Tag Archives: A-Z Challenge

G is for Guest

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G is for guest and today I’m pleased to welcome Lisa April Smith, author of Exceeding Expectations, to my notebook. Today, she’s sharing a little about her writing process.

My Approach to Writing

by Lisa April Smith

I’m often asked at book events, “Are you ever stymied by writer’s block?” And I am delighted to reply that I’ve never experienced writer’s block. I think the reason for that has to do with my concept of work. When I was at IBM I didn’t ask myself if I was in the mood to do something. I looked at the tasks at hand, prioritized them and got to it. In the process of constructing a book, I have many varied ways to be productive. Editing. Plotting. Incorporating my latest epiphany. Creating a calendar so that I know how old characters are during the time frame of the story. I maintain a separate file that has the physical appearance, ethnicity and traits of every significant character.

Except when we’re traveling, five to six days a week, I’m at my desk about 7:00 am and quit between 1:00 and 2:00. But whether I’m at my desk or not, I’m never entirely off. If I’m on a plane, or driving, or watching reruns of 30 Rock, or shopping for groceries, my brain involuntarily generates ways for improving the book. Some people call it drive, discipline or dedication. Personally, I think it’s a sign of a compulsive disorder.

I chose suspense/mystery as my genre for one critical reason: to keep my readers involved and turning the pages far into the night. While they are being alternately charmed, dazzled, entranced, amused, aroused, outraged and entertained by my characters, they’re busy looking for clues and guessing what surprises await them. And that’s a challenge. Try to estimate the number of book, movie and television plots that average American adults have encountered by the time they’re thirty or forty. It has to number in the tens of thousands. That makes for a jaded audience. That’s why I work so hard at avoiding clichés: phrases, characters and plots.

Given my choice of genres, it might surprise people to learn that I start with characters and then develop my plot – one that will test my protagonists in fresh ways, while remaining true to their personalities. For example, in Exceeding Expectations, I saw Jack Morgan as a living, breathing, complex person with diametrically opposing attributes. Conman and devoted father. Appealing rascal who would never knowingly hurt someone. Jack has no problem bending the law, particularly when he can rationalize that by doing so, he is protecting his daughters. So I fabricated a childhood that could produce those traits. The son of an uneducated, hard-drinking widower, the youngest of four brothers all reluctantly raised by the sole female in the household, his overworked older sister. As a man, he is so unused to compassion or tenderness in others, that when experiencing these emotions for the first time – seeing a helpless newborn about to be abandoned – it changes him forever.

I love weaving words into stories; placing invented people into invented problematic situations. When I am skillful, I not only entertain, I touch, transport and meaningfully move my readers. And that’s a powerful and addicting drug.

Author Lisa April Smith lives with her husband, He-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous, in Eternal Playland, Florida, a delightful spot just off I-95. Ms. Smith describes Eternal Playland as: “a little piece of level heaven with occasional dampness, where the bugs are plentiful but respectful, and even the smallest strip mall contains at least one pizza place and a nail salon.”

Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating, antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM and returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art. Combine those widely diverse interests with a love of travel and a gift for writing page-turners and it’s easy to understand one reviewer’s unbridled praise for Exceeding Expectations, “She (Ms. Smith) has a brilliance for conveying characters, and the intellectual capacity to place them in historical settings that sparkle with glamorous detail. . . that make it fun to read . . . ” But it takes much more than lush settings, an eye for detail and a love of history to write a page-turner. Read what another reviewer said about Exceeding Expectations: “Lisa April Smith . . . has woven an intriguingly rich tapestry of delightful well-developed characters into a perfectly balanced plot bursting with riveting mystery, crimes of the petty and the horrible sort, suspenseful twists, and romantic tension complete with love scenes that sizzle and pop.”

For more about the author, her books, and upcoming projects visit her website: http://www.LisaAprilSmith.com.

Exceeding Expectations About Exceeding Expectations

It’s 1961 and Palm Beach socialite, irresistible rascal and devoted father Jack Morgan encounters genuine danger while staging his suicide to shield his beloved daughters from disgrace. Next, meet his daughter Charlotte (Charlie), an over-indulged 23 year-old struggling to cope with the traumatizing loss of her beloved father, her sister’s resulting mental breakdown and the discovery that she’s suddenly penniless. Fortunately Raul, an admiring young attorney, appears to offer assistance. As terrified as she is about daily survival, Charlie soon realizes that she has to learn what drove her father to kill himself. With Raul’s much needed ego-bolstering, the drive of necessity and unforeseen determination, Charlie finds a practical use for her annoyingly lean 5’ 11” frame. In time, this career finances her hard-wrought independence, her sister’s costly treatment and an emotional eye-opening journey to Paris.

Jumping back in time to romantic pre-WWII Paris readers meet young Alan Fitzpatrick – aka Jack Morgan – lack-luster artist, expert lover, irresistible rascal, and the bewitching girl who will become the mother of his children. Not even Charlie’s relentless detective work will uncover all Jack’s secrets, but in a fireworks of surprise endings, she discovers all that she needs to know and more:  disturbing truths about her father, her own unique talent, crimes great and small, and a diabolical villain.

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C is for Castle

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Leeds Castle, England

Not so far away, just on the near side of another river, was the loveliest castle anyone could have wanted to live happily ever after in. It was just a castle, not a palace; there was nothing ostentatious about it, and it was all of stone except for the drawbridge. Yet there the hand of the invisible designer had placed his signature. The castle was clearly the kingdom’s centerpiece, its masterful work of art. And what the castle seemed to proclaim with every line and in every detail was that in this kingdom, this was where power and intelligence and beauty had finally come together to form a perfect bond. (The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, pg. 92)

I’ve never actually wanted to live in medieval times. It sounds like a lot of hard work and dirt and not much fun. I’m pretty sure that if Jack Darcey, down-on-his luck former actor, had ever thought about it, he would have agreed, but he didn’t get a choice. He was basically kidnapped and taken off to live in the kingdom his old school chum, Albert Keane, has created in the midst of the Canadian wilderness.

That’s how The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality by Gahan Hanmer begins. Jack is surprised with what he finds. King Albert has truly created a medieval kingdom, plunked down in the forests of modern-day Canada, but completely isolated. There is the requisite castle, complete with dungeon, and a monastery. There is nothing modern, no clocks, no machine-manufactured clothing, no guns or cars. Everything is done by hand. Farmers work the land, artisans ply their trades, monks keep school and visit the sick. But no one misses the modern world. And it almost has me convinced. Maybe life would be better if we were more connected to the land, knew who made the shirt we wear, cared for our horses instead of sending the car to an over-priced garage that couldn’t get my parts in for like three weeks, if we provided our own entertainment instead of sitting in front of shiny boxes for hours on end.

I had seen bigger crowds in my time, but never one so merry and so talented at entertaining itself. Instruments appeared wverywhere, all sorts of flutes and drums and homemade stringed instruments of all sizes and shpaes, and everywhere were small circles of people who played and sang and danced. Amateur performers also gathered their crowds with juggling, acrobatics, and magic tricks. Barefoot children ran in and out of the crowds.” (pg. 214)

But it’s not all happiness and sunshine in the land, as Jack, now Sir jack, soon finds out. There’s a fight brewing, a battle that will lead to many deaths, especially with the lack of modern medicine or surgeries, and it’s up to Jack to become the hero the kingdom needs.

I loved this one. It’s a unique, imaginative story, with great characters, good and bad. There’s romance and adventure, betrayals, sexual trysts and violence. It’s a magical story, but without any actual magic. It’s also about people, and what we makes us human.

4½ out of 5 stars

Category: Fiction- Adventure

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Published April 2, 2012 by Two Harbors
353 pages

Book source: For review

The A-Z Challenge is hosted at its own blog.

B is for Borneo

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Photo credit: Destination360

B is for Borneo, the third largest island in the world, located south and east of the Malay Peninsula and southwest of the Philippine Islands. The island is divided among three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, and is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It’s a beautiful land, full of flowers, trees, birds, and mammals, like orangutans and Asian elephants.

Borneo Tom In Borneo Tom- In Story and Sketch: Love, Travela and Jungle Family in Tropical Asia, Tom McLaughlin does what most of us can only dream of. He drops it all and moves to paradise, taking us along on his adventures. Boreno Tom is not exactly a memoir and it’s not exactly a travel book. It’s a collection of essays, covering everything from the Festival of the Hungry Ghost in Kuching to experiencing an earthquake in Indonesia. He snorkels with jellyfish, meets orangutans and treks to see a corpse flower. Each story is told with humor and a genuine love and appreciation of the land and people. Some made me laugh out loud and some were eye-opening and insightful.

And Tom has no trouble making fun of himself, either. Some of the hikes are just miserable, and sometimes people look at him like he’s a crazy white-guy, and sometimes he knows fully well he’s acting a little nuts, but is perfectly okay with it. He is who he is. And he finds love in Malaysia, marrying a delightful woman, Suriani, after getting all the appropriate permissions, and going through the traditional ceremony. He seems truly happy.

Sketch

Image credit: Author’s website

I like the way the book was formatted. Each essay is relatively short, and is accompanied on the opposite page with a drawing done by Waterfront Niki, a well-known fixture along the Sarawak River walkway. I have to admit they made me smile as much as the essays did.

This unique book actually surprised.  I truly enjoyed reading it, and it made me want to go on my own adventures, although mine may not lead me as far away as Southeast Asia.

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Memoir – Travel

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Published August 27, 2010
132 pages

Book source: For review

The A-Z Challenge is hosted at its own blog.

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