Thursday, November 9, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sybrina Durant, Author

Sybrina Durant, Author
THE BLUE UNICORN'S JOURNEY TO OSM
Sybrina Durant created THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM, targeted at teens, but to be enjoyed by all ages. She thought of the concept almost 40 years ago, and completed her vision recently with an illustrated book that includes unicorns with “personality and depth” and a story that is an “action-packed adventure,” according to reviewers. Durant’s unicorns also display humor, an attribute that Durant believes is critical in our human lives.

She is currently working on a full novel of THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM and also plans to publish a glossary about the characters, places, and things she created in the world of her book. She lives in Texas, and when she’s not writing books, she likes to write songs.

Don’t miss an excerpt from the book following the interview. 

Q: What inspired you to write about a blue unicorn? Why choose a unicorn?

Sybrina Durant: Nearly 40 years ago, when I first conceived of the idea for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM  I had read a lot of fantasy books which completely mesmerized me.  The ones which really stood out to me were books like “Watership Down” by Richard Adams (which was about a rabbit warren with members who thought and acted like humans), “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey (with dragons which could speak to humans telepathically), “The Oz” books by L. Frank Baum (with the talking lion, talking monkeys, talking chickens and more), “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (with the talking white rabbit and the Cheshire cat) and oh so many others. 

I was fascinated by the idea, throughout all of the different stories, that animals could be reasoning creatures - that they could love and war and exist as communities within themselves or with humans.  But I was especially influenced by the unicorns from Phaze in Piers Anthony’s “Apprentice Adept Series”.  Those unicorns ranged in a multitude of colors and were as intelligent as humans.  They were musical and magical, too.  I was also enamored with the word play in Piers Anthony’s writing style.  He would take ordinary words and give them completely different but clever meanings.  I wanted to try my hand at that style of writing so I set about developing the metal-horned unicorn tribe from Unimaise. 

Each would have a different metal horn with coat, mane and tail colors derived somehow from the properties of the metal.  For instance, since burning copper has green flames, the copper-horned unicorn is green.  The unicorns would each have a different magic power somehow associated with the properties of their metal.  Since copper was once used exclusively for water pipes because it was thought to keep water flowing through it clean, the copper-horned unicorn’s magic power is to purify water.  That’s the theme I tried to stick with in developing all of the characters but I had to use a lot of poetic license at times.  Only one unicorn would be different.  He would have no metal and no magic.  The story is about the blue unicorn’s quest to save his tribe despite his overwhelming “disabilities”. 

After intense research in dictionaries, encyclopedias and real library books, I ended up with index cards for each unicorn and all of the other characters that I wanted to feature in the story.  I wrote a very long outline and summary and even drew a detailed map of the land of MarBryn.  After typing up about 50 pages of the story, I just came to a screeching halt and didn’t start up again until a couple of years ago.  Life just got in the way.


Q: Who are your target readers for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM?
Is this a book for children, young adults, adults? Reviewers say that, “This book transcends age groups.” Do you agree?   

Sybrina Durant: Originally, this book was going to be an adult fantasy but after becoming acquainted with the amazingly talented Sudipta Dasgupta, I decided I wanted this to be an illustrated book that could appeal to a younger audience.  I had nearly finished the novel by the time he approached me about doing the illustrations.  In order to best present his artwork, I realized that I was going to have to minimize the amount of pages and enlarge the page sizes.   I went through the very tedious process of reducing the story text so that each chapter would fit into just two pages which would precede a picture spreading across two pages.  The best reading experience is definitely the print version but it is available in all ebook formats also. In addition to reducing the word count, I also simplified a lot of the text but I left in many concepts that (in some people’s opinions) placed the book beyond the middle grade age group. 

Since many parents wish to protect their children from subjects like war and death as long as possible I decided to rate this book for teens and up.  I have tried to write an appealing story for all ages to enjoy but I think it is up to each reader, no matter what their age might be, to decide for themselves about whether it reaches out to them or not. 

Q: Did you write THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM strictly to entertain? Or did you intend, as one reviewer says, to write a book “with deeper meanings and themes?”

Sybrina Durant: I have always been interested in the “science of things”.  I wanted to bring as much of that into the story as I could to make it a learning experience which was both magical and entertaining at the same time.  The further I got into writing the story, it began revealing things to me that I had not anticipated.  That long outline I mentioned earlier was thrown out the window.  I never really referred back to the summary, either.  I redrew a lot of the map and instead of having only one journey line, there are now two.  Some characters who were barely even there before became major players.  They wanted their stories to become prominent and so they are now.  I am very glad that readers have found deeper meanings in the book than they thought they might find when they began reading the story.  I guess if the book has a main theme, it is “You can’t judge a book by its cover.  You must open it to find what’s within.”  That is true for every person, place or thing we come across in our lives. If you give a little of your time and consideration, you will almost always find some reward.

Q: When writing about a unicorn and magic, how do you create believability or credibility? How relevant is consistency in your world-building? What will cause a reader to stop reading? 

Sybrina Durant: This story is a blend of magic and realism.  Everybody’s got to eat and these unicorns especially love eating.  Luckily for them, one of the unicorns, Tinam, has the magical ability to conjure meals from thin air and to even preserve them in tin cans of every shape and size.  Of course, in real life, no meal will ever be magically plucked out of thin air but most readers have the ability to suspend disbelief when it comes to magical creations.  Some might stop reading the book the first time they read about Chef Tinam’s magic power but those readers probably prefer more reality-based books.

I try to be consistent with my world-building by always thinking about the real science behind what might be happening.  For instance, the unicorns in my story have split hooves which they use for picking up things.  Their knees (or elbows) bend in the same way that a human arm bends and moves so they can bring a fork up to their mouth the same way we can.   They can sit on their rumps on stools around a table for a meal the same way we can.  Real horses could never do such things but these are not horses…they are unicorns!  These unicorns also spend a lot of time singing and dancing – even though they are facing complete extinction.  Of course most humans would never be able to cast aside their fears to such an extent that they could immerse themselves in such ridiculous behavior…or could they?  Some readers might have to stop at that, but I hope they don’t.

Q: How do you create characters to engage your readers? What makes a reader care about them? Are you able to use the setting to help develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: I’ve tried to give each character a personality that is uniquely their own.  And I’ve tried to show individual concerns, grumpiness, sense of humor, cool under pressure and so on, so that as you’re reading you can tell who they are by how they speak and act.  One of the methods I used to give each one a distinctly different personality was to think of a popular actor or actress of the time.  These actors were all part of my index card character development and they were greatly loved by the viewers of the television programs they starred in.  Many of those actors and actresses’ names won’t even be recognizable today to your younger readers.  But here are a few just for fun:  Cornum the Brass Horned Unicorn was based on John Ritter “Jack Tripper on Three’s Company.” Style the Steel Horned Unicorn was based on Jackee Harry who played “Sandra on 227.”  Nix the Nickel Horned Unicorn was Bruce Willis who was starring as “David Addison on Moonlighting.”  Alumna the Aluminum Horned Unicorn was Shelly Long who played “Diane on Cheers” at the time.  I have the entire list and it is interesting to look at it again.  I’d love to know which young people might play the unicorn parts today. 

Q: How relevant is the concept of hero vs villain to tell your story? What are the characteristics of an effective villain?

Sybrina Durant: In my mind, hero vs villain equates to good vs evil.  But just because someone has become a villain, it doesn’t mean that they always were one.  I think an effective villain is one who you can almost have a little sympathy for because you know something about how they were before they became one.  That sympathy can almost make you think there’s hope that they might change back to they way they were but as they do more dastardly things they make you realize that they are far beyond changing.  Sometimes, you have to make a conscious choice to turn away.

Q: How helpful is humor to tell your story or develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: Have you ever heard the saying, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”  Humor is the most important thing we have going for us as human beings. It can help us out of the most dire situations.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I am sitting at home surrounded by water on all sides.  Luckily, my neighborhood seems to be an island in an ocean of water surrounding the entire state of Texas. Earlier today, my husband posted on Facebook, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when we run out of paper towels”.  Now, that’s the least of anyone’s worries right now but it got a lot of laughs out of a lot of seriously stressed out people.  Some of the characters in the blue unicorn’s story can look a little silly at times. . .some of the humor might even seem a little juvenile but it is always placed there to relieve some stress.

Q: Reviewers also rave about the illustrations. What can you tell us about them and the artist?  

Sybrina Durant: I am so happy that Sudipta Dasgupta approached me about illustrating this book. He found me in an illustrator/author group on Facebook.  I think some things are just meant to happen the way they do since, as I mentioned earlier, I had never intended for this to become an illustrated book until he came along.  It took us over a year to come up with all of the ideas and final illustrations.  I almost felt like I was writing a movie scene for each illustration.  First I would write out the setting of the scene.  Next, I listed all of the characters in the scene.  Then, I broke down what everyone in the scene was doing.  I would always provide the text of the story for the scene, too.  I spent a lot of time gathering photos of items that I wanted in the scene so that he would have an idea of how to draw them.  Sometimes, I actually changed where I was going with the story because if an illustration I received back from him.  I really enjoyed working with Sudipta (or Steve as he’s known to most Americans) as he is thoughtful, thought-provoking and amazingly creative. 

There are forty-two full-color illustrations in all but we didn’t stop there.  It broke my heart to quickly realize that the cost of the full-color illustrated book was going to be out of the realm of accessibility for most potential readers.  It - is – very - expensive.  So, I commissioned Steve to also create all of the pictures in black and white – in the wood-cut look of old fairy tales -  so that I would have a very inexpensive version of the book to offer for sale.  In fact, it is just 1/3 the price of the full-color book.  It happily has an added bonus of being what I’m calling a “Read and Color” book.  Read a chapter and then color the following illustration – how fun is that?  Steve also did the illustrations for a companion Coloring/Character Description book and for a set of trading cards featuring all of the unicorn characters.  The trading cards and lots of other Unicorn Bling are available at my “Journey To Osm” collection on zazzle.com.   

Side Note: There’s also an audio version of the book.  It is narrated by Troy Hudson.  I don’t want to leave him out of all of this.  I never imagined that one person would be able to give voice to so many characters and do it so well  He really makes the story extra fun. . .especially if you read along with Whispersync.

Q: What’s next?

Sybrina Durant: “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm NOVEL,” of course!  I still plan to offer readers the original expansive version of this story.  It is a few hundred pages longer than this illustrated book and is much more in-depth.  And I’ll also be publishing a humongous glossary that I’m calling “The MarBryn Compendium.”  It’s especially for those people who just can’t get enough information about how the characters, places and things in the land of MarBryn and the world of Unimaise were imagined.  Then, there’s the movie!  OK, so there’s not a movie in the works yet but wouldn’t it be cool?

Q: Tell us something about Sybrina Durant. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sybrina Durant: I like to write songs as well as books so all of my stories have accompanying songs.  You can hear the songs in the book trailers for this book on Youtube.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually marketing and promoting.  As a self-published author, it is a never ending process but luckily one that I very much love.  This leads me to give very heartfelt thanks to Joyce Strand for sharing space on her amazing blog with me to discuss “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm.” It’s because of people like her that authors like me have the very rare opportunity to let others know that our books even exist.  With hundreds of books being offered to the public for sale each and every day in the US alone, an interview on a blog like hers means a lot in these times of immense competition for attention in the book world.

About Sybrina Durant

Sybrina is the author of many different types of books.  Some are technical and others are fanciful.  Illustrated books are her favorite.  She believes that you can capture a reader’s attention with a good story but amazing artwork will reel them in and keep them riveted.

“I'm Sybrina. . .. . .Just one of millions of wannabe author/singer/songwriters out there but I hope, after reading or hearing my books and songs, you'll think my contributions to the world have as much value as any other famous artist out there today.

Fame is all in being in the right place at the right time but at least with the internet and venues like this, all of us have opportunities to share our creativity with the world. I'm so happy that I am able to share my works with you. That is awesome!

The books I’ve written span a wide range between illustrated picture books, coloring books and YA novels to technical and how-to books. If you’re so inclined you can read a little bit about the inspiration for each one below."


“The metal horned unicorns are doomed!” That’s what Lauda Lead Horn wailed when she first saw the tribe’s new savior. OK, so his horn was not metal. . .and he did not have a magic power. . .and he was really a puny little runt. But doomed? Were things really that bad? 

Well, things were pretty bad in the land of MarBryn. Magh, an evil sorcerer utilized unicorn horns and hooves to create his magical potions and spells. Those he used, to increase his power and to conquer everyone in his path. All of the unicorns from the Tribe of the Metal Horn were now gone . . . except for twelve survivors. 

Before the blue unicorn was born, Numen told Alumna, the aluminum-horned oracle, that he had a plan to bring the tribe back home to Unimaise. His prophecy was, “Only the blue unicorn can join with the Moon-Star. Until then, no new unicorns will be born.” Blue was the last unicorn born. Twenty years later, his horn was still covered with a plain blue colored hide. There was not a glint of metal to be seen on it or his hooves. And he still didn’t have any magic. But he was no longer scrawny and he had his wits. Though no one else in the tribe thought he had a chance, Blue felt ready to make Magh pay for his evil deeds. And he went off to do it alone. That was Blue’s first mistake. If the entire tribe was not standing horn-tip to horn-tip at the proper time and the exact place to help usher the Moon-Star Spirit into Blue’s horn, he would die. Then, the rest of the tribe would really be doomed. 

Readers will follow along two journey paths in this book. Blue is joined in his travels by his mentor Gaiso, the Stag and his friend, Girasol the Firebird as they try to find their way across a danger-filled MarBryn to Muzika Woods. The rest of Blue’s tribe is forced to follow another route due to Nix Nickle Horn’s unfortunate incident with a Manticore. Nix, the great unicorn defender must safely lead the way for Ghel, the Golden-Horned unicorn; Silubhra Silver Horn; Cornum the Brass-Horned unicorn; Steel Horned Style; Cuprum the Copper-Horned unicorn; Tin-Horned Tinam; Dr. Zinko; Iown the Iron-Horned unicorn and the others in an action packed adventure to their destination in Muzika Woods. Both journey paths converge there in the Nebulium Circle.

Excerpt

The firebird hovered at the entrance of the canyon watching the three of them. 

Blue was crunching on a rock. He giggled and said something that sounded like “silly bird” to the pendragon and they all laughed.   

It was ridiculous.  Girasol felt completely powerless and her feelings were hurt, too.  She had no idea how she could help them. 

“How can I make them listen to me?” she asked the mountains.  Her normally bright orange flames had become a faint red glow. 

"You can't," a voice which seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time answered.  "I have induced hebephrenia into their feeble minds."

"Who are you and what is heb-phren-whatever you called it?" Girasol flared, melting some of the ice from the nearby rock faces.

"My, aren't you a hot-head?" the voice chuckled at her display of anger.  "I am Yegwa.  They call me the spirit of false springtime.  I have put your friends and the pendragon under a spell which makes them think this is a wonderful place to live."

“Let them go," the firebird demanded, blue-white sparks spouting from her feathered crown. She could not see the spirit and was very frustrated.

"Let them go?  I wouldn't dream of it.  It’s not often I have this much fun," Yegwa said in a voice hungry with anticipation.  "My magic doesn’t seem to work on you though,” she said thoughtfully.  "It must be that hot blood of yours."

"What kind of spirit are you?  How can you enjoy watching your victims freeze or starve to death?" Girasol asked.  "You are so wicked.  I don't know what's worse—you or that evil sorcerer, Magh," she shouted disgustedly.
 
"Magh?  Sorcerer?  Do tell…he sounds like someone I would like,” Yegwa asked with interest.  “Is he single?”

 “Single?  What?” Girasol blazed.  “Forget about Magh!  I don’t have time for this back and forth with you.”

 “Ooh, well, la-ti-da…aren’t you the peppery dish,” Yegwa said, letting loose a shrill cackle.  “If I had teeth, I’d eat you right up!”

"What about my friends?" the firebird asked again.  She looked around the top of the canyon walls trying to find the owner of the ghostly voice.  

"You're welcome to keep company with them if you wish.  I don't keep anyone imprisoned, you know," Yegwa said, trying to sound sugary sweet.

 “Thanks a lot,” Girasol said sarcastically.  She tapped her head with her right wing, trying to figure out a way to save her friends.  “Hot blood. . .hmmm. . .Warmth. . .that’s it,” she realized.  “If they’re going to snap out of this, they need to be warm!” she thought suddenly. 

They were going to freeze to death if she did not help them soon. She remembered seeing Blue pick up some pepo seeds earlier.  She searched the bag hung across his shoulder and brought one out.  He was so far gone, he did not even notice her.  One seed would give her enough energy for five days.  “In this cold, I might need this and more to keep them warm,” she thought, while chewing the seed. 

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Twitter address @Sybrina_spt





Monday, November 6, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sandra Nikolai, Mystery Author

Sandra Nikolai, Author
BROKEN TRUST
Book 5 of Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Series
Sandra Nikolai just released BROKEN TRUST, the 5th mystery in her series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. Reviewers of previous books claim the series is “well-plotted and punctuated with shocks” and “impossible to stop reading.”

According to Nikolai, the pairing of protagonists helps “create tension and move the plot forward.”  By setting this mystery in Ottawa, she takes advantage of the capital city’s  healthcare decision-making, which supports the development of her plot.

Nikolai is currently working on Book 6 of her mystery series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, especially anything with chocolate in it as she is a fan of desserts.

Q: What draws you to write Mysteries? Who is your favorite mystery author?

Sandra Nicolai: Puzzles have always intrigued me, and mysteries even more so. The ultimate test arrived the day I decided to write my first mystery novel. I’ve been published for five years now, but ensuring that all the pieces in a mystery fall into place is still quite the challenge. And I love every minute of it!

Some of my favorite mystery authors include Donna Leon, Linwood Barclay, Kathy Reichs, James Patterson, and Louise Penny. I also enjoy discovering new authors and regularly add their books to my to-read list. I don’t think I’ll ever catch up!

Q:  In your new book, BROKEN TRUST, you’ve paired Megan Scott and Michael Elliott together again in your new book as double sleuths to solve the mystery. Does this pairing help to develop the plot? Romantic interest?

Sandra Nikolai: Yes to both questions!

In my latest book, BROKEN TRUST, as in the other books in the series, Megan and Michael’s characters differ in ways that help to create conflict in the story and move the plot forward. As an investigative reporter, Michael meets with seedy informants in dark alleys in his hunt for murder suspects. He thrives on taking risks. Megan’s participation in his sleuthing activities provides an exciting break from her “boring” job—ghostwriter of non-fiction material. Since she tends to be cautious and worries about Michael’s safety, their covert outings enable her to pull him back from the brink of death when necessary. Of course, Megan’s curiosity sometimes gets her in trouble too, so it works both ways.

The romantic interest between them originated in the first book, FALSE IMPRESSIONS, and continues to grow through the series. Is marriage a possibility? Michael might be inclined to the idea, but Megan’s bad experience with her first marriage planted doubts in her mind. The topic creates tension between them, which helps to develop the plot.

Q: How do you turn your ghostwriter into an amateur sleuth? What makes her credible?

Sandra Nikolai: FALSE IMPRESSIONS launched Megan’s investigative teamwork with Michael when they became prime suspects in the death of her husband and a female companion. That’s when Megan got her feet wet, so to speak. Her interest in Michael’s work prompted him to take her along on some of his ventures. They share a high standard of ethics that drives them to seek justice for crimes committed, but they have different approaches to analyzing the evidence.

When it comes to suspects, Michael is objective and trusts his instincts to guide him. Megan is an in-depth researcher and often deciphers the tiniest detail and nuance on the path to solving a crime. She bounces her theories off Michael and, although he doesn’t always agree with her, he appreciates her input. In the end, Megan’s contributions play a key role in resolving the crime.

Q: How useful is Ottawa as a setting to help develop your characters or the mystery? Would the story be different if set elsewhere?

Sandra Nikolai: Ottawa is Canada’s capital city and the setting for BROKEN TRUST, the fifth book in my mystery series. The city is home to the federal government where major political decisions affecting national health are made. My sleuths investigate the fentanyl crisis here. For readers unfamiliar with fentanyl, it’s a synthetic drug that’s fifty times stronger than heroin and the cause of thousands of deaths by overdose.

My sleuths are Canadian and have a special interest in how organizations are handling the drug crisis here. As they investigate the death of a young woman who supposedly overdosed in their Ottawa hotel room—yes, they walked in and found her body!—Megan and Michael interview key administrators regarding the fentanyl problem. A mystery set in a government town might sound dry to some readers, but I promise you, it’s a thrilling ride!

Q: Reviewers enjoy the suspense you’ve created in your previous mysteries. How do you create that page-turning drive?

Sandra Nikolai: Readers like to get to the heart of a story, so I keep the narrative as tight as possible. I cut back on excessive descriptions of people and places and avoid dialogue that doesn’t move the plot forward. I pepper my stories with clues (including red herrings), tension, and conflict.

My chapters are short and end with a cliffhanger. I ensure the momentum is fast-paced so that the action doesn’t stall. Readers tell me they can’t stop reading—they have to find out what happens in the next chapter. This tells me my techniques are working!

Q:  What do you consider to be the key elements of a satisfying mystery?

Sandra Nikolai: The first pages should draw in the reader. Without a captivating hook, the reader will move on to another book. Setting a mysterious mood that foreshadows the journey ahead is also an important element.

Suspenseful dialogue between realistic characters is vital to retaining reader interest. It’s similar to eavesdropping on a heart-pounding conversation between people you know. My suspects often lie or withhold crucial information, but I keep readers in the loop so that they come across the clues at the same time as my sleuths do.

Wrapping up loose ends by the end of the story is another essential element. Readers need answers to confirm what they already know or didn’t know about who, why, what, and how. A satisfying resolution to a mystery means a reader will most likely read another book by the same writer.

Q: Why do readers care about your characters? How do they relate?

Sandra Nikolai: Like most people, my main characters have strengths and insecurities. Readers can relate to Megan’s determination and Michael’s courage as they track down perpetrators. They admire their mutual loyalty and respect and the way they interact with each other.

Readers root for Michael and understand his anger and frustration when he lacks the evidence to bring a cold-blooded killer to justice. They empathize with Megan’s lingering memories about her husband’s infidelity, as well as her qualms about Michael’s safety and the future of their relationship. They support Megan as she confronts dangerous situations, despite her fears.

Q: What are the attributes of an effective villain/criminal?

Sandra Nikolai: A credible villain is one that has good qualities and bad qualities. The criminals in my stories often work in typical jobs and have family or friends, yet they manage to get sidetracked by the darker side of life.

We’ve all seen news reports about police arrests of doctors, lawyers, and professors. Who would think that people in such respectable positions could be murderers? How many times do neighbors discover that the “man who lives down the street” is a killer? Criminals can’t be typecast. The creepiest part is that they often live among us.

Q: What’s next?

Sandra Nikolai: Book #6 in the series. My sleuths return home to Montreal where their greatest challenge awaits them. It will be a roller coaster of a thriller. Oh, I can’t wait to write this one!

Q: Tell us about Sandra Nikolai. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sandra Nikolai: I love desserts, so I’ll bake anything with chocolate in it. No surprise there, right? I also like to read, shop, watch movies, go for walks, and catch up with friends over coffee. My routine might sound dull to some people, but the first half of my life was quite hectic, so I welcome the change. I wouldn’t be able to write without the peace and quiet I now enjoy.

Thank you for inviting me, Joyce!

About Sandra Nicolai

Author Sandra Nikolai weaves ordinary characters into extraordinary, life-threatening situations, using the premise that evil often lurks in familiar places. She is the author of a mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. BROKEN TRUST is the fifth book in this series.


Sandra has also published more than a dozen short stories online and in print, garnering Honorable Mentions along the way. She shares her writing experiences on her blog and has been a frequent guest writer on other blogs. 

About BROKEN TRUST

Hotel rooms often come with perks. A corpse isn’t one of them.

Ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott discover the body of a young woman in their Ottawa hotel room. Not what they expected on a business trip to Canada’s capital. She’s wearing a black lace teddy. A carafe of red wine and two glasses sit on a table. A closer look inside her purse reveals thousands of dollars, three business cards, and a supply of pills.

The detective initially writes off Becca Landry’s death as an open-and-shut case of overdose, but Frank Landry, an ex-military, believes his wife was murdered. Convinced that autopsy results will prove him right, he fears the police will soon target him as a prime suspect. He asks Megan and Michael to investigate.

As they dig deeper, they unearth shocking links that expose the dark underbelly of a city where widespread fraud, illegal drug trafficking, and a sense of entitlement defy the system. Elusive conspirators up the stakes and threaten to block their efforts at any cost.

How can Megan and Michael ensure their trust in each other is enough to save them on a perilous quest for a cold-blooded killer?

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Twitter: @SandraNikolai


Friday, October 20, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Leonora Meriel, Author

Leonora Meriel, Author
THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL
THE UNITY GAME
When Leonora Meriel starts to write a novel, she is never sure which genre will “rise most strongly to the surface.” Whether she is bringing us the “magical realism” of her first novel THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL, or the expanded realm of science fiction in her most recent novel, THE UNITY GAME, she writes to the perfection of literary fiction. She creates characters who have flaws preferring the grey-tones of real life to the black and white of heroes versus villains. Her extensive travels have given her insight and the ability to stay open to the uniqueness offered by other cultures and lifestyles.

Meriel shares her home between London and Barcelona, and enjoys exploring the worlds offered by travel as well as the world surrounding her two “interesting” children. She finds that running helps to clear her mind. She is currently working on a new literary fiction novel.

Q: Your novels cross genres. When telling your stories, do you consider what is the most appropriate genre? Are some themes better told in specific genres? Is science fiction more supportive of telling some stories and literary fiction others?

Leonora Meriel: When I set out to write a book, I usually have a myriad of ideas, but I am never certain which ones are going to develop into the main story line. It takes a few weeks of following different paths before I understand which central idea lies the deepest in me and demands to be explored through the 3 – 5 years it takes to perfect an entire novel. In the same way, those myriad ideas may each fall into different genres, and so when I start a novel, I never know exactly which genre will take precedence or which idea will rise most strongly to the surface.

I enjoy mixing combinations of genres, however I see all of the genre elements I use as existing beneath the umbrella of literary fiction, which will always be my primary genre. My understanding of literary fiction is where the quality and artistic value of the writing comes first, and the plot, characters and everything else comes second. In pure genre fiction, this is often the other way round.

Q: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL has been described as “magical realism”—an interesting and appealing concept. How do you define magical realism? And how does THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL meet that definition?

Leonora Meriel: I define magical realism as a story that is at least 70% set in the accepted world and society of humankind. The other 30% may be supernatural elements, usually associated with the spirit world. In magical realism, the magic is not at the center of the story, but it enhances the story. One could contrast this with zombie or wizard genre fiction, where the supernatural elements are the very core of the story. In magical realism, they are a feature that support a central story told in the real world.

In THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL, the main characters are a mother and a daughter living in a village in western Ukraine. Their life is simple and very rooted in everyday domestic tasks – fetching water from the well, making a cake of honey and walnuts. The mother drinks vodka and struggles with depression. Around this story, the spirit of the grandmother returns to a nearby riverbank to help the mother overcome her unhappiness, and the daughter finds she can merge into the spirit of nature around her. Thus, the central story is the search for happiness, but the magical realism elements serve to illustrate and enhance aspects of that journey.

Q: One reviewer describes THE UNITY GAME as “sci-fi with a bit more of a deeper meaning” and “deeply philosophical science fiction.” Others applaud “love of characters” & “creative plot.” How did you conceive of the plot? Are you a SciFi fan?

Leonora Meriel: I love any writing that is brilliant, irrespective of genre, and some of the best literature ever written is science fiction. A few of the books that have deeply influenced me are Stanislaw Lem’s SOLARIS, Ursula Le Guin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and more recently Ken Liu’s THE PAPER MENAGERIE. These are some of the finest pieces of fiction ever written and the fact that they take place in different worlds and dimensions makes them even more powerful and transformative.

One of the key elements of great sci-fi is that it is always deeply philosophical. Life on another planet will always cause us to consider life on our own planet, and one of the key tasks of sci-fi is to question, to provoke questions, to envision futures. It is perhaps the most challenging of all genres, as it demands a relation to the current world and a relation to the possible, in the way that fantasy (zombies and wizards) does not. When I started writing THE UNITY GAME I had burning questions about the meaning of everything, and I found that those questions did not fit into an Earth-based plot. Sci-Fi enabled me to go as wide and deep and philosophical as I desired in order to explore possible answers to those questions.

Q: You travel extensively and have lived in multiple countries with different cultures. How does travel influence your writing, your characters, and your plots?

Leonora Meriel: I believe that travel is essential for a writer. Ideally, not only visiting, but living in different cultures, and allowing those cultures to change you and permanently open something new in your character and your soul. As children, we are all immersed in the culture and thought-systems that we grow up with, and the older we get, the harder it becomes to stop imbedded beliefs from stagnating permanently inside you.

 I believe that part of a writer’s job is to battle against residual thought-patterns and to strive to stay open to other ways of thinking and other cultures and other perspectives. The writers and artists must be the ones in society who envision new thought and futures and possibilities and cultures and societies. But this new thinking will not come from dusty, inherited knowledge. Travel and new cultures are essential to keeping minds and hearts open and receptive and curious.

Q: Reviewers claim that THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL is “thought-provoking.” Did you intend for the novel to deliver a message and make readers think? Or did you write it primarily to entertain?

Leonora Meriel: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL was my debut novel and my main goal was to write the best possible book that I could. I had many ideas I wanted to write about but there wasn’t a central message that I planned to convey. However I did have one specific goal within the book, which was to portray the culture and land of Ukraine, and allow readers in the west to experience a country where I had lived for many years, and which was wildly beautiful. I am delighted that reviewers have called it “thought-provoking” as that suggests that some of the ideas that run through the novel have resonated with readers.

Q: How do your characters engage the reader? Why will readers care what happens to them? Are they super-heroes or ordinary people in extraordinary situations?

Leonora Meriel: My characters are all ordinary people, and they all have a balance of strong points and flaws. In my debut novel THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL, Lyuda believes she has got everything in her life wrong and can’t bring herself to embrace happiness. It is her seven-year old daughter, Angela, who forces her to confront her issues and make a choice, but not without herself experiencing some of the pain of the adult world.

In my second novel THE UNITY GAME, the hero is a New York banker who is sucked into the addictive world of money and success and ego, but finds he is unable to cope.

I try to make the characters I write extremely realistic, so that even if the readers could not imagine themselves in that position, then they clearly understand how the characters are in that position and why they are taking the actions they choose. I truly believe that once we can see through the eyes of another human being, then we will empathize with them automatically, and this is one of the great tools open to writers – to draw readers into worlds that they wouldn’t normally have access to – and to open their minds and hearts just a little wider.

Q: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL is set in Ukraine and one reviewer says that the reader will “experience the authenticity of Ukrainian village life.” In addition, does the story have a universal theme relevant to a spectrum of readers?

Leonora Meriel: Yes, it certainly does. The universal theme is – the search for happiness. Lyuda, the main character, fights against depression every day. She has made mistakes in her life, and she allows herself to live in the past, as I think many people in the world do today. Her daughter, Angela, lives very much in the moment-to-moment joy of everyday life – seeing the changing nature and seasons around her, and the tiny details of the world as filled with happiness. Slowly, she teaches her mother to live in the present and leave the dark past behind. In this strange world we live in, I think that ‘what it means to be happy’ and ‘how to be happy’ are big questions that we all ask ourselves. In THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL I explore this from several points of view and I intended it to be relevant to a wide spectrum of readers.

Q: Does the concept of “heroes vs villains” apply to your story-telling? If so, can you describe the characteristics of an effective villain? Can culture, mores, philosophies, religion, or family traditions be considered villains?

Leonora Meriel: I don’t use the concept of “heroes” or “villains” in my novels, as this is a simplistic view of people that fits better with genre fiction or with children’s books. I am far more interested in shades of good and bad, and how individuals struggle with the challenges of moving in directions that are more or less harmful to them. Culture, mores, philosophies, religion, and family traditions can certainly be used as villains within a story, but in this “villainous” role they would act simultaneously as catalysts to provoke the characters to certain actions. For example, in my most recent Sci-Fi novel THE UNITY GAME, the alien character is emboldened to reject its home planet and its philosophy once it has realized that there is no true free will there.

Q: What’s next?

Leonora Meriel: A new literary fiction novel. My aim is to write a novel without using any other genres – a straightforward tale with some great quality writing. However, neither of my novels so far has turned out to be how I envisioned them at the beginning, so you’ll have to wait and see!

Q: Tell us about Leonora Meriel. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Leonora Meriel: Exploring is the main thing I do – which is really research as a writer. I love to explore countries, cities, ways of life, new people, different personalities, roles and also new worlds in books. I am the mother of two incredibly interesting children, and I try to understand their world as it forms around them. Apart from exploring, I love to run, which clears out all the thoughts that have entirely filled my head. And visit the city of Barcelona as much as possible, where there is so much creativity on every street corner, and sunshine and laughter and sea.

About Leonora Meriel

Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen's University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.

In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.

During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development.

In 2008, she decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WATERFALL, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel THE UNITY GAME, set in New York City and on a distant planet.

Leonora currently lives in Barcelona and London and has two children. She is working on her third novel.


Heartbreak and transformation in the beauty of a Ukrainian village.

For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.

All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother's fateful choices.

Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?

Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.


What if the earth you knew was just the beginning?

A New York banker is descending into madness.

A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.

A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.

From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.

Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a 'complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel' from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.

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