If you want to pick up a free copy of my short story collection (some tales romantic, some surreal and others comic): it is free this weekend, on October 18 and 19. Most of the stories were previously published, but I did include a sneak preview from my (forthcoming) comic novel, which will be released in 2015.
I'd love to hear which of these stories is your favorite-- so let me know in an Amazon review, if you like.
Interesting post from the FSB Associates Blog on the "chicken-egg" question of whether social media helps to account for blockbusters like Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL. Her agent, Stephanie Rostan, argues that the author didn't promote the book-- her readership did it for her. So, the book stimulated others to spread the word-- and then the snowball effect of social media kicked in. Obviously, Flynn had two books under her belt, and some built-in audience-- but this time, everything clicked.
Congrats to friend (and occasional contributor to this blog) on the enthusiastic review of his latest novel, Shoplandia, Iwhich is about a home shopping network (loosely modeled on QVC, where Jim worked as a producer for 17 years.) Jim's an active presence on the Philadelphia literary scene, with two Story Slams (or perhaps more by now) which feature live story-telling, and drinks, to boot.
Today’s interview is with fiction writer Judith Harkness, a writer whom I’m privileged to claim as a friend. Judith has published five wonderfully written Regency novels, which are being released as e-books on October 7 on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other digital stores.
A few words about her:
After a childhood spent traveling with her diplomat parents, attending seven schools in seven countries, Judith Harkness graduated from Milton Academy and Brown University, where she majored in Comparative Literature. She now lives in Southern Rhode Island in an old stone house that requires a lot of upkeep. That, and gardening, swimming, reading, and walking her dog in the beautiful woods and on the beach, take up most of the time when she is not writing. .
SARETT: You’ve written five Regencies. What attracts you to the form? What’s the most difficult part of writing these?
HARKNESS: I was encouraged to write a Regency years ago by my then literary agent, who took me to lunch, and said "Wouldn't you like to be able to afford a nice lunch one day?" At the time , I wrote poetry and the occasional free lance magazine piece. Of course, I said, yes! And she suggested trying my hand at the Regency genre. Since I had been an ardent fan of Jane Austen, I was enthralled, thinking I could knock one off in a few weeks. A year later, I was still trying to write The Montague Scandal. After many false starts, I got the gist. At one point I had about a thousand pages of internal monologue!
What I like about the genre is that there is a formal structure, with predictable elements -- the heroine, usually feisty, a villain, and the hero, who reveals his depth and strength of character towards the end. But within that structure, there is a lot of room for variety, and humorous insight into the characters. I am a big fan of human comedy in fiction.
SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad. Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?
HARKNESS: I don't know that I consciously break any rules. To me the one cardinal rule of all good story telling is that whatever serves the story, works. So if you are writing a historical romance, you need to follow a different set of rules than if you are writing, say, a thriller.
SARETT: Do you think that men and women have a different sense of what is romantic?
HARKNESS: I always assumed women were much more into romance than men, but as I've gotten older, I've been amazed to discover how romantic men (at least some men) can be. For instance, I have been amazed at the elaborate arrangements some men make for proposing marriage, which has gotten to be almost as big a ritual as the wedding. And of course, it depends on the man. Some men wouldn't be caught dead reading a Regency, even one written by the great Jane Austen. My own husband, on the other hand, loves Jane Austen, and read all five of my Regencies when we were first seeing each other. I thought that was very romantic!
SARETT: You've published five Regencies-- do you have a favorite character or love story?
HARKNESS: To say a writer prefers one character over another would be a little disloyal, like saying you prefer one child over another, but I do have some favorites: Lady Pendleton, in Contrary Cousins, is one. She is a tiny, round, and I think hilarious and charming impresario, who decides to take charge of the introduction of her young American niece to London Society, partly to spite her brother, the odious and stuffy Earl. Her nephew, Freddy, is also one of my favorite (and human) heroes, as is Lord Arden, from The Montague Scandal. And I love Charlotte, who seems like such a delicate flower, but proves she has a spine of steel in Lady Charlotte's Ruse. I have a special fondness for the characters who exhibit human foibles.
SARETT: We are both huge Jane Austen fans. What do you think that modern Regency writers can learn from her?
HARKNESS: In a word, everything! I think all writers have a great deal to learn from her: starting with her economy of words, and her deft insights into the motivations of her characters. And, as I know you will agree, she never sacrificed comedy while creating some of the most romantic stories ever told.
SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new interesting (or forgotten) women’s writers. Do you have suggestions for our readers?
HARKNESS: Apart from Jane Austen: Nancy Mitford, Diane Johnson. They are all masters of comedy and also highly literate romance. I have to say, I am also an ardent admirer of Carla Sarett!
SARETT: What are your current projects -- and is there any new fiction in the works?
HARKNESS: I am working on a family saga that takes place in the present -- or recent --day, which I've been thinking about for a long time. I am not working on Regencies for the time being, but would love to see any of my books made into films. Wouldn't that be fun?
Find Judith Harkness Regencies on Amazon: The Montague Scandal; The Determined Bachelor, The Admiral's Daughter, Contrary Cousins, Lady Charlotte's Ruse.
With the proliferation of indie books, there has risen a veritable army of unpaid reviewers who review books in exchange for freebies. Many Facebook groups exist to make this possible. It's not a bad arrangement, given the difficulties that indie authors face in getting reviews. But as with all online arrangements, there are pitfalls. Mainstream reviewers get paid for reviewing: they follow rules. They review books and try to avoid inserting opinions. If you subscribe to a publication, you learn the tastes of different reviewers.
Online, it's more or less a free for all-- some reviewers are skilled, but many others are not. A memoir gets a review: "I don't like memoirs." I recently observed a Facebook thread in which a reviewer had attacked a serial for having a "cliff-hanger," as if serialized fiction was a kind of scam. (As an aside, it's curious how conservative reviewers are about the new formats that digital publishing allows.) I tend to skip all reviews on fiction.
As I've written before, Amazon could solve this problem -- in fiction, certainly. Have the reviewer state their preferred genres -- and their favorite authors. Presto, I can "place" the reviewer.
If I knew that a reviewer liked, say, Nabokov, I might read his or her review with interest. If I know more about the reviewer's tastes (i.e., what books he or she likes) and why he or she likes the book (for a gift, for personal, etc.), the more I can use the review. I might even read new authors, because I could "link" them to my own tastes-- just as I discover new authors through mainstream reviews. Now, there's a thought.
Today, I am interviewing a funny writer, Allison Hawn, whose new book, “Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor,” will be released on September 7.
A few words about her:
Allison Hawn is a short, snarky, scrappy force of nature. As a social worker, self-defense instructor, avid Batman enthusiast and coffee-addicted insomniac she attracts her fair share of adventure. Allison is the author of two humorous collections of true short stories: “Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus” and “Life is Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor.” She resides in Spokane, Washington with her two cats and the ghost that keeps opening her closet door at strange intervals.
SARETT: Are you funny in real life -- or just funny in fiction? What led you to the comic side of the writerly aisle?
Hawn:Well, considering all of the stories in my humor books are true, I guess that would mean that I’m funny in real life. I’m the type of person that weird things just happen to on a daily basis. For instance, this last week at work I had to break up a fight between a couple of forty-ish year old men over My Little Pony. As one of my good friends put it, “Allison, you’re broken in fun ways.”
I’ve hit the point in my life where I’ve realized that if I don’t laugh at myself and my own misfortune, then I have no right to laugh at anyone else. So, I wrote two books that I sincerely hope will help others feel better about their day.
SARETT: I find in writing comedy that pace seems all-important. If it is too slow, the writing feels flat-- whereas in drama, you can linger over, say, the light coming in through the forest. What’s your feeling?
Hawn:There’s a reason that the end of a joke is called a “punchline.” It’s not a “ambling-lazily-to-your-point-line” or a “casual-stroll-towards-a-conclusion-line. As an ex-boxer, this idea makes perfect sense to me.
Have you ever listened to someone tell a joke where you could tell what the end was going to be before you got there? How much did you laugh? (If you laughed a lot, I’m guessing that you are concerned about this person writing you out of their will.)
Humor is supposed to catch you off guard, get its hits in where it can, then back up so that it can build build for another attack. The only difference is that humor will probably not break your nose. Though, if it’s done well, with just enough precision, it will make your eyes water as if your nose was just broken.
SARETT: There’s that saying, dying is easy, comedy is hard. True or not?
Hawn:Absolutely true. This is true in written comedy and in stand-up (which I’ve done). Sometimes you write a line and think, “This is BRILLIANT!” only to read it out loud to someone else and realize, “Wait… I wouldn’t laugh at this. Where did this come from!? Was I drinking cold medication instead of coffee last night?”
Comedy has so many factors. If you don’t have the right timing, audience, syntax structure, pop culture references or proper buildup then you can turn the best line into a giant pile of gryffon poo.
SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad. Is there any writing rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?
Hawn: I try not to break too many of the “good writing” rules. However, I do have an adamant admiration for alliteration, so that may creep into my writing more than some would like.
SARETT: Tell us about your new book!
Hawn: “Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor” is a recounting of pieces of my life as the human magnet for the bizarre. What do I mean by human magnet for the bizarre? It means that, for me, owning a cursed car, being attacked by a man wielding a foam sword, or having to battle an evil pony could manifest on any day ending in “y.”
These stories provide readers with important life lessons learned through trial and, mostly, error. It is proof that truth is far stranger than fiction in a way that readers can be entertained, without having to experience being bitten by a three-legged chinchilla themselves. You’re all welcome.
SARETT: In a comic novel, lots of stuff that can seem scary in other forms (like corpses, for example) are treated lightly. What’s the secret to making it funny?
Hawn:Humor is in the absurdities. It’s not necessarily that the concept of a corpse (or equally serious thing) is funny. It’s finding the strange details about it that make it funny.
Nearly all the humor in the film “Clue” is based around not one, but two, corpses, and that movie is one of the funniest in existence. Why is a movie about dead bodies so humerus (pun intended, please make your own *ba-dum-tish* noise)? Because the writers found the absurd details surrounding the circumstances of the corpses and drew attention to those, instead of drawing attention to the overarching idea of death itself.
SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new (or forgotten) humor writers. Do you have suggestions for our readers looking for funny stuff?
Hawn: --“Foop!” by Chris Genoa --“Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” by James Finn Garner --“Big Trouble” by Dave Barry.
SARETT: Any new projects in the works that you’d like to share with our readers?
Hawn: I am working on both a science-fiction novel and a third collection of short stories. They are racing each other for completion, who wants to take bets on which one will win?