Monday, September 26, 2016

"Here's the Thing" by Emily O'Beirne

Here's the Thing
by Emily O'Beirne

Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne is due for release on 19 October and is currently on tour with YA Bound Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, a guest post by the author, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.
But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.
As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.  

As soon as she hears the words “New York”, the blonde princess perks up.
“You actually lived there?” Her voice is still measured, but I can hear the hint of intrigue. Suddenly I’m worth something. She straightens her blazer, looking curious and a touch self-conscious. Like the mention of that city has chafed at the all-comforting sense of superiority she held a second ago when she sized up my loose-haired, loose-jeaned, couldn’t-give-a-crap eyeliner look. Now her perfectly braided hair, subtle eye make-up, and her prefect’s badge don’t stand a chance against me (well, New York). It’s like she suddenly feels like the boring provincial cliché she is.
Please don’t think I’m a bitch, describing this girl like that. I’m not a bitch. Really, I’m not. It’s just that you weren’t here ten minutes ago. I swear it was surreal. She was nice as pie when Mum was here, making small talk, telling us about the school excursions and clubs and extra university prep courses they offer. Then, the minute Mum went in to chat with the senior school coordinator, she went on this total backspin from perky polite to general disinterest. All before the office door even closed.
Of course, that was before I uttered the four, golden ‘lived in New York’ words. Now she’s all ears.
So excuse me for judging, but you have to admit it’s kind of deeply shallow on her part. Like something out of a bad teen movie. She’s one of those popular girls, all shiny and judge-y and awaiting her comeuppance, the one who underestimates the new girl at the start. This, of course, casts me as the nerdy but likeable girl. The one who’ll either seek revenge on all the high-definition girls like this evenly tanned overachiever next to me or else become wildly popular by getting a makeover from a gay man, making some excellent quips, and then dating from the girl-clique’s private male gene pool property.
Believe me, people, when I say that NONE of this is going to happen. What will happen, if Mum and Dad magically convince me go to this school, is that I will put my head down and stay as invisible as humanly possible. Because if she is a taster of the school social menu, I plan to officially bow out of all interpersonal efforts.
We’ve already taken the full tour of the school and grounds, led by the blonde, in chirruping prefect mode, and the principal’s assistant. Apparently this school’s so exclusive that potential Golden Ones don’t even get to meet the principal until they’re properly signed on, fees paid. Together they schooled Mum in everything this place has to offer. Because she’ll be the one paying the fees for the Olympic swimming pool and the sky-lit art rooms, right? And while I dragged my feet behind them, I didn’t get a chance to find out if all the other students are carbon, depressing copies of this one either. All the girls (yes, only girls, which you would think would make me happy but it actually doesn’t) were tucked away in the classrooms. But my guess is, given the North Shore location and the amount of zeroes I saw on the fees list, that this sample of blonde wayyy-upper-middle-class Sydney sitting right here is probably representative enough for me to turn and run for the hills. Or at least back to the inner west.
“Like, New York, New York? Not the state,” the girl asks, wrinkling her nose slightly as if she can’t imagine that hallowed city allowing rabble like me in. Which, of course, shows how little she knows about the place. If she thinks I’m rabble, she’s got another thing coming when she and her fake designer suitcase finally make it there. If New York knows how to do anything, it’s how to produce prime rabble. It prides itself on it.
“Yes, the city,” I say patiently instead of sighing the sigh of the withering, which is what I really want to do. If I were Prim, I probably would have. I’m the kind of person who can manage to stay on the right side of polite, but Prim’s got zero tolerance for girls like this. But then, Prim’s got zero tolerance for most people. “We lived in Midtown.”
The girl looks blank.
“It’s the middle of Manhattan, near Times Square,” I explain as two girls in uniform, looking just like this one but brunette and sans prefect badge, peer into the office. One says something, and the other cackles as they pass. I shudder. Get me out of here. Now.
Blondie perks up some more. “That’s where they have the New Year’s parade?”
I nod.
“Did you go?”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I wouldn’t be caught dead there, fighting for a square inch of space with a gazillion tourists and out-of-towners. The parade is what television is made for. It’s for parents and old people and the rest of America to watch while New York goes out. Prim and I had planned to spend New Year’s Eve planning our New World Order. I don’t have time to fill you in on the details right now, but let me tell you this much—this girl here would have trouble surviving once we run the show.
Before I can respond, Mum is finally ejected from the coordinator’s office. I’m so relieved to see her I have to stop myself from jumping up and hugging her. She gives me a thin smile like she, too, has been to private school hell and back.
The coordinator is right behind her. She’s a shaggy middle-aged woman wearing a pastel sweater dress straight out of the eighties. Now I really feel sorry for Mum. Ten minutes in the presence of that outfit is probably pushing at the edges of human endurance.
“I hope to see you next week, Zelda,” the coordinator says to me. “Meaghan will show you back to the gate, won’t you?”
Blondie McPerfect nods enthusiastically and leads us back to the car park full of shiny land cruisers and zippy hatchbacks. She chatters all the way, practically igniting with excitement when she hears Mum’s line of work. I smirk to myself. It must be killing her that two such unimpressive-looking people’s life CVs are impressing her so much.
I tune out and watch the school go by. The playing fields are movie-set green, the sprinklers keeping the summer sun from doing its worst. That’d be right. Last night’s news said parts of the Blue Mountains are ablaze with bushfires, but North Sydney is lush.
As soon as Meaghan leaves us with a wave and a faux-friendly see you next week, I turn to Mum. “I’m not going here. No way.”

Praise for the Book
"What I liked about this book besides being set in Australia which was nice for a change and being a GLBT story was that though the book was a GLBT story, that wasn't oversexualised and over-played on. I found this book to be more of a YA friendship story and a tale of discovering who you are and what your family, friends , home means to you." ~ Paula Phillips
"This one is fantastically written by one of the very best authors in the genre. The characters have depth and the story is captivating. Overall a great story, that I was sad to see it end. Another winner from Emily O’Beirne." ~ Tiff
"... the way Zel narrates this book, she talks directly to the reader which I could assume isn't everyone's cup of tea. It worked though and actually it is nice reading different narration styles instead of the same thing over and over." ~ Williesun

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Sixteen-year-old Zel moves back to Sydney, Australia, after spending eight months in New York. She misses Prim, her best friend and crush. Zel and Prim were working on their subway project, following the idea in Prim's favorite book to ride to the end of every subway line in New York. But before they finish, something drives a wedge between the girls. The compelling and touching opening scene makes us wonder what happened between them. Meanwhile, Zel finds a new group of friends in Sydney: her cousin Antony and his Drama class buddies - Michael, Ashani, and Stella.
The Sydney story is told in the present tense, interspersed with past tense flashback of Zel's New York subway trips with Prim, as Zel reminisces while examining the photos she took at the time. The narrative is carefully timed to reveal what happened in New York just as Prim finally contacts Zel in Sydney. The author draws some nice parallels throughout. Stella's story in Sydney mirrors Prim's story in New York. In addition, as the Drama group works on a project centered on the theme of "home", we see how Zel was uprooted just when New York started feeling like home, and how she is now struggling to make a new home in Sydney. In the end, she discovers that "home" is more about the people than the place.
It's great to read a book set in Australia and featuring places I know. Zel, as the narrator, is extremely engaging, speaking directly to the reader, and making you feel like you're in the room with her, as she tells you her story. The writing is beautiful, heart-felt, and full of humor and astute observations. This is the first book I've read featuring gay girls, and the story highlights their difficulty distinguishing between friendship and romance.
This is a wonderful coming-of-age story especially suited to young women struggling with their sexual identity.

Guest Post by the Author
Why the LGBT Label Still Matters
I was asked a couple of questions as a prompt for this guest post.
The first was: Is LGBT a genre?
The answer to this is simple: no, it’s not.
I’m just going to pop on my teacher hat on here. The term genre, which translates from the French to "kind", is used in popular culture to define a set of conventions and expectations of a type of story. For example, when I’m teaching my media students about genre, I start by asking them questions like what they expect to see when they are about watch a new TV sitcom. They’ll inevitably spout a bunch of conventions like canned laughter, lots of one-liners, the short length, limited sets, the lack of narrative continuity etc. And when I ask them what they’ll expect from a fantasy, someone will inevitably call out "dragons!"
The "LGBT" label describes a demographic, not a genre - in the same way the "Young Adult" label does. By using it, we know who the book is about, and, to some extent, who it is for. And like YA, a vast range of genres exist under this label, too. There’s Malinda Lo writing LGBT fantasy with Ash. There’s Robin Talley dabbling in horror with her Macbeth re-render, As I Descended. There’s Molly Beth Griffin writing historical romance with Silhouette of a Sparrow. There is no set of rules or expectations of the label "LGBT" as such. Except, you know, the presence of LGBT folk.
The second question I was asked was: do we still need this kind label for books?
The answer here is an unequivocal, emphatic yes.
Because it doesn’t matter that LGBT is not a genre. That’s not what’s important. What’s important about labelling a book LGBT is that it offers an indicator both for readers that here is a story about them. And given there are still not enough of these stories, for some readers this is a crucial identification point.
I had a teenage reader write to me earlier this year who was saved by a literal LGBT label. She wrote to me asking how she could get a copy of my first book, a YA book about a lesbian relationship, A Story of Now. We wrote back and forth a few times, and in her emails she told that no one outside her online life knows she is gay. Not her parents, not her teachers, and not her friends. And this is because her mother and father are religious and vocally intolerant of homosexuality. She doesn’t dare come out - even to her friends - in case it gets back to her parents. She doesn’t dare buy LGBT books online or in a shop in case her parents find records of her purchases. In fact, until she learned how to hide her browsing history, she was nervous about just looking at anything related to being gay online.
What had saved this girl until this point was physical books. A few years ago she was visiting a public library with her mother when she discovered that some helpful librarian had put a rainbow sticker on the spine of every LGBT book in the YA section. This sweet, colourful identification point told her that queer people lived inside the pages of each and every one of those books. The next chance she got, she came back to the library alone and has been reading her way through all of them ever since. Inside them she found characters she could identify with and stories that made her feel possible. Now she hunts online for LGBT YA wherever she can find the category.
The LGBT label is vital for people like her, who need to find themselves in books. They are also important for building a community of writers in an area of under-representation so we can support and promote each other. And sure, I guess I like to think that one day in the future there might be a time when there is no need to label a book LGBT, but I don’t kid myself it’s close yet. Not when I’m still hearing stories like this. This is why we need to keep putting rainbow labels on the spines of our novels - literally or figuratively. Because that’s how they get to those who need them.

About the Author
Thirteen-year-old Emily woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her rare silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). And by the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables. Needless to say, that singular literary accomplishment is buried in a box somewhere, ready for her later amusement.
From Melbourne, Australia, Emily was recently granted her PhD. She works part-time in academia, where she hates marking papers but loves working with her students. She also loves where she lives but travels as much as possible and tends to harbour crushes on cities more than on people.
Living in an apartment, Emily sadly does not possess her dream writing room overlooking an idyllic garden of her creation. Instead, she spends a lot of her time staring over the screen of her laptop and out the window at the somewhat less pretty (but highly entertaining) combined kebab stand/carwash across the road.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of ten ebook copies of Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne.

Plus, enter the Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of three print copies of Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne (open to US, CA, GB, AU, and more; ends 19 October).


Saturday, September 24, 2016

"The Red Wolf" by David Tindell

The Red Wolf
(The White Vixen Book 2)
by David Tindell

The Red Wolf, the second book in The White Vixen series by David Tindell, has just been released and is ON SALE for $0.99 for a limited time. The author joins me today for an interview and to share an excerpt from the book. Also available: The White Vixen.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Quest for Honor.

January 1987: In a secret meeting at Camp David, the president instructs the CIA to send a team of operatives behind the Iron Curtain to track down a legendary Spetsnaz soldier known only as the Red Wolf. Their mission is to prevent the Wolf from assassinating Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and touching off a military takeover that might turn the Cold War hot overnight.
The newly-formed Pallas Group selects Air Force special operator Jo Ann Geary, the White Vixen, to lead a team into communist Hungary and stop the Wolf. But powerful men in Washington don't want the mission to succeed and will risk everything to stop it. They place a mole inside Pallas, and now Geary doesn't know who she can trust. Deep inside Hungary, she must stay one step ahead of the KGB and find the Wolf before he takes the shot that will alter the course of history. 

Book Video

Hamburg, West Germany
February 1987
Every step she took made the assault on her senses more intense. Three weeks of this place hadn’t made it any easier to deal with, but with any luck at all this would be the last night. She forced herself to stay focused and kept walking. Two blocks to go.
It was called the Reeperbahn, in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, and even though Jo Ann Geary knew the English translation was “rope street,” and had studied the history of the district and the city, none of that mattered now as she walked through the chilly, damp night. Just like every other night, she heard the techno-rock blaring from the clubs, the laughter and occasional scream coming from doors and alleyways. She smelled the pungent odor of marijuana smoke mixed with stale beer and what might be urine or worse, saw the garish flashing lights of the marquees and the more subtle red bulbs from the windows where the women preened. Her cover was convenient in that respect, as she could ignore the displays and not be afraid to let her irritation show. It was what any self-respecting and somewhat prudish North Korean would do.
Jo pushed the distractions aside and paid no attention to the catcalls from many of the men, and some of the women, who loitered around the club entrances and streetlamp poles. The mission came first, always, and tonight it would end, one way or another.
One more block.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Interview with the Author
David Tindell joins me today to discuss his new book, The Red Wolf.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Sixteen and up. Although there is minimal sensuality and profanity in the book, it deals with somewhat complex historical and political themes that might prove difficult for younger readers to grasp.
What sparked the idea for this book?
My wife and I visited Hungary in 2012 and I knew immediately that this beautiful country would be a great place for Jo to have her next adventure. I'd also wondered about the nature of the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev back in the '80s. How far would Reagan be willing to go to help his counterpart?
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
The protagonist, Jo Ann Geary, was established in her debut novel, The White Vixen. After that it was just a question of when and where her next mission would be. I decided to set this one in Europe and behind the Iron Curtain, which meant it had to be in the 1983-89 era, since the first book took place in 1981-82. It made sense to place the action in 1987, especially when I decided to use a significant historical moment - Reagan's famous speech at the Berlin Wall - as a key moment in the book.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The character of the Red Wolf. I wanted to make him much more complex than the stereotypical Russian bad guy. He would be Spetsnaz, meaning he would be highly trained and skilled. But what about his motivation? His political beliefs, if any? Likewise, his religious beliefs? What about his heritage? I decided to make him a native of Ukraine, which then was still a republic in the USSR. His father would be a decorated WW2 veteran who would also have a significant role to play in post-war Hungary. Once I came up with the concept of the character, I had to develop his motivation. When he's given his mission, what does he actually think about it? Does he consider its implications? Like American soldiers of the era, Soviet soldiers were not automatons. They had many of the same challenges our people did. How would the Wolf deal with his specific challenges, both from his own government and from the forces arrayed against him?
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I want them to be entertained, of course, but I also would like them to consider how personal honor plays a role in both the protagonist and the antagonist. How does it shape their characters, how does it drive their actions? Eventually, the major characters in the book, and one or two significant minor characters, have to take a stand. Most people today are uncomfortable taking a stand on anything. It's easier to just go with the flow. But sooner or later, everybody has to make a decision, take a stand about something important. What do you believe in? What are you willing to risk for that belief?
How long did it take you to write this book?
From first concept notes to finished product, about three years. It took an entire year for my critique group to review the book, but I think it was time very well spent.
What is your writing routine?
I rise around 5:15 every morning (a leftover from my days as a radio broadcaster) and do some writing and social media posting before heading to the pool or the gym. After a full day at the office (yes, I still have one of those day jobs) I usually will have an evening event of some sort: church choir rehearsal, a church council meeting (I'm currently the president), my critique group, or a class at our karate dojo. My wife and I are black belts in isshin-ryu karate, with special training in Okinawan weaponry. So, as far as writing, my real productive times come on evenings when I am home relatively early, and on weekends.
How did you get your book published?
I went through Amazon's ebook and print divisions, as with my first two novels.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Keep writing. Keep learning about your craft, because that's exactly what it is. Keep reading, especially in your genre, but don't be afraid to step outside those boundaries in your reading. And don't give up. You only fail if you quit.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
As mentioned before, I work out a lot. I really enjoy martial arts training. I started 15 years ago, earned a black belt in taekwondo and also trained extensively in the Russian art of Systema with some real-life Spetsnaz guys. (Very nice guys indeed, but you didn't want to mess with them.) Several years ago I transitioned to karate and was joined in the training by my wife. Our son holds black belts in taekwondo and hapkido. We also like to travel, and since my wife owns and operates a travel agency, we have some good opportunities to do that. We were in China for about 10 days earlier this year, including four days at a camp in Tibet. The photo of us on horseback was taken as we were riding near the camp, through the foothills of the Himalayas. We've been to Europe a few times, to the Middle East and South America and the islands of Tahiti in the South Pacific, among other places. When we travel we like to get off the beaten path. Our next two big adventure trips: to Peru to trek through the Andes to Machu Picchu, and to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Fantastic! What does your family think of your writing?
My wife is very supportive and that includes taking me to some exotic places to do very enjoyable field research. We have two grown children: our daughter Kim is married and lives in the Boston area, and our son Jim is in Milwaukee. He's also an aspiring filmmaker and produced my first two book trailers.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was orphaned at a young age when my parents were brutally murdered in front of me, so I swore an oath to make war on all criminals ... Wait, that's another guy. Actually, I was born in Germany, where my father was stationed, and grew up in southern Wisconsin, graduating from high school in Potosi, a bucolic little town on the banks of the Mississippi. I was very fortunate to live only a few miles from both sets of grandparents and also had plenty of cousins around. I played a lot of sports but focused on basketball in high school. Although I didn't play it particularly well, I developed a lifelong love affair with baseball. Once or twice a year I'll make a point of going to Milwaukee and taking in a Brewers game with my son, or my wife and I will go over to the Twin Cities to see the Twins play.
My father was a teacher and then a school administrator, and my mother went to college while I was in high school and became an accountant. I have two younger brothers; one is an attorney in Washington state, the other a teacher of US history at a high school in Phoenix.
Wisconsin was a great place in which to grow up, and it's still a great place to live. About 25 years ago I moved up to the northwest part of the state, and my wife and I live in a log home on a picturesque lake. It makes for a good setting in which to write, that's for sure.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
All the time. I taught myself to read in kindergarten and always had a book nearby. I was fortunate to have some great English teachers in junior high and high school, Mrs. Millman and Mrs. Leonard, who inspired me to read more widely and taught me how to appreciate it, and also how to write. I also had a great geography teacher, Mr. Peake, who inspired my interest in other countries and cultures, past and present.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
My first story was written when I was in 7th grade. In high school I wrote a novel about a team of time travelers going back to observe Christ. One of these days I might dust that one off, although I'm sure it will require a lot of dusting. I won a couple creative writing contests while in college, but never really picked up the pen - or sat at the keyboard, if you will - till about 15 years ago. By then the kids were old enough so that they didn't need or want their old man hanging around all the time, so I started writing again. And I haven't stopped.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I remember when I was about 10, there was a local TV station that would have a movie matinee every Saturday called "Colossal Theater". The theme song was the overture from Lawrence of Arabia, and the film was usually an Italian-made B-picture featuring a strongman like Steve Reeves as Hercules. There would be gladiators and swordplay and adventure, not to mention good-looking women, which was starting to become important at that age. But most of all I loved to see films about strong, determined men of honor seeking to right a wrong. I wanted to be one of those guys. Later on I would pass on a military career, largely due to a high school knee injury, but then some years later I took up martial arts training, which opened up a whole new world in which honor and determination play big parts. I think as a society we are losing our way when it comes to honor and integrity - our current presidential candidates come to mind - and we are definitely not better off because of it.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
In my youth it was writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories entranced me. My teachers had me read Dickens and H. G. Wells and other classics. Two books come to mind from that era: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, and Costigan's Needle by Jerry Sohl. Both were examples of what today we would call dystopian fiction. To me they depicted ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations, where some would swim and others would sink. I wanted to know about the ones who swim, and I still do.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I hear from them frequently, out and about in the community and also through email and my social media platforms. They appear to like the books and are always asking when the next one's coming out, so they keep me motivated. They like the characters I create, too, so maybe some of this honor stuff is sinking in.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Jo Geary will have more adventures. Her next one will be The Bronze Leopard, set in east Africa, two years after the events of The Red Wolf. I'm currently working on Quest for Vengeance, the second in the series that began with Quest for Honor. Plus I have a couple other ideas percolating for novels outside those series.
Anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work, and I hope your readers enjoy it. You're all invited to check out my social media sites and my website, not to mention my blog, where I get to write about things that aren't often covered in the books themselves. See you there!
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, David. Congratulations on your new release and best of luck with your future projects.

About the Author
Born in Germany and raised in southern Wisconsin, David Tindell embarked on a 20-year career in broadcasting before transitioning to the U.S. government and resuming the writing career he'd started in college at UW-Platteville. Today he lives up in the northwestern corner of the state, in a log home on a lake with his wife Sue, a Yorkie and a Siamese.
Tindell's first novel, Revived, was published in 2000, but after that he put the pen aside for a while and started training in martial arts. He has earned black belts in Taekwondo and Ryukudo Kobujutsu, an art that combines karate with Okinawan weaponry, along with extensive training in the Russian art of Systema. It should be no surprise, then, that his protagonist in The White Vixen series is a highly-trained martial artist.