Marek Moran on Writing, Research and his first novel ‘The Sparky’ by Marek Moran (guest blog and excerpt)

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The Sparky by Marek Moran
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reamspinner Press

Cover Artist: Catt Ford

Some Questions

Hello, Reader!  I’m here because my first novel, The Sparky, has just come out, and the kind people at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words have let me give you a bit of idea about what it’s like via some questions they’ve posed.

How much of yourself goes into a character?

As this is my first novel, it’s only one data point so far.  But, as I imagine is pretty typical for first novels, the answer would be “quite a bit”.  There were a couple of times in the editing process where the editor would say “Would your characters really do X?”, and my answer was that that was something that had actually happened in my own life.

Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?

I’ve always thought that something that makes for a full Mary Sue or Gary Stu is that (in Wikipedia’s words) they’re “an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character” in addition to being an author surrogate.  The experiences of my own that I use to create a character certainly aren’t only the positive, glowing ones!  Among other things, I think my essential nerdiness comes through pretty strongly.  (You’ll see this in the excerpt.)

Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

Probably research—in my day job I am an academic, after all.  I can spend days going down the rabbit hole of links and citations and references.  But as a kid I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and I enjoyed making up worlds and cultures in tandem with that.  Tolkien really got me imagining worlds at a fine level of detail.  But the world-creating authors I especially like do an awful lot of research to make their worlds plausible—right now I’m rereading Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and there’s a lot of anthropology research that went into that—so I think maybe research and making up worlds aren’t totally separate.

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Not really.  Or maybe the answer is, Not yet.  As I mentioned, I mostly used to read fantasy and sci-fi (and still read it now, although my book diet is more balanced), but I also used to read some romance—I’d borrow the latest Mills and Boon from one of my (female) friends, although I wouldn’t tell my other friends about it, it not being the conventional teenage boy thing.  So I’m not sure why I ended up writing contemporary romance, except that it’s obviously more natural to write out of real life experience, and I’ve had more relationships with guys than with elves or aliens.  And in a sense the story had a life of its own and just wanted to be born that way.  (Cue Lady Gaga soundtrack.)

Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?

I do, although I also read a lot of history, some fantasy and sci-fi, some mystery / thrillers, and what the other members of my bookclub refer to as Serious Literature.  In romance, it’s a pretty mixed bag of authors I read.  I like old work like Jane Austen, George Eliot, E. M. Forster and Georgette Heyer, but also some newer romance, both straight and gay.

What’s next for you as an author?

I am writing another novel, although it’s still in the early stages: I’ve just hit 10K words.  It’s also contemporary romance, but otherwise quite different from The Sparky.  There’s a bit of a thriller element to it, and a bit of politics as well—that’s how it is in my head and in my notes file at the moment, anyway.  Who knows how it will turn out …

Blurb

Aaron’s been living in what his friend Howie calls a sexual desert. But an oasis appears on the horizon when Paul, a divorced electrician with a five-year-old daughter named Sam, moves in next door. He’s a country boy from northern Australia, and although he’s never been with a guy before, he has an impression that anything goes in the city. They find that the ordinary things in life—books, footie in the park, looking after Sam—lead them into an unlikely relationship.

But as their relationship slowly deepens, with Aaron spending time on Paul’s family’s cattle station, it becomes clear that Paul might have a harder time leaving the country behind. To him, happiness means a conventional life—including a mother for Sam. Being with his old friends convinces him he’s on the wrong path with Aaron, and he starts a relationship with a girl from his hometown. If he cannot find the courage to go after what he truly needs, he and Aaron will become nothing more than awkward neighbours. 

Purchase The Sparky at

Amazon | Dreamspinner

Excerpt

[BACKGROUND: Noone knows Aaron and Paul are going out.  At this point in the novel, Aaron’s visiting his sister Deelie just before Christmas, playing paintball with her and her friends.  It’s one of those occasions when he’d really like to talk about Paul, but can’t.]

After that we go through the training and the warnings about face masks, goggles, neck and throat protection, dangerous shots, dangerous behaviour. Even as I’m walking out onto the ground, I’m not sure how I’ll bring myself to shoot teenage girls. Then I think about Mean Girls—that’ll help me see them as vicious threats. I manage to shoot one crouching in a wooden fort, and then another inexpertly hidden behind a tree, but then I’m hit. Deelie survives until the end.

As I drive us home in a rental car, I look over at her. She has a bruise forming on her right arm. I don’t know what from. “Heh, warrior princess.”

“You don’t still watch that, do you?”

“Maybe. There’s a kid next door up in Sydney and I’ve watched some episodes with her.”

I can’t talk about Paul with anyone, although sometimes it wants to bubble up out of me; this is the next best thing. Just touching on it, skirting the edges of it without actually giving anything away.

“Oh my God.”

“She’s pretty fierce, this kid.”

Last week on a visit through the back gate, Sam told me what she’d been up to at vacation care. As well as doing craft and going on an excursion to the park, she updated me on her playground relationships.

“Finn’s my frenemy,” she told me.

I wasn’t even aware that five-year-olds knew the word “frenemy.”

“Do you know what a frenemy is?”

“Someone who’s kind of a friend and kind of an enemy.”

So apparently they do know.

“Why are you frenemies?” I asked.

“We were playing Xena, and he was a baddie, and when I kicked him by accident, he hit me back on purpose.”

“Did you say sorry?”

“It was an accident.”

“You should still say sorry, though. Xena would if it was an accident.” That’s probably not in the canon, but I’m happy to make this up.

“Okay.”

I tell Deelie a bit more about Sam as I’m driving.

About the Author

Marek Moran is, in his day job, a computer science professor.  If you want to know about shortest path graph algorithms, he’s your man.  However, that’s probably not why you’re reading this.  He currently lives in Sydney, Australia, and has previously lived in France, Germany and the US, enjoying travelling around and listening to people talk: he’s learnt to respond to enquiries after his wellbeing with a ça va merci, sehr gut danke or copacetic, thanks.

The only member of his book club to like George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, he’s discovered that he enjoys writing romance as well as reading it; the other members of his book club don’t yet know this.  He plays piano, squash, and his cards close to his chest.  The Sparky is his first novel.

Author Links

Facebook | Email | GoodReads

Endangered LGBTQ Youth, Books Proceeds, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Tis the season for winding down of the school year and various holidays,  Mothers Day and Fathers Day among them.  And while there are many families out there celebrating their love for one another, there are also many children, including 40 percent of LGBT youth*, who will be spending these holidays out on the streets, abandoned by the very families who should be their mental, emotional, and physical support.

The current fiscal situation at the Federal and local government levels has been devastating to the few shelters currently operating and a hindrance in opening new badly needed shelters and group homes.  In our area, a bright light has been the opening of a new LGBT shelter, Promise Place, on the Washington, DC/Prince Georges County, MD line.  But on the flip side, the Wanda Alston House is in dire need of donations and assistance in order to continue.  And the same can be said for the Ali Forney Center in NYC, whose outreach building was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year.

Every day we hear more about bullied or harassed gay youth in the  media, the politicians make speeches and little seems to be done at the practical level.  We  need more legislation, more enforcement of said legislation, and just an increase in overall awareness of the fragility of LGBTQ youth in our society today.

Luckily, there are a number of M/M authors who are helping the cause with donations of royalties from their books.  I will be listing some of them here.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them to my list.  This week, editor Kris Jacen introduced the anthology Lost and Found by Featherlight Press.  Her announcement and the book details are listed below.  I have not read it as yet but its on my list to do so.  If you have read it, and want to post a review, contact me.  Also listed is Sue Brown’s book, The Sky Is Dead, recently reviewed here and a must read recommendation for me.  Sue Brown is also donating proceeds of that book, here is her comment:

Thank you so much for the review. Your review highlights many of the issues LGBTQ kids face. The royalties from this book are going to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a UK charity supporting homeless LGBT kids.

And Kris Jacen on the Lost and Found Anthology:

From Kris Jacen, editor to various M/M author websites:
Hi all,
Some might know, others might not, but I’ve been working with ten very talented authors on an anthology entitled, Lost and Found. The book released last night from Featherweight Press. All of the stories deal have the theme of hope for those teens that are kicked out/told they don’t matter by their families for being who they are or loving who they love. Each author (and me) is donating their royalties to charity. Below is my editor’s note from the front of the anthology. I hope you pick up a copy or help spread the word so that we can make the most of the donation to help these homeless LGBT teens.

Lost and Found http://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND
In the Fall of 2012, DH Starr approached me about Featherweight publishing an anthology that he was a part of. It was a special project being organized by Michele Montgomery. All the authors wanted to donate their royalties from the anthology to charity. They wanted the monies to go to a specific cause—they wanted the money to go to a charity that worked with LGBT homeless teens.
The inspiration for the anthology was a picture that they had seen with the text over the image that said “40% of homeless youth are LGBT. The #1 reason they’re on the streets in family rejection.”
Once we got to final editing stages we realized, we didn’t know WHICH charity to donate the monies to. There are so many great charities out there working with LGBT youth that we weren’t sure which to choose. We wanted to make sure that no matter how much, it would make a difference. So the search was on.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across one that had the name of the anthology almost exactly—Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. It seemed like fate talking to me and after speaking with one of the board members, I was convinced of it. You see the board member told me that the day before we spoke, they received a call from a teen that had been on vacation with his parents and when they found a gay romance on his eReader, they left him on the side of the road. Yes, you read that correctly, abandoned him for reading a gay romance.
Our hope is that with these stories, these teens realize that there are many out there that care about them. That no matter what anyone says—THEY MATTER.

~~~
Kris Jacen
Executive Editor
ManLoveRomance Press http://www.mlrpress.com
Passion in Print Press http://www.passioninprint.com
Featherweight Press http://www.featherweightpublishing.com

So I am making a list of books whose proceeds or part of their proceeds will be donated to LGBTQ youth shelters and organizations.  I know I am missing quite a few so help me fill in the list and send me the names and publishers.  Here are the first two  three books to start the list:

Finding a Dream coverFinding a Dream by  SJ Frost

Bullied and harassed at school for his sexuality, Dillon Davis can’t see his life getting any better, but he can see it getting worse. Depressed, wounded in spirit and body, he’s nearing a point of hopelessness, until he sees a picture of his favorite stage actor, Brandon Alexander, with his partner, Shunichi Miyamoto. At learning Shunichi runs a karate dojo, a spark of hope comes to Dillon of learning to defend himself, and most of all, meeting Brandon.

Brandon Alexander is filled with compassion for Dillon the moment he meets him. He knows all too well what it’s like to be scorned for being gay. He and Shunichi want nothing more than to help him, but when Dillon never returns to the dojo, they fear what’s happened to him

Per SJ Frost: “Kris Jacen and I are donating our royalties from this story to The Trevor Project.It’s with the support of all who buy this book that we’re able to do this, and from both of us to you, thank you, so very much, for joining with us in giving to those in need.”

ebook, 79 pages

Published December 28th 2010 by MLR Press
ISBN139781608202829
edition languageEnglish
original titleFinding a Dream
settingChicago, I

 

 

Lost and Found coverLost and Found Anthology:

Lost and Found (from the Goodreads website):
by Kris Jacen (Editor), MF Kays, T.A. Webb (Goodreads Author), Tabatha Hart, Dakota Chase, Caitlin Ricci (Goodreads Author), Jeff Erno (Goodreads Author), D.C. Juris
*Some statistics say that 40% of all homeless teens are GLBT. They’re on the streets after their families have thrown them away, told them that they don’t matter, that they’re not normal. Well, guess what? Those families are wrong. This collection of stories by ten talented authors spans the spectrum (historical, paranormal, transgender, cutter, gay) to show that – it’s okay, there are people out there that care, and these teens are perfect just the way they are.

All royalties from this anthology are being donated to Lost-n-Found Youth in Atlanta, Georgia. A wonderful charity working with these teens, helping them find their new place and get on their feet.
Paperback, 421 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2013 by Featherweight Press
ISBN139781608208661
urlhttp://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND

The Sky Is Dead coverThe Sky is Dead by Sue Brown:

Danny is young, gay, and homeless. He lives in the park, preferring to avoid attention, but when thugs confront a stranger, Danny rushes to his rescue. He and the would-be victim, Harry, form a cautious friendship that deepens months later, when Harry persuades Danny to visit his home. Daring to believe he has found happiness, Danny finds his world turned upside down yet a…more
ebook, 232 pages
Published April 17th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806088
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

And now the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 20:               Breaking The Devil by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, May 21:                Noah by Ben Ryder

Wed., May 22:                     Still by Mary Calmes

Thursday, May 23:             Closet Capers Anthology

Friday< May 24:                  Isle of Where? by Sue Brown

Saturday, May 25:               Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger

Review: Open Cover Before Striking by Willa Okati

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Open Cover Before StrikingRating: 4.5 stars

Davis Carmichael has one focus in life, his job as a writer for Tatterdemalion’s Voice, and he let’s nothing else distract him from that.  This includes sexual encounters, then he meets Cristián in an airport while both are waiting for flights out.   Their one night stand is not only white hot but revelatory and neither man can let go of their memories of the encounter.  And neither man expects to see each other again, afterall they don’t even have each other’s full name.

But fate has something else in store for them.  Because the subject of Davis Carmichael’s next column is a matchmaker who Davis intends to expose as a fraud and that matchmaker is none other than Cristián Baranov.  Cristián Baranov is a believer in the adage that there is only one true love for each person and he believes he has a real gift in his ability to see those who are soul mates.  When Davis travels to the home and office of the matchmaker, he is astonished to find his one night stand is the person he has been sent to interview and the surprise is not at all one sided.  Cristián too is surprised to see Davis but also delighted.  It is a case of big city snarky pessimism versus warm country romance and the winner will be anyone’s guess.  But both will be losers in love if Cristián can’t make the biggest match of his life, that of his own.

I will say immediately that while I loved this book, I can see where it is going to be one that people either love or hate depending upon their taste.  And they are going to feel that way from the beginning to the very end.  It will be due to one character and maybe also because of a slight paranormal element that glides throughout this contemporary romance with all the subtly of a light fragrance you can’t put a name too.  It will either  tickle your fancy or make you retch and not too much in between.

First to the characters Willa Okati has created for her story.  I actually loved them both.  The first we meet is the one that will decide this story for the reader.  You might love him or detest him as a total jerk.  I loved him.  Davis is that hot tempered, small bodied prickly hedge hog of a man.  He has a vocabulary both quick witted and foul mouthed and uses words as a weapon more often than not.  Davis pokes and strikes out at people to keep them at a distance and he does not make it easy to like him.  But I did, from the first opening snark.  Because for all his spines, and they are plentiful, there is something about him as Okati has written him that cries out “Don’t discount me, I am going to surprise you”.  And he does.  He has layers, the top of which are distrustful, sarcastic and defensive.  But keep going and the real Davis appears and he is startling!

The one character that will keep the wavering reader going is Cristián Baranov.  A creature of the country and a true romantic at heart, he really does have the power to see personal matches, all but his own in an ironic turn he is not blind to.  He is compassionate and very much aware of human foibles, saying to the couples he brings together that while he can unite them, the rest is up to them.  And as we all know “humans screw up”, and if things don’t work out, then it is only ourselves we can blame.  Not that this makes his pain any less when the couples he brings together don’t make it.  The author makes us believe so totally in his abilities that by the end of the book, you will wish that Cristián Baranov was real and that you could meet with him soon to find the one  you were meant to be with.

The other element that the reader must take on faith is that the events in the story happen very quickly, this is no drawn out love affair, although there is a troubled long term couple also involved.  It all comes down to faith.  Faith in Christian’s abilities and faith that we have a perfect match for each of us out there.  If you can take those concepts to heart, then this story will beguile you and the ending will make you cheer.  And while I may not believe that there is only one for each of us, I loved these characters and their story.  For me it was a darn near perfect Okati, just what I expect from her.  So give this book a chance because really these characters and their story is worth it.

Cover art by April Martinez.  I think you all know by now how I feel about red or yellow cover colors.  I really dislike them and that is once again my only problem with this cover.  I get why the artist did it but still while the models are perfection, ditto the lit match, couldn’t another background work just as well? Sigh.

Review: Life, Over Easy: Fragments Book 1 by K.A. Mitchell

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Rating:  4.25 stars

Life Over Easy coverJohn Andrews life was all planned out, had been since he was young and entered the pool for the first time.  His life revolved around his diving.  He was tutored at home and on the road,  his social circle extended out only as far as his  teammates and diving competitors, even the most normal rites of growing up passed him by, no dances, no television watching or movie going, nothing but diving and diving competition.  Even after winning two Gold Olympic medals, that didn’t change.  John was on target to repeat or perhaps exceed  his goals at the next Olympics until a accident during training changed his life forever.  Now he copes with brain damage, blurry sight, vertigo, and life with a cane as a college freshman, on his own for the first time in his life.  But the place inside of him that used to be filled by diving is empty and John doesn’t know how to fill

One accident six months ago changed Mason’s life forever.  One deer in the middle of the road, one car crash later and everything he loved and thought he would have forever was gone.  Now its Jim Beam and sex that Mason uses to fill the emptiness inside of him, crawling into bed drunk with any number of nameless guys to the consternation and disgust of his roommates and friends.  He needs to concentrate on his school work and project but it seems impossible.

Two men, damaged by life’s accidents.  When John turns up at the wrong house for a party, they meet and while their first encounter isn’t promising, John and Mason are drawn together even as they hide secrets from each other.  John can see auras around peoples heads and he sees two over Mason’s.  And Mason?  He is seeing and hearing his dead lover.   Can both men over come multiple obstacles, including one not of this earth, to find the love both need and deserve?  Life is never easy, but this is ridiculous.

I love K. A. Mitchell.  She is a “go to” author for me and this book demonstrates why I grab up every book she writes.  The characters are unusual to say the least.  John Andrews stands out because he is different on so many levels.  First of all, he is that driven individual who has been pursuing a specific goal since childhood and succeeding at it.  Young athletes are in a category all their own.  They deprive themselves of a normal childhood, delaying or denying all together many hallmarks of growing up in order to pursue their dream, whether it be  that of an Olympic high diver or other sport.  They create a tunnel of efforts, so focused and driven that they seem almost innocent and guileless outside of their sport.  Take that goal, that lifestyle away and you have a person adrift in their own life, no  longer tethered by long term goals.  We see that happen to so many athletes once the Games are over.

K.A. Mitchell takes it one further.  John has had an accident that makes him unable to compete.  From a finely toned athlete, he now copes with a brain damaged during a 2 story fall.  He has vertigo, blurred vision, and  has a condition called Synesthesia, a neurological condition where “one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”  Colors can be associated with sounds or words, or music is combined with sounds or specific sights, etc.   Mitchell’s vivid descriptions gives us a intimate look at how it must feel when even a short walk turns into an overwhelming cavalcade of colors and sights.  John has to deal with the loss of his life’s goal, his new disability, life as a college student, and all the while he feels empty inside because that one feeling of being “airborne”, floating in space as he dives is forever gone.  Mitchell makes us feel that loss as acutely as John does.  And then she brings it crashing up against an equally deep cavern of loss and pain that is Mason’s.

Most of us have not lived John’s life but I would bet that we all know someone like Mason or lived through a similar trauma.  Mason is easily the most identifiable and recognizable of the two men.  We can connect with Mason who is drowning in the loss of the man he thought he would marry and spend the rest of his life with.  Booze and sex are the fillers of choice for Mason, and we get that.  His friends (wonderful characters in their own right) feel helpless to stop the downward spiral, some have given up all together as Mason lashes out at them in his pain.  This is all very authentic in the emotions radiating off the characters and the pages of this story.

But then Mitchell takes it an additional step further, journeying into the paranormal.  John’s condition lets him see people auras, he knows what they are feeling by looking at the pulsating colors above their heads.  And Mason’s dead lover hovers over all the proceedings, alternately angry and amused by being “stuck” to Mason.  I have to admit I wish that this element has been left out of the story.  It was terrific with just the obstacles they were already facing but then you add ghosts and “auras” and we start tipping over the edge.  It is too much for this story to handle, there is just too much to do justice to all the elements involved.  Then at the very end, one final piece is added.  Mitchell throws in BDSM at the last minute into a relationship that had not previously explored this type of sexuality.  It just seems very awkward and out of place.  I could see where she was going with it, and that made sense but it really needed to be introduced much earlier in the book and in their relationship. But as it was I just thought it was a tad strange for them to take it to that level at that time.

So those were my quibbles with this story.  Too many ingredients to give this a 5 star rating.  It was almost there too.  Do I recommend this book? Absolutely, these are wonderful characters and their stories are compelling.  I wish Mitchell would bring out another book in this series because I like where it is going.  Life is never easy, this book reminds of us of that fact.  But there are solutions and answers for everyone, and Life, Over Easy reminds us of that too.  Pick it up and let me know what you think.

Cover by Natalie Winters, interesting but not as interesting as the story within.

Mitchell, K.A.. Life, Over Easy: Fragments, Book 1 . Samhain Publishing, Ltd..