The Dark Place by Stephanie Rogers – Blog Tour Review.

The Dark Place

About The Book

When you look at those you love, what do you see?

When Issy, young mother and beloved daughter, seemingly kills herself her family is devastated.

Believing she would never leave son Noah willingly, Jon and Mel determine to discover what really happened to Issy. As they and the rest of the family struggle to come to terms with tragedy, Jon and Mel start to realise Issy’s secrets come from a very dark place…

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. The Dark Place is one of the more original novels that I have read recently. It concerns the suicide of Issy, young Mum of Noah and daughter of Jon and Mel. She only appears in person in the first chapter where you read about her decision to end her life. You don’t find out the reasons why.
The rest of the novel is about Jon and Mel and their attempts to come to terms with the death of their only daughter and also their struggle to look after Noah full-time. Even though Mel has been his principal carer since he was born it is a lot harder for them now. You see both of their thoughts and their grieving process. Each chapter concerns one of them, apart from a couple that focus on other characters.
Each of them cope differently and not always considering what the other may be feeling. I have to admit, I did prefer Mel. At times Jon appeared more selfish and inconsiderate, even though he did try to protect Mel initially.
As the novel progressed the characters attitudes changed, again I still preferred Mel but my feelings towards Jon softened and I started to see his grieving process with different eyes. Whilst Mel found it easier to forgive and took the opportunity to create a life for herself, he was still trying to find out why Issy chose to die. And who he could blame. What is evident from both of them was the guilt feelings. That maybe they could have found out what was troubling her when she was still alive.
Obviously it is a very sad novel but I didn’t feel that the sadness took over the storyline. There was also room for forgiveness, acceptance of lives having to change and hope for the future.

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White Midnight by Daniel Culver – Guest Post.

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Today it is my pleasure to welcome to my blog Daniel Culver to talk about his writing process. This is a book that I am really looking forward to reading.

About the Book

Elizabeth Nowicki, a British woman and self-confessed stoic, settles down in the seemingly idyllic American town of Midnight, with her new husband and his two children. Six months on, life as a step mom is harder than she thought, and the shine of the American Dream has already worn off.

Bored and lonely, Elizabeth is drawn into a nightmare when someone in a duck mask murders two local cops…and the investigation reaches her new neighbourhood. When this is followed by strange happenings across the street, leading to another death, Elizabeth starts to conduct her own investigation….but can she find the killer before the killer finds her?

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My Writing Process

I figure people like these origin stories, nosey nods to one’s writing practice, so this is mine. Here goes.
I used to be a ‘pantser’. Actually, I was full ‘commando’. I started with an abstract idea and just ran with it, a bit like making Lego with no instructions. Lego without instructions usually looks like something you left in your pantsters; at least mine did. Something with no firm structure usually falls apart very easily, too. Unless you’re a genius. I’m not a genius, so I need stabilisers.
Now, I am an ardent planner. A Micro Manager, as Zadie Smith suggests. This works for me because my ideas are both abstract and erratic. I don’t write in sequence, so I can slot whatever I make up into a timeline. Actually, I would say I am re-planner. I usually begin with an idea and I need to let it ferment in my head for a long time. I will probably begin with one or two scenes to properly set the tone, and while I’m writing those, I will use a Beat Sheet (see Saves The Cat Beat Sheets, they’re great) to construct the plot, which I will then break across three separate documents – my three act structure.
This allows two things: to easily navigate my manuscript(s); while also allowing me to easily re-structure things as I go, according to my Beat Sheet.
I usually end up shuffling things quite a bit and while I’m going that, I will then write each character’s story, depending on how many POVs there are in the plot. Once I have the plot structured across the three acts, I will then dissect and insert the individual story arcs. I’m sure there is software out there that does this type of thing for you, but my system doesn’t cost anything and I’m set in my ways. This is my own organised chaos.

So, in short, while in the early writing stages I usually have: A beat sheet, which contains the plot points. A work in progress file, for ideas and snippets that are not yet finished or fully realised. My actual manuscript at this point is dived into the three acts, which I will lay my beat sheet to. Finally, I have the separate story arcs for the main character(s), which will be inserted into my three acts once I am happy with the plot. So, no less than six separate documents in all.
Basically, I see it as a play. I construct the necessary beats across the three acts. I then set the scene or furnish the set. My WIP is like a rehearsal, riffing on ideas until they are ready to be added to the script. Finally, once the characters/actors are ready to go in, I slot them in to place.
I’m not fun at parties!

You can purchase the book here

Daniel and James

Anaconda Vice by James Stansfield – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

When Lucas Winter, a retired professional wrestler, runs out of gas on a dark and desolate road, his only thoughts are on getting to the lights of the small town up ahead, getting some gas, and getting out of there…only things aren’t quite what they seem in the tiny town of Anaconda.

Before he has a chance to solve his transport problem, Lucas finds himself in trouble with the law after a local man picks a fight with him…and then ends up dead. Innocent, Lucas fights to clear his name, tangling with the local law enforcement and the family of the dead man, who seem set on taking their revenge. Can Lucas get out alive? And just what is it that the residents of Anaconda are hiding….

My Review

It is not my usual practice to read a novel without knowing anything about the synopsis or the author. But occasionally I will bend my rules and I was well rewarded with this novel. It is a gem.
When Lucas Winter runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere he has no option but to walk to the next deserted looking town. Straight away he ends up in a lot more trouble when a local gets under his skin.
Very early on in this novel I was intimidated. There was something about the level of darkness and how loud his footsteps sounded in the silence that made me feel edgy.
Everybody seemed untrustworthy and scared. When he started asking questions life became more uncomfortable and he just made his situation worse. I had no idea who he could get on his side but I assumed that everything would be resolved and he would be able to leave and get on with his journey. That is, until I received one of the biggest shocks I have come across in fiction. If it was possible for my chin to hit the floor it would have done. It showed that you should never assume to know which way a novel is going. And, the twist worked very well.
This is a fantastic novel by a debut author who I will happily read again.

You can purchase the book here 

Lost In Nashville by Neil White – Q and A

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Today it is my pleasure to welcome to my blog best-selling crime author, Neil White to talk about his new novel Lost in Nashville which will be published by Manatee on November 9th. I found this novel to be a fascinating read and listened to quite a lot of the songs mentioned whilst reading.

About the Book

James Gray is a lawyer and his life is a success. Or at least, he thinks it is, but something is missing – a bond with his father, Bruce.

Bruce Gray is old, retired and estranged from his family. He spends his time drinking and drifting in the small seaside town in England that James once called home.

James decides to take Bruce on a road trip, to try and connect with his father through the one thing that has always united them: a love for Johnny Cash and his music. Together they travel through Johnny Cash’s life; where he grew up, the places he sang about – a journey of discovery about Johnny, the South and each other.

Always fascinating, an evocative and emotional road trip, Lost In Nashville will captivate you, inform you and along the way may even break your heart.

Lost In Nashville Q & A

1) I’m aware that you usually write crime fiction. Was this novel something you always wanted to do or did the death of Johnny Cash give you the inspiration? Or was there another influence?

It was the book I always wanted to write, because it was very personal.
My father was a Johnny Cash obsessive and, as I grew up, that was the music I heard. It was very much the soundtrack to my childhood and made me a fan. I got to the point where I thought that I needed to get on and write or I’ll never get round to it. It wasn’t inspired by Johnny’s death, but perhaps it gave the book a little more poignancy.
As a book, it took various forms as it evolved. My initial intention was to write as a Bill Bryson sort of book, a road trip, all factual, but as I tried to write I realised that my skills were not in that field.
I decided to fictionalise it, but then make it autobiographical, write it as if I’d taken my own father on the road trip. I finished that version and decided that there was too much of me in it, as the book was never meant to be about me. I fictionalised it even more, although elements of all its incarnations make it into the finished book.

2) Was the road-trip as emotional as it appeared at times in the novel?

Not really, I’m afraid to say, as I didn’t take my father with me, he was too infirm for that. Instead, I took a drinking buddy with me, someone I used to visit the States with before I had children. I told him that it was my trip, my route, so I would provide the hotels and car. All he needed was his air fare and some beer money.
He was fine with that, and I devised the route so that we’d be at wherever we were staying by around seven so that we could head to a bar.
The emotion I felt doing the trip was one of awe and wonder, because I was visiting places I’d only heard about in songs. To be a lifelong fan and to suddenly find yourself in Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, or staying in his motel room in Starkville, Mississippi, was amazing.

3) Did you write the books around the songs featured or was it the other way around?

Around the songs.
The book came about really because I was looking at a map to find Dyess, Arkansas, the town Johnny grew up in, out of idle curiosity. As I looked, I saw how close Memphis was, and then Starkville, where he based a song after spending a night in the drunk tank, and it occurred to me that I could travel his life by tracking his songs. The more I researched, the more song locations I found, and I realised I could do it in chronological order. Johnny Cash, cradle to grave told through his songs.
That’s how I came up with the idea of having each chapter based around a song, because I was visiting some places purely because of the song. Like Starkville, Mississippi. Or Canton, Mississippi, where Casey Jones died. Or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the setting for Boy Named Sue. I just needed to wrap a story around it, and I tried to match the personal relationship between the characters in the book to the state of Johnny’s life at the time.

4) How difficult was it to choose the songs that you mention, and were there any that you felt that you couldn’t use?

Geography picked some, because it was a road trip. There were others where I had to be a little more creative. For instance, the characters pass through Selma, Alabama, on their way to Montgomery, the site of the Hank Williams Museum and the beginning of Hank’s last journey. Those places are more famous for the civil rights movement, but Johnny Cash didn’t write or sing any songs that were overtly in support of the movement. One of my favourite songs however, Orange Blossom Special, was released at the same time as Martin Luther King was trying to lead the marches from Selma to Montgomery, in February 1965. In those chapters, the characters talk and wonder why he didn’t outwardly support the civil rights marches, and they talk about the civil rights movement.
I would have loved to have extended the trip to include Washington DC, so I could have talked about Mr Garfield, Johnny’s song about the assassination of President Garfield, which seems to be very much a forgotten assassination. The site of the shooting is now part of a shopping mall. In the end, the distance was too great, because I wanted to end the trip in Nashville and at Johnny’s grave.

5) If you had to recommend one song to somebody who didn’t know his music which would it be?

Orange Blossom Special, for the songs he recorded in his heyday. It has the railroad rhythms that was the backbone to many of his songs and just flows along. And everyone knows Ring of Fire.

6) Did doing the road- trip make you think differently about Johnny? e.g. did you find out anything that you never knew before you went?

I didn’t find anything new because I had done a lot of the research in advance and the trip was really about visiting the places.
What I got out of it was just seeing the places he’d sung about. That was what I wanted from it, and I loved it.
What I realised too was how hugely popular he was, and how huge country music is. Every bar we were in when visiting Nashville played a Johnny Cash song at some point. The Johnny Cash Museum was the only one we queued for. The bars in Nashville got very busy, a band in every one, and they were singing cover songs and everyone knew the words and I knew I’d never heard them before. I understood how there is a huge scene that just isn’t seen over here.

7) Would you do a road-trip again for a different artist or author or do you feel that this was something you could only do once?

I couldn’t imagine doing a road trip for another artist but perhaps for a genre.
One part of the trip that I loved researching was the history behind the music, both the blues and the traditional country music, Johnny’s music being a mix of the two in some ways. My buddy and I had a great day roaming all the places of old blues legend in the Mississippi Delta, like Dockery Farms, or Greasy Street in Ruleville, or Tutwiler, or Robert Johnson’s grave. Much of it was run down but there was no denying it was atmospheric. Once we headed east, we toured the area around Clinch Mountain, where the original country artists lived and who gave us the “big bang” of country music in the legendary Bristol Sessions.
I’d love to do a book exploring the roots of country music, again as a road trip, or possibly the blues.

8) How exciting is it to be one of the first authors to be published by a new publisher?

Incredibly exciting. I knew the book would always be a difficult sell to mainstream publishers because there is too much Johnny Cash for the fiction publishers, and too much fiction for the music publishers. From the outset, Lisa Hall and Liz Wilkins from Manatee have been supportive of the book and wanted to publish it. They approached me, I didn’t approach them. I hope their faith is repaid.
For me, I just loved writing the book. As much as I enjoy writing crime fiction, and I want to keep on doing that, this book is very much a labour of love. I hope this comes across.

Many thanks to Neil for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can buy the book at amazon