elements which appear as background—animals, plants, the weather, the seasons—could subtly enforce a feeling of interrelation. There are many animals in the novel, for example, both domesticated and wild, which just appear as the characters are carrying on their lives. As Emily drives to meet with the biologist Tess Ryan, who she hopes will have important information, “a single red-tailed hawk flapped twice, launching itself into air. The sight of a hawk’s glide always brought me to life, making me feel as if I too were capable of soaring.” Many of the characters also look like animals. The Chair of the English Department has a hound dog face which “seemed to sag into his tweed jacket.” The Vice Provost, with her long nose, resembles a hummingbird, and the greedy Peter Elliott, victim of the poisoning, is compared to a pig by another character—although the actual pigs in the novel are far more charming than he.

I named streets after animals or native California plants—Wild Deer Lane, Coyote Court, and Badger Crossing, Poppy Lane, Ceanothus Drive—and  I made the weather heighten people’s moods. Emily feels oppressed by the ninety-six degree heat as she realizes that, with the poisoning of Peter, something sinister has entered into the atmosphere at Arbor State. Later, she gets lost in a tule fog at night, making her feel even more depressed about her inability to discover the culprit.

J.L. Newton (photo: Eliot Khuner)
In all of this, I wanted to be accurate. I studied the birds and animals of northern California, and I worked with a weather calendar from October 1999, when the novel is set, to capture how the weather really operated that month in that year. Knowing what hummingbirds really do inhabit northern California made me feel the kind of attention to and connection with nature that I wanted to instill in my reader.

I also set the novel at a time of year that would convey a message. Oink begins on October 11, 1999, in the midst of harvest and Indian Summer, and ends on November 1, El Dia de Los Muertos, which marks the coming of winter, the dying of leaves, and the diminishment of the sun, reminding characters of their own mortality. El Dia also celebrates those who have died, asserts the continuation of life, and demonstrates the power of communities to fortify their members against the forces of darkness and despair.  In the context of conditions such as these— conditions in which we all live—Oink poses an implicit question: do we spend our lives in an individualist pursuit of profit, or do we work toward more communal ways of being?

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Learn more about J.L. Newton on her website.

You can purchase Oink: A Food for Thought Mystery on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Enter the SPACE SURFERS 1st Birthday Giveaway! #YA #scifi #spaceopera

I can't believe it's been a year since Graika and Lerris Rhellog started their adventure to find their Human roots on the planet Soranen. I'm delighted that SPACE SURFERS was published by Alban Lake; nearly 20 of my short stories have appeared their various magazines, but this was my first book for them.


Space Surfers blurb:

Teenage siblings Lerris and Graika of the planet Soranen want to go into outer space, an act forbidden by their people, the Sor. The Sor, it is believed, are the descendants of the Ellarisor and the Humans, now both extinct on Soranen. When Lerris surfs above the clouds in his minijet, he spots a vessel owned by Lorfallin, a chemical magnate. The ship is spraying a green mist that, it turns out, causes a disease which affects those with Human ancestry, including the siblings’ father.

Thus begins a journey to find pure descendants of the Ellarisor, whose blood might provide an antidote to the green mist. Along the way, Lerris and Graika learn the truth about their ancestry, and some truths about life. This prepares them for the final battle---against the Tust, who have engaged Lorfallin to destroy all trace of Human life. If they win, outer space may be open to them. But if they lose...

Would you like to win a print copy of Space Surfers? You must have a mailing address in the U.S. (international postage is soooo expensive!). I'd love to share Graika and Lerris' world with you.

Please share this contest with your friends. Entries open until Wednesday, February 8 at 11:59 pm Eastern. I'll announce the winners here the next day.

  SPACE SURFERS 1st Birthday Giveaway

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Lisa Marie Latino's novel TEN YEARS LATER is a beacon of hope for millennial women

I am pleased to welcome Lisa Marie Latino, whose novel Ten Years Later offers the story of a woman who discovers her strength and adaptability.

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Life as Inspiration: Writing Ten Years Later
by Lisa Marie Latino

Ten Years Later is about a girl that most people, especially millennials who are trying to find their niche in the “real world,” can relate to.

We first meet Carla D’Agostino while she’s in the throes of a major quarter-life crisis. To add fuel to the fire, she realizes her ten-year high school reunion is fast approaching, and her frustration multiplies when she starts comparing herself to her “more successful” peers. Ten Years Later follows Carla throughout her year-long journey of “perfection” for the big night, and we see the highs and lows of what that entails.

I went through various periods of self doubt in the years after college.  I, too, was single, still living at my parents’ home, and went through some very trying times that all entrepreneurs do while forming their own businesses.  As I opened up to others about my frustrations I realized that nearly everyone, no matter their circumstance, was dealing with the same insecurities. That theme-- visions of what one thinks life SHOULD be versus reality-- really inspired me, and since I've always wanted to write a book anyway, I channeled that angst into writing Ten Years Later.

A lot of readers assume Carla and I are the same person because we share a similar background and common interests; we're both New Jersey-based sports fans that are of Italian descent. Obviously, I drew on a lot of my life's experience in shaping a relatable fictional character, but Carla has her own set of unique circumstances that represent the plight of driven millennials everywhere trying to claim their stake in the world.

Author Lisa Marie Latino
The book was originally written for millennial women in their 20's and early 30's who are struggling to find their way; I wanted Ten Years Later to be their beacon of hope and motivate them to accomplish their heart's desires. But as I’m getting to know my readers, I’m realizing that they come from all walks of life. High schoolers to middle-aged men have read and loved the book because any one of its given themes has resonated with them. To write a book that can touch a wide variety of people is very fulfilling. 

Read the blurb for Ten Years Later:

Carla D'Agostino is not your typical heroine. Stuck in a seemingly dead-end job, single, and still living with her overbearing Italian-American parents, Carla is thrown for a loop when she realizes her ten-year high school reunion is fast approaching. True love, a career as a sports radio talk show host, the perfect body--every dream remains frustratingly out of reach no matter how Carla strives and schemes. Out of reach, that is, until unexpected events lead her right back to where she started, and Carla discovers that all she ever wanted was right in front of her the whole time. "Ten Years Later" is a witty, unpredictable tale of one ordinary young woman's race for the top as she throws caution to the wind and decides to go for her dreams.

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Learn more about Lisa Marie Latino on her website or follow her on Instagram as @LisaMarieLatino.

Ten Years Later is available in paperback and as an ebook.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Most Profound Gaseous Emission in Literary History: #AnthonyBurgess' First Line

Some thoughts about a great novel's opening 

by Anne E. Johnson


So runs the first line of Anthony Burgess’ 1963 novel, Inside Mr Enderby. The onomatopoeic coinage
represents flatulence, of course. It becomes even funnier when one reads the second line: “And a very happy New Year to you too, Mr Enderby!” That’s the narrator, out of sleeping Enderby’s earshot, inviting the reader to observe the novel’s subject.

Mr. Enderby (or Mr without the period, since he’s British) is a poet. He’s also middle-aged, slovenly, and constipated of bowel and pen. His tale, the first in a series of four novels about him, begins in the second section of Chapter 1. The opening section the one starting with the airish effluvia is an introduction to the character in second person, as if the reader were being guided through a writers’ zoo, gawping at a curious creature labeled Poet:

Yes, remark again the scant hair, the toothless jaw, the ample folds of flesh rising and falling. But what has prettiness to do with greatness, eh?

Although Enderby does not consciously hear the commentary we read, he is at one point described as giving a “posterior riposte.”

In fact, Burgess draws a constant connect between Enderby’s intestinal plumbing and his verse output. His work station, or “poetic seat,” as Burgess calls it, is the porcelain throne itself. The choice is both meaningful and efficient: It is meaningful as a metaphor for the often painful struggle of the writer to actually produce anything. It is efficient because, although Enderby the man can rarely “go” successfully, Enderby the writer makes use of the bowl beyond its traditional function. In one passage, his failed drafts are “crumpled into the wastebasket on which he sat.”

Burgess, it should be noted, is the poster-child for preferring strict metaphor to simile. Although it creates more work for the reader, who sometimes has to puzzle out what is meant, the mental toil pays off. That quoted phrase above about the wastebasket would have been mundane if Burgess had written that Enderby tossed the draft “into the toilet as if it were a wastebasket.” Because Burgess lets the toilet simply be a wastebasket, the image is more powerful.

Do not think, however, that this approach of bathroom fixture re-identity is in the interest of delicacy. Remember, the novel does start with a fart. 


Anthony Burgess
Burgess’ first line could not be more appropriate for the story of a writer seeking recognition. Enderby struggles to produce what he thinks of as worthy writing. When he writes at all, he scrawls on toilet paper. His current project is a huge epic poem, which he amasses by collecting non-execrable lines (those he deems worth saving from a swirling, watery grave) in a mournful heap of TP squares in this bathtub. As a result of this unique editorial method, Enderby also cannot bathe, and so the cycle of self-loathing is reinforced.

Another reason the first line works is that flatulence is funny and gross. Enderby himself is funny and gross. This book is funny and gross. And it’s all an analogy to a writer’s life which often is, by turns, funny and gross.

Flatulence also drives people away. Just as Enderby is alone and lonely, writing is a solitary job. The obsessive practice of it, like the overconsumption of pinto beans or garlic, can render the writer socially toxic.

Inside Mr Enderby is not only a hilarious and bittersweet portrait of a fictional character. It is also a truthful, humbling reminder to all of us writers: from Shakespeare on down, our words are nothing but flatulence of mind and spirit. Only some do not, shall we say, smell as sweet as others.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cover reveal: RED SPAWN DELIVERY #funny #scifi #novel

It's here! The cover for book 3 in the Webrid Chronicles series!

How can a picnic go so wrong?

Ganpril Webrid’s  grandfather always told him not to use his cart unless he was getting paid for it. But this huge, hairy carter on the planet Bexilla let a friend talk him into carting beers and grub to a picnic with her old college roommate. 

Worst mistake he ever made. Before he can even burp up his first sandwich, the ol’ roomie stretches out her ten shiny legs, and out pop a hundred spawn. And before Webrid can settle his churning stomach, fifty of those spawn have been kidnapped.

Like it or not, Webrid finds himself on another planet-hopping adventure with snarky, brainy pals Zatell and Stravin and a host of wacky aliens. This time, Webrid’s cart is a playpen -- or it will be, if he can only find those blasted spawn.       

Watch for the release of RED SPAWN DELIVERY in Spring 2017.

If you'd like to be notified by email, please sign up here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Excerpt: Blue Diamond Delivery, funny #scifi

Webrid is excited about the 2017 release of a third book about him. (Who am I kidding? Webrid couldn't care less.) RED SPAWN DELIVERY will be available in a few months. For
now, enjoy an excerpt from the second book in the Webrid Chronicles series...

Blue Diamond Delivery
by Anne E. Johnson

Ganpril Webrid woke up in midair.

“What the…?” He landed with a painful crunch, his wide shoulder wiping out his shelf of commemorative Valestin Hundred-Proof bottles (“Collect all twelve!”).

“Oof!” He pulled a shard of broken glass from his matted fur. That’s when he noticed he was naked.
“I guess it wasn’t a bar fight,” he slurred, as surprised as his muzzy mind would allow. At least he was at home. But something was seriously wrong. Looking around, he saw that most of his meager belongings were capsized or shifted. “Damn. How much did I drink?”

Webrid figured that, since he was on the floor anyway, he could think better if he stretched out on his back. That’s when he noticed the naked Entra lady suction-cupped to the ceiling. “Drarra, honey? Is that you? What you doin’ up there?”

With a resounding pop! pop! Webrid’s favorite paid companion loosened her head from the metal ceiling plates and bent backward to face the floor. “Oh. You still alive?” She didn’t sound thrilled. “What the hell happened?”

Webrid tried to do the gentlemanly thing and look at her face while he spoke to her. He wasn’t having much luck, so he closed his eyes. “Were we attacked by Blennf initiates, or what?”

“Nice one, Web. Mocking people of faith. Very classy.” Her sigh seemed rooted in her lower guts, in that way Webrid had heard from so many whores in his time.

“Seriously, though, what went on here?” he asked again.

Drarra pointed across the room. “I went flying off the bed, same as you. Only I’m lighter and stickier, so I grabbed the ceiling. Help me down,” she ordered, pushing a long, flexible limb toward him.

Webrid stood up in stages, fighting through aches in his hip and shoulder. “Grab hold, babe.” He reached up to get a firm grip on her appendage. “Here we go.” With gentle yanks, he unstuck her, cup by cup, pop! pop! pop!, until she was draped over his arms. “Flew off the bed, huh?” Webrid racked the one dusty corner of his brain that seemed to be working. “You’d think I’d remember sex that good.”

“Oh, please. What sex? You couldn’t manage anything but passing out when we got home last night.”

Webrid was hurt. “You gonna tell me how come we flew off the bed, or do I gotta read it in the paper?”

“It was a quake, I guess.”

Webrid picked some wax out of his ear. “You say quake?”

“Yeah, you know. Ground shaking? People flying off beds? Buildings collapsing, too, probably.”

Webrid rubbed his bruised shoulder. “Quake. Weird. And listen to that.”  


“Outside.” Webrid was used to the sounds of downtown Bargival. He loved the wailing sirens and the vendors shouting at the honking commuters. The revving of engines was like a lullaby to him. But this morning sounded different. A whole new level of chaos.The screeching machinery sounded a lot bigger than usual, some of it hovering in the air. And more people were screaming louder. He’d have looked out the window of his tiny apartment had one. “Sounds crazy out there.” He let Drarra drip onto the bed and started searching for his pants.

“Never been a quake my whole life. And then, boom, there’s a quake? What’s that about?”

“How do I know? Something makes the rocks in the ground shift.”

Webrid, bending over painfully to look under a haphazard sculpture of piled-up furniture, turned his aching neck. “Why would the rocks in the ground shift?”

“What am I, ascientist now? It shakes, is all I know. Just look around you. This mess isyour scientific proof.” Drarra slid off the bed. “I’m hittin’ the Ladies’. Don’t bother me in there.”

Webrid dragged his gaze around his four dingy walls. “Too bad about my building.”

“What about it?” Drarra called from the bathroom. “It’s still standing.”

“Yeah. That’s my point. This lousy building stays upright, but I lose my Val-Hundred bottle collection. Where’s the justice, man?”

“Ha! You drink enough, you’ll have a whole new collection in half a moon.”

Webrid shook his head and pulled a glass shard from between two calloused toes. No point trying to explain to her that those were commemorative bottles. He’d have to deal with black market types to replace that set. Those Akardian salesmen made him cringe, skins covered in floppy lobes and tongues dripping with sweet lies.
Webrid sighed. A quake. Whoever heard of a quake in Bargival?

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Want more Webrid? Buy BLUE DIAMOND DELIVERY directly from the publisher, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and at other online retailers.

Excerpt: Green Light Delivery, funny #scifi

We're gearing up for the release of the third Webrid Chronicles novel, RED SPAWN DELIVERY, in 2017. The style of these books has been described as a cross between
Douglas Adams and Raymond Chandler.

In anticipation, it seemed appropriate to acquaint (or re-acquaint) readers with the ridiculous but lovable mess that is Ganpril Webrid, carter of the city of Bargival on the planet Bexilla in the Raralt Planetary Circle. And so, let us start at the beginning...

Green Light Delivery
by Anne E. Johnson

Ganpril Webrid, carter for the Bargival district, handed a clod of jamboro cake to the blue-skinned businessman.
He took a dendiac note in payment. “You stayin’ here?” Webrid asked, “or can I bring my cart into your space?”
Obviously pretending that he hadn’t heard, the fellow closed his window and sucked the cake down whole through a slimy blue mouth.
Webrid hated these commuter types. Somehow, they never learned the basic courtesies of urban interaction. And they were always in Webrid’s way. So he tried again, louder this time. “Can I use your space, mate?” He enunciated clearly. “How long you stayin’?”
“Bivisher! Braaap!” came the reply, the first word being an expletive, the second a burp.
“Fine. I’ll go somewhere else.” Webrid knew when he’d been licked. But he couldn’t just keep rolling along. He needed to get off the street for a while, after several hours of selling cakes to commuters, pushing his cart through the hotafternoon smog.
As he thought about how tired he was, Webrid realized that someone was standing next to him. “Yeah? I got cakes today, friend,” was his automatic response. Then he turned his head and focused his eyes.
This guy did not want a jamboro cake; he could tell that much for sure. For one thing, this “guy” didn’t appear to be biologically based. Webrid could see the wires at its joints. A great metal head lowered itself on a slender tube of a neck. A brace of digital cameras absorbed the features of Webrid’s face, which made him squirm.
“Like what you see, sailor?” he joked, but only to hide his fear. This wasn’t a Vox police robot. Not one like he’d ever seen, and he’d seen them all, what with parking tickets and contraband searches every few days. The Vox, always watching and listening, seemed to be after him constantly for one thing or another.
The robot’s head came closer to his face. Webrid pulled back. Maybe it was a cop bot after all. “I ain’t parked wrong. I’m on the move, in search of a legal space, officer.”
The robot responded with a mechanical buzz and a series of clicks. A door retracted into its central chamber, revealing a speaker. Somebody—somebody biological—spoke. “Ganpril Webrid, Second-State Licensed Carter,” it announced.
That voice! Icy snakes of déjà vu scuttled up Webrid’s spine. Clear as the bot hovering before him, he pictured the squalid back alley where he used to play with his cousins when he was a kid. Webrid huffed and shook his head, chasing away the random vision.
“Ganpril Webrid,” the voice repeated. “You have been called.”
“Eh?” Webrid had just spoken this syllable when a delicate feeler came flying out of the robot’s head and wiped across his forehead. It stung. “Hey, now, what’s the idea?”
But the thing was gone. Upward. Out of sight.
Webrid felt a headache coming on, and a strange green light pattern was starting to flicker in one eye. The light coalesced into a shape. It was not a very familiar shape, but after a moment of painful concentration, Webrid thought he recognized it. A tree? There weren’t any trees in Bargival, or on the entire planet of Bexilla. Webrid had only seen trees in pictures at school years ago. But now there was one floating in front of him, made of a green cloud. Then its particles dispersed, and there was nothing to see but the comforting grunge of the Bargival streets.

Webrid decided he needed a drink.

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Like Webrid so far? You can buy Green Light Delivery  directly from the publisher, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and at other online retailers.