Thursday, March 27, 2014

Worlds' War

I was in a coffee shop when war was declared. I wish I could say something more memorable, but there it is. My mum always said that she heard about President Kennedy when she was in labour, whilst she was screaming at my dad to turn off the sodding radio and do something about this bloody baby. (That was me, by the way.) All I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about today is that I was drinking a metallic-tasting skinny chai latte. 

It’s a game-changer, war, isn’t it? I mean, the politicians have been talking about it for so long that we’d all got fed up and gone back to our real worries - house prices, the weather, whether The X Factor’s 25th anniversary could go ahead after Simon Cowell’s freak accident with a ride-on mower - so quite frankly, I didn’t pay much attention at first. But when they turn on the TV and I see Prime Minister Mandelson without his usual smirk, I know it’s true, and it did make me think the traffic might be bad getting home.

So I finish my latte and I’m wondering what to do next. I’d planned to take a look at Tesco’s new floating megastore, the one that covers the river completely past London Bridge, but actually I’m not sure I like that area any more. I mean, even if The Tower of London is now The McDonald’s Tower, do giant golden arches on the turrets set quite the right tone? 

Anyway, I’m not really in the mood for shopping, so I say goodbye to the baristas - or at least I would if they hadn’t been weeping in each other’s arms. Of course they’re all foreign, so I don’t know why that surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are foreign – well, they have to be since the expansion of the PanEuropean Union – but they just don’t have any backbone. I wonder if I should write to my MP and suggest training in British phlegm as a citizenship requirement?

Outside, the chaos doesn’t exactly help me remember where I parked the car. I’ve got one of those little tracking doofers to point me in the right direction - I saw it on the late night shopping channel when the hot flushes were keeping me up - but with all the jostling and screaming, it takes me a while to find it at the bottom of my handbag. By now I’m getting really quite irritated, so I’m not best pleased to find my way back to the car blocked by a massive shiny metal thing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a flying saucer. Come to think of it, the Prime Minister did mention an inter-galactic something or other. But this is Blackheath Village - we may have foreigners, but we don’t have aliens - it’s just not that sort of place…

by Karen Storey

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Words on Writing: Self Publishing. An interview with Roger Corea

Roger Corea is the author of two novels: Scarback and The Duesenberg Caper. We met online to discuss the publication of his first novel and to explore the lessons he had learned along the way.

Scarback was published in 2014 and explores the question of what you do when the people you count on most in life suddenly desert you. The main character, Dominic Steppone, is a mentally challenged man in his 30s, who was abandoned at birth and still has nightmares of his tortured existence as an abused, half-starved, and critically ill migrant farm worker. He now has two very good friends - Augie and "The Hawk" - who have helped him get a roof over his head, a steady job washing dishes, and a respected place within his local community (he was recently elected Fairchester's Citizen of the Year). But when Augie makes plans to move to Chicago, and "The Hawk" is in a coma following a bad fall, Dominic faces the terrifying prospect of returning to the migrant farm of his nightmares.

The novel centers around Dominic and his friends' annual fishing trip in pursuit of the elusive Scarback, a massive Northern Pike with an ugly wound on his back and a million-dollar bounty on his head. Augie secretly invites Dominic's estranged parents on the trip in the hopes of reuniting them with the child they abandoned decades earlier. Will Augie succeed in reconnecting them, or will a series of heart-wrenching and sometimes humorous events further complicate things and keep them apart?

Zoe Fowler, one of Cafe Aphra's "baristas", interviewed Roger to discuss his novels, his writing, and his decision to self-publish Scarback. 

Zoe: Roger, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for Cafe Aphra. Can you tell us what made you decide to write this book?

Roger: Dominic was very special to me. He was a 30-year-old mentally disabled man in the late 1950s who many people ridiculed because of his speech impediment. Society wasn’t very gracious to disabled individuals back then. As a young boy, I watched as my father used the language of example and treated Dominic with dignity and respect and soon Dominic was doing the same thing for other less fortunate individuals. He became so popular in his community that he was elected Citizen of the Year.

Zoe: So your book is a mixture of fact and fiction?

Roger: Yes, most of it is based on fact, although many of the events depicted in the novel occurred over several years; for dramatic purposes, I consolidated them into just one year. Most of the characters are real too. They came in and out of my life over a 50 year period. And Scarback was a real fish too. He was so durable, I wouldn't be surprised if he was still alive today!

Zoe: What made you want to publish your book?

Roger: Sharing the relationship between my father and Dominic was very compelling. I became obsessed, like something was boiling up inside and that if I didn’t get it down on paper right away, I’d lose it. I knew, if I could replicate the experiences, it would add value, not only entertainment value, but insight into how a father’s example, instead of his words, can formulate his children’s values.

Zoe: You've self-published Scarback, and I know you have worked hard at developing a comprehensive internet strategy and marketing campaign to support this. What made you choose a self-publishing route rather than more traditional publishing routes? 

Roger: After waiting months for agents and publishers to react, I decided I didn’t want my books published posthumously. As I become more “hands-on” and more aware of all the marketing resources available on the Internet, my second book, The Duesenberg Caper, may very well be self-published too.

Zoe: What kind of research have you done around self-publishing?

Roger: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine, was a good starting point. The most meaningful resource for me was a book entitled, APE: How to Publish a Book, by Kawasaki andWelch. APE is an acronym for Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur. The authors provide significant motivation to self-publish in contrast to the traditional route. After much more Internet research, I decided on Amazon’s CreateSpace. It was a great decision. The publishing quality and support has been outstanding! They also have some excellent marketing programs, many of which are free.

Zoe: What advice would you give to Cafe Aphra readers?

Roger: In terms of editing, many new authors look for financial expediency with the content and line editing process. Of course, it is valuable to secure as much feedback as possible for your book, but don’t take cheap “short-cuts” for the final manuscript. While publishing through CreateSpace is free, and many Internet marketing strategies are inexpensive, getting your book properly edited by a professional editor is critical to its success, even if you must pay the going rate.

In terms of designing a cover, there are several very good photo services on the Internet. I paid nearly $2,000 to have three covers designed for Scarback, and didn’t care for any of them. Finally, I designed my own cover using Adobe and Shutterstock, an Internet photo service company. Live and learn! There is a small cost to subscribe, however the cost includes licensing. I should add that CreateSpace offers a free cover design service as part of the publishing process. Or, you can enlist the services of their profession design department. Either method is better than spending a small fortune for a cover. The most important criterion for a cover is that you, as the author, are excited about it! Shutterstock has literally millions of high-resolution photos on every subject imaginable.

And when you're ready to market your book, I would first read APE with pen and yellow magic marker in hand. Then, I would read Developinga Marketing Plan and Strategy. After doing both, create your own specific marketing plan using the above link to provide the “blueprint”. You will be amazed at how much exposure you can secure on the Internet if you have a well-conceived and structured plan.

Accounting and the royalty distribution process, needless to say, are critically important. Relying on anything other than well-established publishers is risky business. Once again, I vote for CreateSpace. They are simply the best in the business and provide daily updates for printed books and weekly updates for ebooks. Their print-on-demand capability is perfect for inventory management. I would also recommend Lightning Source and Ingram’s for large print-on-demand distribution with book resellers.

Zoe: Thank you, Roger, So, in terms of the future, what's your plan? Are you arranging a book tour?

Maybe I’ll do some local bookstores. No matter how hard I try, I cannot cost-justify a book tour. The numbers are not there for me. Maybe, when I become rich and famous, I’ll jet all over the country. Right now I am sticking to Blog Tours.

Zoe: And you also have another novel, The Duesenberg Caper. Can you tell me a little more about that? 

Roger: The Duesenberg Caper, my second book, is a thriller about the unexpected discovery of a long-lost, and priceless, classic automobile and the high-stakes intrigue that ensues. It will be ready for publication soon.

Zoe: And if you were to do this all over again, what are the most important lessons you have learnt?

Roger: I cannot say, for sure, self-publishing will yield better results than traditional publishing. However, I prefer to become a student of the Internet marketing process instead of being hamstrung for months and sometimes years by the conventional method, not to mention all the anxiety associated with waiting. At least, I feel I am doing something constructive. Who knows? I might even break the code! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Would wishes?

“Don’t use it all up Dougal!”

Dougal stops pulling the wool from the box they’d found attached to the gate. “That’s what it’s for, isn’t it?”  He snaps the thread through the cutting handle, marches to the nearest tree. 

Anna has pulled out 7 ragged strands.

“Make the wish count Dougal, really make it count.”  Frowning, she sees that Dougal has already tied the thread – blue, for his team’s colours - around the nearest tree in a clumsy reef knot.

He is wandering off, checking his phone. “Yeah, done it.”

“Please make it take, make it strong, make it alive, please…” Anna is weaving, constructing: begging. 

Blue over rust, under red, over yellow, under green, over cream, under orange; she is creating a braid.  Holding it up to the sun, she checks it is perfect.

Carefully she walks to the largest tree in the ancient forest, an Oak after which the wood is named. 

“Ancient Oak Tree, please grant our wishes.”

Judge and guardian, roots in the earth, leaves touching the sky, the Oak stands proud at the entrance to the grove, has done for centuries.

Up on tip-toes, Anna ties the braid, to the only branch she can reach, and then impulsively hugs the trunk of the old tree.

Catching up with Dougal, she hugs onto his arm.

“Did you make your wish?”

“Yes,” Dougal sighs. 

He knows what Anna is asking, but cannot bear to tell her.  He tied the blue wool around the tree thinking about time, space, freedom – he did not think that he had wished.

They begin to walk along the track which circles through the wood. 

Crawwwwwk…. down through the branches and leaves of the Oak tree a crow suddenly falls.  It lands ruffled and surprised on the ground, casts a horrified eye up into the canopy and then hops off at speed.

Suddenly there is silence, a collective holding of breath, then the Birch trees rustle, the Beeches shush, the Pine holds his own counsel. This is a wishing place, wishes have been made.

Two wishes – opposing – one for a baby, one for no baby – normally would cancel each other out.  Normally no ill would occur, normally the old Oak would scry and reach through the matrices of karma and time and find the best for all, allow a way through. But, something is amiss today. 

Something has changed.  A root foraging has suddenly broken through into something rotten, and before he knows it, the Oak has sucked and drank of the discarded, hidden carcass of an evil man.  Suddenly things seem different.

The Oak cracks a tree-like knuckle.

As the couple approach the end of their circular promenade the future has been cast.

Supping on the evilness again, a new voice rises from the ancient Oak, “Blundering about in things only half understood!  A mal-formance, a birth, a death……….. serves them right.” 

They will both get their wish – she for a baby, he for none. 

Both will regret it.

by F.E. Clark

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Words on Writing

I came across this poem in Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk. It resonates with me as a writer. What about you?

a quality of attention has been given to you:
when you turn your head the whole word
leans forward. It waits there thirsting
after its names, and you speak it all out
as it comes to you.
(William Stafford, 'For people with problems about how to believe') 


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Kylling

"Blunt trauma to the head. Very blunt. Aggressive, but imprecise. Unsure what weapon matches this." 

"Someone get me a decent coffee! This fast-food sewage is disgusting." Inspector Nielsen considered his coffee, the body and the forensic's observations. "You found him lying here?"

 "Yes." The KFC's manager watched one of Copenhagen's finest set out across Rådhuspladsen in search of better coffee. "Erik normally opens on Mondays. I found him at 10:00 and called 112 immediately."  

The inspector nodded. His stomach grumbled, reminded of a skipped breakfast by the 'Kylling med Bacon' poster. His gaze wandered the kitchen, resting finally on the bubbling, chicken-filled deep-fat fryer. "Cancel coffee, we're done. Arrest this man."


"Either your food is a danger to the public or you're trying to destroy evidence. It's 10:25. You open at 11:00. Frying chicken for an hour? Not even frozen chicken, the bludgeon you improvised on poor Erik here."

by Kevlin Henney

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Dry Climate

 Mr. Evans was a fastidious man. Growing up, his parents had been extremely slovenly. His mother would leave spilt spaghetti sauce on the carpet for a week. This would be joined by the pee of her beloved terrier, Rex, and beer spills as his father vegetated on the couch. Columns of ants would traipse in and be sprayed with ant killer by his mother. They would lie where they died, their inert bodies scattered on the floor. The young Mr. Evans did his best to clean up, but vowed that when he grew up he would never get his hands dirty again.
            Nowadays he wore rubber gloves and an apron when doing the dishes or taking out the rubbish, and detested the feel of moisture on his fingers. He would rush to clean up spills, and get nervous around soup. He worked in a tidy office as a legal assistant and carried a briefcase to work every day, full of important papers. Mr. Evans liked papers; they were nice and dry, and could be kept in order.
            People who knew Mr. Evans thought of him as kind and polite, slightly conservative, but with a dry wit that made up for it. He had suffered greatly when working with one of the younger lawyers, who had frequently spilled his coffee too close to legal documents.
             One thing Mr. Evans’ social circle would never have guessed was his obsession with sex. A stream of beautiful women visited him nightly. There was the brunette with big breasts, who sat too close to him on the bus, the pretty blonde receptionist from the doctor’s surgery – he liked it that she always wore pink lace lingerie – and the policewoman who gave him a parking ticket. Her handcuffs had been put to good use.
            The women he dated were all perfectly proportioned. There were no tears or awkward moments and, best of all, it was dry. His one attempt to date a real woman had gone sour when he had worn rubber gloves to bed. She had shrieked, called him a pervert and fled the house.
            One day at the chemist’s he saw her, the raven-haired beauty behind the counter. She was perfect. Her nametag said Julia. She was a married mother of four, who had no idea that she was also dating Mr. Evans, but this did not bother him. She was cheerful and kind, and had a wild streak underneath; everything he had ever wanted in a woman. One day at work he announced that he was getting married.
            A few days before the date, he disappeared. He sent letters to his employer and his friends, saying that he had decided to elope with Julia, and would be taking early retirement. He planned, the note explained, to devote himself to his new wife and move to a remote part of Spain, which had the kind of dry climate he liked.

by Liz Barnes

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Catalog

If I buy these clothes
will someone invite me
to sit in an Adirondack chair
overlooking the lake
in the late afternoon sun?

In my faux shearling jacket
will we laugh over coffee
at our earlier misadventures
in the canoe
and listen
to the sounds of the loon?

Am I the only one
who wants to climb
inside this new fall catalog
to join these happy handsome people
frozen in time?

Look for me under the tree (page 86)
casually dressed
sable corduroy barn coat
a smile on my face
hint of a secret
in my eyes.

by Joyce Huyett Turner