Thursday, 18 January 2018

Coffee chat with Elizabeth Ivanovich, author of "Going Coastal: Santa Cruz and Beyond"

Greetings everyone. Grab your cup of joe, coffee, java, tea if you must, and settle in for a fantastic coffee what with Californian author, Elizabeth Ivanovich. The author of "Going Coastal: Santa Cruz and Beyond", which book sellers classify as a travel book yet it's mainly concerned with artists, musicians, and quirky aspects of the place Elizabeth calls home. One of the things I truly enjoyed about this coffee chat was Elizabeth's "voice". It really came through in her answers and I was easily swept up in our chat. And I'm typing this blog as I look out into a clear blue sky and it makes me want to get to know more about this part of California. 
photo courtesy schamantra, Pixaby Images

Now, before I even got around to asking Elizabeth questions, she discovered I was an Aussie and asked me a question.

Elizabeth: Is it true that AC/DC's band name is phonetically pronounced "Acca Dacca" there? For some reason, I can't get my head around that...
DLYes, it is pronounced Aaa Cee Dee Cee, but we Aussies likes to play with words, shorten them, slang them up, brand them, and give them terms of endearment. So yes, many fans call them "Acca Dacca" but for no real reason other than it's a play with the words. Guns N Roses is "Gunners",  Jimmy Barnes is "Barnesy" and John Farnham is "Farnesy". These are slang term immediately recognisable by another Aussie, so it's like a code I suppose. If you don't get the reference, we know you're not an Aussie. Does that make sense?

Elizabeth: Ah, I see. I vaguely remember things like Barnesy (the UK music press does similar things in a lot of its stories), but I figured the whole AC/DC thing was like an alternate alphabet pronunciation thing, like that old Mike Myers joke about whether ZZ Top would be pronounced "Zed Zed Top" overseas...
photo courtesy derwicki, Pixaby images
Welcome Elizabeth
 DL: Firstly, since it's a coffee chat, how do you like you coffee (or not as has been the case) and what is your favourite time of the day to partake?

Elizabeth: I'm definitely hooked on coffee, to the extent where I'll time errand-running to coincide with the arrival of a new batch of coffees at my favorite roaster. (Santa Cruz County has several excellent homegrown artisanal coffee companies, so it's far too easy to enable a caffeine addiction there.) I use an Aeropress, and then make a cheater's latte by microwaving some milk and frothing it with a stick blender. I'll drink one of those with breakfast, and be craving another mid-afternoon. Depending on my mood or what I'm eating with it, sometimes I'll add some cocoa or chop up some Mexican chocolate for a mocha. On a (surprisingly rare) hot day, I might make myself a Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, pour a coffee shot over ice cream for an affogato, or just pour some cold brew over ice with a dash of cream. Needless to say, this makes me a little indecisive during (frequent and mandatory!) trips to a coffeehouse...
DL: Your book "Going Coastal" is a real behind the scenes look at California's central coast. I had no idea Santa Cruz was an ice cream mecca. Do you think knowing the history of a place helps tourists treat that town as their own instead of just having strangers visit? Is that part of the reason behind the book?
Elizabeth: I do think that's part of it. For me, it's also about working out the identity of the Central Coast as a place, since so much of it (even for those who live here) seems hard to define, and only discussed in relation to the rest of the state. It's considered part of Northern California, but there's a different feel compared to, say, Silicon Valley (even factoring in the local tech companies) or the wine country (though we have mountain vineyards). Surfing has been synonymous with Santa Cruz for generations, but the surf culture has a different vibe than Southern California's. Meanwhile, I grew up in nearby Watsonville, whose cultural attractions were usually overlooked in comparison to the larger city's. (Happily, that seems to be changing now.) So, there were a lot of different things to explore. I've come to cherish the combination of genuine characters, the quirky and often whimsical artistic sensibility, and laid-back unpretentiousness that makes the community unique.
DL: Music is a huge allure of California for many people. For someone who live in Australia where we have an abundance of sunshine and beaches, so music has offered a connection to California through fifties movies and 80s LA scene. Is there still a live music scene in California? How has it changed over the years?

Elizabeth: That whole beach connection makes sense, though I admit it never occurred to me before now. (Aussie bands have held a kind of cool, indefinable mystique since I was a kid, and I'd imagine other American rock fans might have the same curiosity.) I can't speak for other parts of California...LA's scene, which I haven't experienced personally in a few years, is likely different than San Francisco's, for instance. (The SF scene seems very festival-oriented to me, but that's probably because I hear about those more often as an out-of-towner than individual club shows.) Santa Cruz County is one of California's smallest geographically, but there's always been great musical diversity: thriving jazz, reggae, punk, and blues scenes, just off the top of my head. There are a surprising number of venues around, and they tend to be cozy and offbeat. (Last year, I went to a fantastic Diane Coffee show at the Crepe Place, a small restaurant with an even tinier stage space near the bar. I couldn't see very well because of the crowd by then, but I'm pretty sure lead singer Shaun Fleming had to step outside to change outfits for the finale, judging by the shrieks and squeals I heard near the Soquel Avenue entrance.) There have been a lot of complaints about Santa Cruz's zoning laws from musicians over the years, but I've seen more busking there lately. I don't know if the city has relaxed the rules, or if street musicians are more savvy about finding loopholes now.

photo courtesy carolaselles, Pixaby images

DL: Are you a biscuit or cake kind of person? And which is your favourite biscuit/cake?
Elizabeth: As a home baker I tend to prefer biscuits, since they're easier to make and more versatile. (There's one for every occasion, and you can present a variety of them at once. You can eat more of them, too!) On the other hand, cake is a red-letter-day celebration, and the whole planning process is pretty tantalizing: choosing the layers, the filling, the frosting, decoration. I will always welcome a cookie (aagh, biscuit--force of habit, sorry!), but if a cake is around, I will eat a slice for breakfast every day (with my coffee drink of choice) until it's gone. So, I definitely am both. My cookie choice tends to change with my mood and the season. There's a dark chocolate truffle cookie recipe that's very close to my heart, though rolling the dough into balls first can be a little annoying. (I like to freeze the dough balls once they're made, so I can be spontaneous about baking them.) Oatmeal cookies are not only comforting, they're practically a meal. (Sustenance is important.) Right now I'm in a peanut blossom stage, using Alice Medrich's peanut butter cookie recipe with dark chocolate kisses on top. (They're so short and crumbly that it's a pain to get them off the parchment without breaking any, but the flavor is worth it in the end!) Once in a while I'll make an apricot cheesecake or banana bread with chocolate chips, and lately there's a chocolate persimmon loaf cake recipe that for once has me happy that my tree is laden with the squishy, difficult-to-reach fruit this year. For my birthday, though, it's nearly always a chocolate layer cake base, most often frosted with a chocolate ganache.
DL: Thank you, Elizabeth for dropping by. And thank you, Reader for stopping by.
California's Central Coast can be confusing. Electric guitars are made from car parts, bronze sculptures fill nursery gardens, and people actually want to watch a guy play the accordion! Elizabeth Ivanovich has deciphered these and other mysteries in GOING COASTAL. Meet local icons, discover the best of everything, and explore cultural life throughout the Bay Area. Equal parts character study, travel guide, and cultural analysis, GOING COASTAL reveals the California most visitors haven't seen.


Elizabeth is a native to California's central coast. She has a bachelor's degree in art history and a master's degree in drama. She was the arts and entertainment columnist for Santa-Cruz, California publication "Student Guide" for 13 years. This is her first book.
(Elizabeth doesn't have Facebook or Twitter. She is one of those free spirits we all wish we could be, not changed to social media).


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Coffee chat with Dawn Meredith

Welcome to 2018. I hope this year is going to be wonderful to everyone. I took a quick break from the coffee chats over the holiday period. Hoping to continue these for 2018.

First up for 2018 is Australian author Dawn Meredith. Dawn's first two books were published in 2000. Since then she has been published in almost every genre. She loves the quirky, the dark, the humorous, but also enjoys biographies and true life stories. fantasy and crime novels. Her ninth book was released in 2017. He work includes fiction and non-fiction books, short stories, short non-fiction pieces, and poetry. She has conducted many writing workshops for children and adults in many states of Australia and she's been a panellist and workshop presenter at Conflux and the Sydney speculative Fiction Convention.
DL: Firstly, since this is a coffee chat, how do you have your coffee? And what is your favourite time of the day to partake?
Dawn: Milky with 2 sugars. I don't tolerate coffee so well but it smells absolutely divine. But I am a mad tea drinker and being English, you'd better not hand me some weak looking dishwater in a cup!

DL: You've recently moved to writing young adult fiction from children's fiction. Are the story ideas flowing in abundance now that you've put on a new hat? And what has been the influence for the change to YA?

Dawn: I've written 5 YA novels but this is the first one to see the public spotlight. I was pretty happy with it. My first agent loved it but never really did anything with it. My second agent, same firm, said I needed to rewrite the entire thing in first person. I compromised. I rewrote in first person omniscient. It is better, I admit. I had the opportunity to tune it up a little too. I love trying new things and I've always wanted to write for the YA market.

DL: You've been successful in winning literary grants. For anyone wanting to apply, what do you think they could do to stand out from the crowd? And are the judges looking for things to do and not to do?

Dawn: I won the May Gibbs Fellowship. I just followed what they asked for and happened to have the right story at the right stage of development. I wouldn't have even known about it if a literary mentor hadn't suggested I apply. I was time poor and ideas mad and needed the 4 weeks break away. Very glad I won it!

DL: Have you found that publishers would prefer that you to stick to children's books from a branding perspective, or do you think they're supportive in seeing an author grow into other areas?

Dawn: No. I've never stuck with the same publisher. I have been writing in fiction and non fiction and different genres. A lot of it had to do with my work with quirky kids. My most successful book, which brings me monthly income 4 years later (and growing) , was self published through Moshpit. I've been looking for my 'voice' as they say. Funny thing is, when I finally said to myself, "stuff it! I'm just going to write how I damn well want to and stop worrying about 'show-not-tell' and 'no narrator voice!' and all that crap." Well, the very first page of that manuscript won the SCBWI Writers award and a scholarship last year, didn't it? That was Letters From the Dead which I just launched yesterday. It's a sort of YA crossover novel, according to Susanne Gervay, who launched it.

Well done, Dawn!

DL: "Super Charlotte" is your new book and it's submitted to Inkitt for a publishing deal. What is the motivation behind choosing to launch your book through this avenue as opposed to traditional or self publishing?

Dawn: Part of my new 'stuff it!' philosophy is that I just don't have the time to submit over and over to publishers any more. I am sick of the waiting, keeping diligent records, reading rejection letters, recrafting over and over, courting advice. Although that process did help me grow a lot as a writer, it's now holding me back. I need to keep moving! I have so much inside me screaming to get out, I just can't wait around for someone to say, 'oh, well, its well written, but doesn't quite fit our list right now.' Inkitt looked like an interesting way to go and I love it so far. Interestingly, they are very supportive and this helps enormously, as we're an insecure lot sometimes! I have 10 reviews so far, new ones every day almost, so its going well. I got to choose the accompanying photo illustration, which was cool. I'll keep you posted on how it goes! Meanwhile, I have a sequel to write...

DL: And lastly, are you a biscuit or cake kind of person? And what is your favourite biscuit/cake?

Dawn: I do love cake, but you can't beat chocolate wheatens. YUM! You dip them in your tea and slurp the melted chocolate off the crunchy biscuit... OMG. I'm going to the shop as soon as I've finished typing this.

Check out Dawn Meredith's awards, bio, and books
Speculative Fiction books


Children's Blog

Amazon books
A fictional paranormal crime story of Delia Fox, a 19 year old woman who has a dangerous gift - she can read the memories of the recently dead. Working for the police to solve mysterious deaths she herself becomes a target when her evidence helps to send criminals to jail. Delia speaks for the dead but who will protect her from the living?
Buy on Amazon

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Writing tip - interviewing your characters

Hi. Welcome to my blog post. Today's post wasn't planned. I happened to be searching through my filing cabinet like it was Twitter or the fridge, meaning I didn't know what I was looking for but I found something. It was an interview of the characters from my first published novel "The Bird with the Broken Wing".
As a writer I've read many blog posts and articles discussing the benefits of interviewing your characters. Many that I've seen suggest we ask our characters a series of questions, however when I read through my interviews I was impressed at how much information these characters provided to allow me to create their backstory by asking just two questions:

Who are you and why should I share your story?

I found this an effective way to develop my characters for my first published novel, so I thought I'd share these interviews with you.


The first question I asked each character was:

Character 1 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

Ben Taylor:

I'm a 19 year old private in the army who became depressed after six months in Iraq where I witnessed many innocent civilians die senselessly by my own troop's guns.

I spend all day staring at a mirror I think is haunted. I talk about my mom a lot. I don't know why I'm here but if I remember I'm sure I'll kill myself. So I'm content to sit around and do nothing, even though Rachael pesters me about remembering the war. Then one day a girl shows up and starts asking me questions about my mom.

My mom has mild dementia. She's forgetful and sometimes goes missing for days when she'd just ducked out to the shops. Luckily we live in a caring community. Still, I got sick of taking care of her so I went and enlisted in the army, and even though I saw horrible things over in Iraq, it is the guilt I feel at leaving my 14 year old sister to look after my mom that haunts me. If I can't forgive myself for deserting her I'll be stuck in Purgatory forever.

I also asked Ben to tell me a bit about life as a soldier in Iraq so I had an idea of his backstory and how to write it.

Ben Taylor:
Tabasco sauce is considered a hit.

Because we could not find terrorists or weapons of mass destruction we took it out on the civilians. It was too easy to kill over there.
Army first, God second, family third.

Even after the war, doors blowing open in the wind will have me reaching for my .20 gauge shotgun.

Some guys have no reason to go home after receiving Dear John letters.

Character 2 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

I am Ben Taylor's guardian angel and it's my job to help him remember his time in Iraq so he can ascend to Heaven. But when another angel shows up I start questioning my ability. The new angel helps Ben ascend so technically I'm out of a job. so I'm stuck in Purgatory with Jet Jones, until I realise she's my next assignment. Jet is pulled back down to her body to face her troubles and takes me with her, thus giving us both a second chance.

Mortals see angels how they want to, so Jet sees me as a chubby, overweight 14 year old girl with straight black hair and sky blue eyes ( herself at that age). Ben sees me as a thin, freckle-faced kid with flowing red hair and blue eyes ( his sister). To both of them I am annoying as I won't leave either of them alone for a second and I'm constantly trying to get them to talk about their feelings.

I asked Rachael to tell my something about guardian angels I might not already know.

Each one of you has an angel appointed especially for you.

Angels do not develop an ongoing relationship with you. We do our work then slip quietly into the background so all the glory goes to God and not to us.

Why don't we angels save everyone from a burning building? Why do some people survive and not others? Because angels are not privileged to serve on the panel that decides who survives car crashes, burning buildings, hurricanes etc.

The third character in this book is one that some readers felt should have been the star, however she is the inciting incident of the story, which is to say that without her there would be no story, but this is not about her failings, it's about the failings of the guardian angel.

Character 3 - Who are you and why should I share your story?

Jet Jones:
I'm a 17 year old teenager who is halfway through my final year in school when something terrible happens and I decide to overdose on alcohol and sleeping tablets rather than riding the waves. Any why would I take the easy way out> Because my father has a government job as a financial regulator and his a control freak who never lets me or my mother do anything. I wish my mum would leave my dad and run away with me to somewhere where he can't find us/ He never let me do anything, so it's no wonder I hooked up with the first boy who paid me attention.

Lucas is my boyfriend. He's 20. The appeal is because my controlling father never lets me do anything so I rebelled by hooking up with a boy who has a car and money. But Lucas is bad news and is only after one thing. When he gets it he dumps me and tells everyone in school that I'm a slut. So what, I got drunk at a party doesn't mean he can take advantage of me. No wonder I was so humiliated I tried to kill myself.

And it's no wonder that when I wake up in the most beautiful place I decide to stay forever. Who needs to get better and go back to that living hell?

I asked Jet to tell my something about teenagers that I might find useful to include in the book.

Jet Jones:
We text often.

We think everything is life and death and about us.

We are emotional and moody.

We are smarter than adults give us credit for.

We think we know everything.

These days I do things a bit differently. I have a different set of character questions to ask, but I'm wondering if I shouldn't return to this simple method of asking my characters who they are and why should I tell their story? I found out so much about them and even reading back on these interviews, I felt love and sadness and compassion for them.

I hope these interviews help you with creating complex characters.

Here's a few other things to remember!!!

A character shouldn't be perfect, they should be complex.

How much of the back story you present to the reader is up to you.

How much realism you put into your character is up to you and also depends on the story. Sometimes we need a hero.

If you have any techniques you want to share, post them in the comments. I love hearing from other writers.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Leaving Amazon reviews of books received for free

Seems that Amazon are taking steps to enforce their rules about book reviews and readers who receive them for free. I've lost reviews and I know many other authors who've lost reviews from a practice that has been in the publishing industry since the beginning - providing a product for honest review.
Authors rely heavily on reviews from readers, and the standard has always been to provide free copies to people who are avid readers, professional reviewers, dedicated fans etc. I can see why Amazon might take umbrage with this practice. It could be seen as paying for a review because an author gave away a book with the expectation of receiving a review.
I for one am a huge advocate of removing any practice that can lead to extortion. For example, I contacted readers who read similar books to mine to ask if they might like a free copy of my book. I received one response that it would cost me $65. I wasn't paying for the review, this person stated, just paying for my book to be bumped up his incredibly long list of books to read and review.
So while I wholeheartedly agree that anything corruptible becomes corrupted, I also rely on the kindness of strangers to read my books and leave reviews when they have no understanding of how valuable they are. And this is just a tall ask. Most people don't leave reviews. They read a book and move on.
What this means:
Reviewers need to drop language such as the following from their reviews: “I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.” As far as Amazon is concerned, this means you were paid for a review and they will yank your review. Even more importantly, if they see a pattern of this happening in your reviews, they will yank all of them and block you from leaving them in the future.
A while ago reviewers were advised that because they didn't buy the book at Amazon that they had to leave a disclaimer. This simply isn't true. For books. It's true for other products. I've often left a review of a print book I've bought in a store.
So if you ever recieved a book of mine for free and you left a review, could you please remove the disclaimer. Apologies, this is Amazon making it difficult for indie authors to get out of our quicksand boxes.
Many thanks
D L Richardson