Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: House of Sand and Fog

Blogging friends, not sure how to check for plagiarism? I use Grammarly because copy-cats are lame. Just ask Zelda Fitzgerald, who is quoted as saying: "Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe that is how he spells his name, seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home."


My extended family recently congregated at my brother’s beach house. They have a bookshelf that’s evolved into a book exchange and since I'd just finished Jodi Picoult’s Mercy, I left it there in exchange for Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog. The book cover didn’t necessarily entice me but it had street cred; it was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and #1 on the NYT bestseller list (it was also an Oprah's Book Club pick in 2000 but I don’t always see eye-to-eye with O.) so I decided to give it a try.

The book starts by introducing a once-respected former colonel by the name of Massoud Behrani. The colonel and his family have been exiled from Iran after the Iranian Revolution. He has not been able to establish a career in America so he works long hours at menial jobs to keep up appearances.

In the next chapter, we learn about Kathy Nicolo, a recovering addict, who is being evicted from her bungalow in the California hills—a home long owned by her family—because of a county bookkeeping mistake.

Their paths cross when Kathy’s house is put on auction and Behrani spends his life savings to purchase the house at a fraction of its worth. He views the opportunity as fortune smiling on him, and plans to flip the house as a means of establishing himself as a successful real estate investor/business man.

A third character, Police Deputy Lester Burdon, comes to Kathy’s house to evict her. Although Burdon is married with two young children, he and Kathy become romantically involved.
The forth main character in the book is the house itself. In fact, the entire plot circles around the bungalow. The characters get so caught up in their quest for owning the house that they lose sight of themselves, resulting in a set of circumstances that go horribly wrong.

The book is written in the first person, switching between several of the main characters. The use of a first person POV gives the reader a clear picture of what each character is going through on a mental and emotional level.

Cultural misunderstandings as well as exploring the married relationship between the Behranis and the desperate relationship between Kathy and Lester keep this book moving forward.

The Good
At first, it seemed obvious who the protagonist and who the antagonist were but as the book continued, the lines blurred. Dubus has a gift for presenting two completely different viewpoints; he transitions from chapter to chapter skillfully using precise language for each character, and lets the reader decide for himself. Sometimes I was seduced into an empathetic attraction to one character and a disgusting revulsion to another and then the tables turned and so did my sympathies. The author created a believable, involved psychological portrait of his main characters, shining a light on their gifts as well as their flaws.

The Bad
Oh the poor, pitiful ending. Listen, as a fiction writer I know how difficult it is to bring everything to a satisfying end but to call this ending unsatisfying is giving it far too much credit. I had a hard time accepting that this was the best Andre Dubus III could do.

A movie was made from the book, starring Ben Kingsly as Behrani and Jennifer Connelly as Kathy. Good casting choices, but I haven't seen the movie and I'm not sure I will. The story is dark and left me with a feeling of hopelessness.

Have you read House of Sand and Fog? I'd love to hear other opinions.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Talk with the Author of Iron Shinto

My friend and fellow Indie Author Tricia Stewart Shiu has just finished her book "Iron Shinto," the third book in her popular YA Metaphysical Fantasy, Moa series. I had a chance to interview Tricia, and get a glimpse of her writing process and the inspiration for the Moa series.

How long did it take you to write "Iron Shinto?" 

"Iron Shinto" is the third book in the Moa series. The first two books took me approximately three months each and "Iron Shinto took me a year and a month! It is by far the most powerful of the books and is packed with layers of learning. 

I can't wait to read it. What is your writing process? 

Because I'm a working mom, I write when and where I can. I have envelopes with ideas written on them, scraps of paper with story outlines and I've even used Dragon Dictation to help me remember those great idea occur while I'm driving. 

Ha, that sounds like me. So, how did the story come together? 

At the start of each book, I would let the pieces of the story puzzle and characters come in organically. Sometimes the beginning would pop in and then suddenly I'd find myself writing something that I guessed would become the middle. I never edited myself and allowed the thoughts, characters and story to form naturally. The most incredible parts happened as I began to piece the story together. Not everything I wrote was used, but occasionally, I would find that something I wrote at the very beginning fit perfectly into the story much later on. I kept a document for these odd pieces and would refer back to them to see if anything fit. 

I love how it all comes together like that. I envy your ability not to self edit along the way, I need to work on that. Tell us the story behind the cover photo and illustrations?

My nine-year-old daughter, Sydney took the cover photos for all three books and illustrated them, as well. It has been such a joy collaborating with her, doing book talks and signings and embarking on this adventure together! 

Sweet. What was your personal inspiration for this metaphysical fantasy series?

The series was born from an experience I had in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was visiting with my in-laws and while napping encountered a Hawaiian spirit named "Moa." Although skeptical, I asked for proof that I was not dreaming. She showed me a picture of a woman I did not know as said my mother-in-law could not find this woman and she was, essentially a missing person to her. Moa said her name was Sharon and then I awoke confused. Why would I see a picture of someone I didn't know and receive such odd information. I shrugged off my experience as a dream and went for a walk with my mother-in-law and daughter. As we rounded the corner of a park, my mother-in-law squealed. "Sharon!" She cried out. My stomach dropped. This was the woman in Moa's picture and the name matched, too. Then she turned to me and explained that she had been looking for her old friend for 20 years! I finally decided to chronicle my experiences in "Moa," the first book in the Moa Series. Then came "Statue of Ku" and finally, "Iron Shinto."

Thanks for your time, Tricia. Good luck with the "Iron Shinto" and the entire Moa Series. 

To read an excerpt from the book, learn more about Tricia Stewart Shiu or pledge towards her publishing goal, please visit "Iron Shinto" Metaphysical Fiction Series Launch.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Silenced: A Diva Anthology

When the hairs on the back of your neck stand up…

When you feel like someone is watching you…

When you’re afraid to turn around…

It’s already too late.

Our latest Diva anthology is live. If you're interested, here's where you can find it:

Silenced: A Diva Anthology

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Diva Short Story Anthologies

I've mentioned the group of fiction writers that I'm associated with here before. In case you missed the post, here it is: Short Story Anthology: Crime Gone Wrong. Anyway, we're called DIVA, and we're four gals from different parts of the world who come together to write short story anthologies. 

As a foursome, we decide on the title of the story collection. Once the title's determined, we go off on our own and write our individual stories based on the title/theme. It's interesting to see how the other Diva gals interpret the title. In any given anthology you might get a dark story and a silly story side-by-side, both with the same theme. 

So far, we've published:

Crime Gone Wrong

Killer Heat

Summer Love 

We're always looking for theme/title suggestions so let me know if you think of anything interesting that you'd like a bunch of twisted ladies to write about. :-)

And it just so happens that we have another book coming out very soon. Watch this space for details.

Happy reading and writing,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How I Got Him To Marry Me: 50 True Stories

My friend Cherise wrote a book that I want to tell you about. It's called How I Got Him To Marry Me: 50 True Stories and it’s now available in eBook form at Barnes and Noble for Nook, Amazon for Kindle, and Kobo for the Kobo Reader. The paperback will be available April 1 through Amazon. The eBook should be on iTunes soon. 

Short Book Description:

He likes it. Now get him to put a ring on it! Learn from these 50 stories of women who have been there! You don't have to interview 50 married women to find out how they managed to get that ring on their finger. The author has done that for you. All 50 were married after 1990, so this is modern information for our changing times. Read and find out how you can get him to marry you and not just live together!

Please see the end of the eBook to learn how to claim a free paperback copy after you post an honest review! Limited to the first 25 reviewers at, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. (226 pages in paperback.)

Excerpt unique to my blog:

When I worked in the office back in Philly, my plebeian office job took about 8.5 hours a day. When I did my work online, it took four hours a day, at the most. Now, I've never been the type to know what to do with my free time, but I had so much of it now that I joined an anime fan group at a bar in Beijing. (I never go to bars, either.)
I befriended guys there who had similar interests. Now, keep in mind:
1) My American office salary of 42k equaled about 252k in China.
2) I'm not bad looking.
3) I was an intriguing ethnic anomaly there.
4) My employers said my productivity had increased, so they weren't nagging me to come back to the office. 

With those four points there, you have another recipe for my leaving Cordell. But again, I did not.

Many anime types, there as well as here, have unconventional interests. One of the girls made Chinese wedding dresses. They're nothing like the white mainstay frocks you see in the States. Chinese wedding dresses are short, sexy, and inspired by cartoons. All are white or in pastel colors. Plus, they're silk. It's cheaper to get silk there, so Mao-ling had a ton of silk garments.

"How come your stuff is so cute here?" I asked Mao-ling 

She looked at me like I was crazy.

I said, "Cute isn't big where I live. I think it's the strong, independent woman thing."

"It's always been," she said, "and people buy it. People buy it where you are, too."

"Really." I challenged.

Mao-ling is an artist and doesn't have much of a head for business. I'm very organized, but I'm really not all that creative. She and I split her design business 50/50. I set up store accounts on eBay and Etsy, and I got a few brick and mortar stores in Philadelphia to carry her dresses through a friend of mine in PhillyU's fashion program. After about six months, they were selling beautifully. I think the reason these clothes sell so well in the States is the same reason men like Asian girls: they're "cuter" and a bit more delicate, in appearance at least.

If you count the money I get from private clients, Chinese stores, and the accessories I sell online, I make about 20k more per year than I did with my regular job. I also saved about 15k from that my first few weeks. 

I am so much happier as a business owner than I was as a corporate desk jockey that I became a whole lot easier to get along with, and Cordell magically found a whole lot more time for me in his schedule.
Want to read more? <<< paperback, too after April 1, 2013

Barnes and Noble <<< paperback, too, but later than Amazon 

iTunes Coming Soon!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Descriptive Writing

A good friend and talented writer called me last night to offer feedback on my recently published short story, The Buckner Brothers. In summary, she said she liked the story and its unpredictability. She said the pace was good, as was the rhythm. She particularly appreciated the physical descriptions of the main characters and the way in which their psychoses evolved.
Then she lowered the boom; she said she had a hard time visualizing where the action was taking place. The writing lacked a vivid setting. She wanted more ambience, more environment. 

So what did I do? Like any self-respecting writer, I drank wine through a straw went back and reread the story she was referring to. Then I studied my WIP. Yep. She’s dead nuts right.

As I looked at my writing through this new lense, it was clear - I do spill more ink on people than I do on places. Interesting. I went looking for advice from my guru, Stephen King. In his book about writing, aptly titled On Writing, King differentiates between two kinds of descriptive writing: the physical description of characters and the description of “locale and texture” (his words).

I’m feeling halfway okay until I read further. King says descriptions of “locale and texture” are more important to good writing than are descriptions of people and characters. 

Wouldn't you know it.

Digging for details, I landed on this nugget:
Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Over-description buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.  

Easy for you to do, Mr. King. But what about fledgling indi authors?
Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing. 

Alrighty then, back to the doing. I just hope I don't over-describe the little girl's bedroom in the story I'm writing now. If I do, I trust that my excellent and talented friends will shove me in the right direction. Thanks, Cyndi.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Superbowl Sunday: an Acrostic Poem

Superbowl Sunday countdown, friends
Utter mania in the house
People coming over here,
Even San Francisco fans
Ravens are the team we want
Brother versus brother but
Only one team will take the prize.
Which team do you want to win the coveted
Lombardi trophy?

Sitting here placing bets
Until kickoff time
Niners versus Ravens
Defense versus offense
As for me...
Yes, the commercials are my favorite part.

This post is in response to my friend  Linda Ann Nickerson's Superbowl blogging challenge over at Simply Snickers. Pop on over if you want to participate.