Cover Reveal: My Mirror Lies to Me

I am so excited to be able to announce that my newest book, My Mirror Lies to Me, is on schedule to be released on Friday, September 29. Just to get everyone out there as excited as I am, I want to share the cover with all of you.

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Isn’t that great? Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Margaret Brazear for creating this fun cover.

This book is the next logical step for me after Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass and Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal. Like those books, it is a collection of humorous essays on life as a middle-aged, overweight, slightly delusional single mother, just trying to keep the focus on the funny side of life.

This time around, there’s a bit more swearing and a lot more exasperation. Maybe even a touch of anger here and there. The Amoeba Squad makes an appearance again, along with The Big Guy, The Princess, The Dark Prince, and Little Man, all of whom have resigned themselves to the fact that I am going to continue mentioning them in my books.

I had an absolute blast writing this one, and I can only hope you all have just as much fun reading it. It’s currently in the hands of an editor and a couple of beta readers, but there just may be a sneak peek or two ready to show off here at some point in the next two weeks before the book is released.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone for all of the support and encouragement that keep me writing.

The Loves of the Lionheart

I don’t often have guest bloggers here at A Goode One, but today I am honored to share a post by author Margaret Brazear, whose specialty is historical fiction. 

Margaret is not only a wonderful writer, but also an outspoken and determined supporter of her fellow authors. Her books are always a pleasure to read. I am truly honored to have her stop by here to talk about her newest book, The Loves of the Lionheart.

Take it away, Margaret! 

 

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History’s Forgotten Princesses

This is a novel I have wanted to write for some time, since I became interested in the Queen of Richard the Lionheart. She was the only Queen of England who never set foot in the country and I found her a fascinating subject. However, as I got involved in the research for Queen Berengaria, in relation to Richard, I thought his first serious love interest, Princess Alys of France, deserved a mention.

Alys turned out to be a very interesting character, a sympathetic character, although very little is known about her. In fact, very little is known about either of these princesses, and I hope I have done them justice. I have studied many chronicles of the time, a lot of which contradict each other, but none of them really describe the thoughts and feelings of these two young women, especially Alys, who I feel was exploited and much maligned.

Anyway, this has been a new venture for me, to write about real people instead of fictional ones, to know where the story has to go because it is history, it has happened. I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It is available from today in both kindle and paperback versions. The kindle version will be on special offer for this week only.

As always, thank you all for your continuing support.

 

AJ speaking up again here: If you read my blog and are interested in contributing a guest post, please contact me at authorajgoode@gmail.com. I’d love to hear your ideas!

Whippoorwill

Hey, everybody!

As some of you know, I put together a bunch of my earliest funny blog posts in a book called Have a Goode One a few years ago.  It wasn’t a great title and I knew nothing about making a good book cover, and it basically sank to the bottom of Amazon’s rankings. The nineteen people who bought it seemed to enjoy it, though.

However, I’m still very proud of the material, so I decided to give it another chance. I’ve re-vamped it with a new title, a better cover, and a little bit of rearranging of the essays on the inside.

For those of you who already own this one, a hearty “thank you!” I’m working hard to convince Amazon to “push” the new version out to you, and I promise to keep you all updated on that. But I really want to make sure that you know this is not a new book. I don’t want to trick anyone into buying something they already own!

For the rest of you, Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass is now available. It focuses mainly on parenting, marriage, and country life, with a few other topics thrown in just for snicks. It’s a little bit naughty in spots, and I freely admit to just a bit of profanity here and there, but it was an awful lot of fun to write. I hope you all have just as much fun reading it.

The new cover was designed by my friend and fellow author Margaret Brazear.

 

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Victoria’s Promise Pre-Order

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Victoria’s Promise is now available. The bad news is that it’s only available for pre-order at this time.

I really wanted to have the book ready to go by the end of March, but I don’t want to cheat anyone by pushing it out before it’s completely ready.  I learned that I had made a slight mistake about some of the history mentioned in my book, and I just wanted a couple of extra weeks to clean it up before I release it on April 30.

As a way of apologizing for keeping you all waiting, I’ve listed it at .99 cents during the pre-order and will keep it at that price for a limited time before bumping it up to its regular price of $2.99.

Thank you all for your patience. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure this book is worth the wait!

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Books and More Books

I’ve been arguing with some old friends lately about the future of books, and I’ve got to say that I’m getting sick of it. My friends, who are the scholarly type, swear by “real” books and regard my collection of ebooks with disdain. They prefer the feel of a real book, they say, and they argue that the easy availability of ebooks somehow cheapens the industry.

Hey, I love books. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and there’s still something breathtaking and beautiful about cracking the spine of a brand new book. The thought of spending an afternoon inside a Barnes & Noble leaves me weak-kneed and gasping. Given the choice between a stack of brand new books or a night on the town with the man of my dreams, I just might choose the books.

Unless the man was Randolph Mantooth, of course, but that’s a subject for a different blog post.  

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read everything and anything that was put in front of me. Cereal boxes, newspapers, Mom’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books . . . you name it, I read it. I devoured it. Absorbed it. It didn’t have to have great literary merit or staying power. I didn’t always have to enjoy what I was reading; if I started it, I finished it–even if I hated every word of it.

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On a few rare occasions, Mom had to step in and snatch one of my sisters’ books out of my hands before I got to the “good” parts. I really didn’t see the problem then, but now I can sort of see her reasons for not allowing a second-grader to read My Darling, My Hamburger or Forever.

We didn’t really have a TV at my aunts’ cottage during the summers, so I remember reading coverless paperbacks from boxes my Aunt Noni would bring home from her beauty salon. Now I understand that there was something a bit shady about the fact that the covers had all been removed, but at the time I just considered them to be a bounty of summer reading. I drooled over those boxes the way most kids would have drooled over boxes of candy.

Once in a while, the whole family would get caught up in a trendy book, and we would take turns reading the same copy. My sisters and I would get impatient and read it together, with one of us reading aloud to the others while we sunbathed in the back courtyard.

I seem to remember attracting an audience a few times the summer we were all invested in Flowers in the Attic and its sequels.

It was a little over a mile from the cottage across the bridge and into town. We could cover the distance in a matter of minutes when we wanted to go to McKenzie’s Bakery for cookies or to Captain Nemo’s for ice cream, but that mile seemed to stretch out forever when I was on my way to Arkin’s, the only bookstore in town. I’d save all my money for that day and then spend hours searching through the few shelves of books they kept at the back of the store, hidden away behind the more tourist-friendly Hallmark items in the front.

I always tried to ration the books I bought from Arkin’s. I’d tell myself I was allowed to read two chapters per day, or maybe three. Then I’d end up turning on the tiny reading lamp by my bed and staying up into the early morning hours to finish reading what I’d started.

During the school year, I fed my appetite at the book exchange hosted by my elementary school. Kids could bring in their used books in exchange for tickets. Then, on a chosen night, all of those used books would be spread out on tables throughout the school, and we could go “shopping” with our tickets. One ticket per book, and I’d come home with grocery sacks full of them.

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I was reminded of that years later as an adult, when one of my clients offered me some of her old books. She was a retired school teacher, moving from her house into an apartment, and she wanted to give her books to someone who enjoyed reading as much as she did. I was expecting scholarly tomes, so I was stunned when she handed over two bulging sacks of paperbacks and romance novels. Harlequins, Silhouettes, Mills & Boon, plus solo titles by the likes of Debbie Macomber, Nora Lofts, Mary Stewart, Danielle Steele and more.

The next two months are a blur.

When I was recuperating from my car accident in 2011, my husband’s mother and brother went together to buy me a Nook and a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card. I wasn’t sure if I could ever get used to reading a book on a tiny electronic device, but let me assure you that no one in history has ever stretched a $25 book budget farther than I stretched that little card. I found freebies and public domain books and splurged on .99-cent specials, and I burned out that first Nook in less than a year.

I still love bookstores. Money is tight, so I can’t buy as many “real” books as I used to buy. I simply can’t afford it. Besides, I have moved so many times in recent years that I simply don’t have room for all the books I wish I could own. I’ve been through three Nooks and I’m currently in the process of wearing out my first Kindle Fire. (Sorry, Amazon, I still prefer the Nook.)

So, what’s my point?

I love books. I always will. It doesn’t matter if they are on a blinking electronic screen or a tattered paperback. A book is a book is a book.

I can shop for ebooks when insomnia hits at three in the morning. I can load up on free samples or 99-cent specials and experiment with genres and authors I might not be able to try otherwise. (I know, I know; there’s a long-running argument among writers on the subject of freebies and 99-cent specials, but I’m taking off my Author Hat here and strapping my Reader Hat firmly to my head for the moment.) I’m not usually a big fan of change, but in this case I’m embracing it.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as long as we keep reading.

It’s 2016, guys. Whether you get your books on paper or delivered electronically, don’t ever stop reading. Teach your kids more than how to read; teach them to love reading, no matter what the format.  Today’s pre-teen reading on a Kindle is the natural evolution of yesterday’s pre-teen reading under the sheets with a flashlight.

Step out of your comfort zone this year. Make a resolution to try something new. Read a new format, try a new author, read something in a genre you’ve never tried before.

Grow a little.

Have some fun.

Try something new.

Isn’t that what reading is all about?

***

For the record, I am taking my own advice on reading new things right now. I just finished Dangerous Allies by Rickie Blair, and I’m about to dive into the next one in the series. I’m not usually a fan of thrillers, but I am so glad I tried this one. Check it out!

Ten Questions with Cynthia E. Hurst (Okay, Eleven)

Welcome back to another chapter of “Ten Questions With –.”  Today, I am honored to have the chance to speak with author Cynthia E. Hurst.

Ms. Hurst is quite the globe-trotter, flitting back and forth between England and the U.S., but she somehow manages to find time to write and publish her unique and addictive Zukie Merlino Mysteries series, as well as The R&P Labs Mysteries series.  Today, she also made the time to answer a few questions from me.

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AJ: Cynthia, welcome to A Goode One.  It’s always a pleasure to chat with you.  Let’s get started.  What can you tell me about your newest book?

CH: My newest book, which was released on February 10,  is Zukie’s Detective, the fourth in my Zukie Merlino Mysteries series. Zukie is an Italian-American widow of a certain age, whom I describe as being “seriously snoopy, totally tactless and a magnet for trouble.” In this book, she enters a competition to write a slogan for a fast food product, which inevitably leads to a murder and complications only Zukie could manage, such as blowing up a microwaved meal and chasing a villain through a car wash.

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AJ: I think I like Zukie already. She sounds like fun. How would you describe your books?

CH: They are what I’d describe as traditional mysteries with a modern twist. That is, they have a fair amount of violence and sex, but it tends to happen off stage, rather than being shoved in the reader’s face. There’s some romance, a lot of humor, and one of the nicest things I’ve been told by a reader was that over the course of the series, my characters had become like family to her. I don’t call them “cozy mysteries” because those always seem to involve cats, cakes and really horrendous puns in the titles.

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AJ: I understand that you spend a great deal of time going back and forth between England and the United States.  Does that ever make it confusing for you as far as using English vs. American spelling or terminology? 

CH: The spelling isn’t usually a problem, but having lived in the UK for 30 years, I have picked up a lot of British phrases and speech patterns and don’t realize when I’m using them. Since my books are all set in the US, I have an American beta reader who politely reminds me that characters are “exhausted”, not “shattered”, and that in the US, a trolley is not something you push around a supermarket.

AJ: What made you decide to go with self-publishing rather than traditional?

CH: I originally tried the traditional route and got the usual, “It’s not what we’re looking for”. I happened to see a magazine article about self-publishing through Amazon and thought I’d give it a go. (Is that a British phrase?) Anyway, that was a little more than three years ago and although my sales are modest, I’m having a great time.

AJ: I think the American version of that would be “give it a shot,” although I like your way better. What has surprised you the most about becoming a published author?

CH: In all honesty, I’d have to say I’m surprised that total strangers read and enjoy my books, although of course, that’s what I hoped for. The other thing is, that having written for daily newspapers, where your work usually is used to wrap the garbage or line the cat tray the next day, it’s exciting to think your books might end up having a permanent home on someone’s bookshelves or in their e-reader.

AJ: How does your family feel about your writing?

CH: I don’t think my husband or my sons have actually read a word I’ve written, largely because they don’t read mysteries. So I’d say they find it vaguely amusing that I write books that people occasionally pay real money for. However, I have several other relatives who have been very supportive.

AJ: Is there a project you want to write but haven’t started yet for some reason?

CH: As it happens, I recently finished a project I had been working on sporadically over the past seven years. It involved completing and editing a science fiction novel my late father had written many years ago. I’ve just published it, and I hope he would have been pleased with the result. I’d also like to write historical fiction, but at the moment I’m too lazy to do the necessary background research. Maybe some day.

AJ: You told me a very interesting story about yourself and what made you start writing.  Would you be willing to share that here?

CH: I had worked as a journalist for years, so I had been writing for a long time, but in 2009, I went to stay with my mother for two months after she had a minor stroke. I was climbing the walls with boredom, so I decided to write a mystery novel, setting it in a small research laboratory like the one where my parents had both worked. I had spent a lot of time there during my childhood, so I knew how it functioned and thought there would be a reasonable amount of material for plots. Over the next two years, I wrote five scientific sleuth novels, so by the time I discovered KDP in 2011, I had a series (the R&P Labs Mysteries) ready to go. There are now ten novels and four short stories in that series, and the Zukie books are a spin-off of those. I’d also add that there are a lot of scientists in my family, and one of my goals as a writer is to portray scientists not as jargon-spouting geeks, but just normal people who happen to work in that field. In the R&P books, many of the projects the staff take on are ones actually done by the lab where my parents worked.

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AJ: If you could have lunch with any “big time” author, who would you choose?

CH: I’d have to say Carl Hiaasen. Not only would I get a trip to Florida out of it, but I love his books and his off-the-wall sense of humor. He’s a newspaper journalist as well as a novelist, so we could also discuss how much newspapers and journalism in general have changed over the years.

AJ: What was the last book you read?  Would you recommend it?

CH: I just finished Don’t Point That Thing At Me, which is the first Charlie Mortdecai novel by Kyril Bonfiglioli. I like my mysteries to have some humor, and this one certainly does, although the downbeat, cliff-hanger ending seems out of sync with the rest of the book. Since there are two more books in the series, I assume Charlie finds a way out of his predicament by the time the second one starts. The writing style is a little too over the top in places, but yes, I’d recommend it, because it’s different from the average mystery.

AJ: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?

CH: Read a lot. Learn the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation – it doesn’t matter if you have the best story in the world if readers are distracted by your errors. Read a lot. Be prepared for critcism and don’t expect to make a fortune. Read a lot.

Cynthia, thank you again for taking the time to talk to me and share some of your wisdom with all of us. Best of luck to you with your newest Zukie Merlino Mystery.

***

If you are an author or blogger who would like to be interviewed for “Ten Questions With –” please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

Ten Questions With Mark Zahn (Okay, Eleven)

Today I am pleased to bring you the first of a series of author and blogger interviews. My first victim guest is Mark Zahn, whose work is a bit difficult to define. He is a quirky, imaginative writer who dabbles in several genres, and his books are always guaranteed to be memorable.

Just as a side note, his book Earned Rum begins with what is arguably one of the best openings of any book, ever: “Somerset was falling from grace. He knew this was true because he was in a crashing airplane, and his grace was falling at 550 m.p.h.”

How can anyone resist an opening like that?

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AJ:  Welcome to A Goode One, Mark.  Let’s get started. I first became familiar with your name because of your work in fanfiction.  Do you feel fanfic gave you a good starting point, or is it something you prefer not to talk about?

MZ: I don’t mind talking about it all. Every writer has to start somewhere, and I started with fan fiction. Personally, I don’t think it matters what you’re writing, as long as you’re writing; you never know when an idea will pay off for you. Believe it or not, I’m still using ideas from that time (late 90’s) all these years later. I met a fellow fan of a juvenile book series in a Yahoo Group around this same time named Seth Smolinske, and he graciously allowed me to post my very first (and very shaky) stories on his website. This collaboration really took on a life of its own, and I ended up editing and writing for an e-zine revival of “The Mysterious Traveler” magazine. It’s that e-zine that really got my juices flowing, and I haven’t stopped writing since.

AJ:  Who are some of your other influences?

MZ: Oh boy. Well, how much time do we have? Like any writer (or even reader), my influences are myriad – and probably not limited to just authors. If we’re talking about authors, then my influences – to name just a very few in the interest of time and in no particular order – would be: Mark Twain, Howard Pyle, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Pearl S. Buck, Jay Cronley, Joseph Heller, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Charles Spain Verral, Robert Arthur, Ian Fleming, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, Dashiell Hammett… and probably dozens more that I’m forgetting.

AJ: What made you go into self-publishing rather than traditional?

MZ: Quick answer… time! I actually tried the traditional route for publishing my books for almost a year and a half – and even had a couple of exclusive reads by two different New York publishing agencies, both for Earned Rum and for Young Poe (‘exclusive read’ meaning you give them a verbal agreement not to publish with any other firm while they are considering your book). After six months had passed, quite literally on the day the first agency passed on Earned Rum, I got an e-mail from the second agency saying they wanted to read Young Poe. In the end, both agencies said they didn’t know how to sell me, and that my ideas were not mainstream enough. Which I cannot argue with at all, if you’ve read Earned Rum, you’ll see what I mean! When you publish a novel for grown-ups, a book of Halloween poetry [King Pumpkin], a non-fiction work on Poe [Modern Poe], a young adult novel, and are working on a picture book for kids, you can kind of see where the publishing firms are coming from.

At that point in time – and even to some degree today, I think – the agencies wanted the next big series. They want a title with marketability that is going to continue on for six more books. I’m not that kind of writer, and have little desire to return to characters once a book is done.

Anyway, this whole process ate up an entire year, just for both of them to decline. It was disheartening, but part of the territory; you have to have really thick skin when it comes to this business – and I haven’t given up completely on submitting future works to publishers, if I feel I have the right idea to offer. In the meantime, it’s extraordinarily rewarding to see my books in print and as digital books as a self-publisher, and it serves as a great motivator to keep on writing. I guess it all boils down to: I’m not getting any younger!

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AJ: How does your family feel about your writing?

MJ: I think they feel a touch of pride mingled with ambivalence. They are very supportive, of course, and encouraging – but my books are probably not mainstream enough for them, ha ha. I think I’m sensing a pattern here… My kids think I’m famous, though, which is always fun.

AJ:  Well, you are famous to those of us who followed your fanfic work over the years.  I’ll admit to fangirling just a little bit here!

 Is there a project you want to write but haven’t started yet for some reason?

MZ: About a dozen of them! I have more ideas than I have time! My biggest hang-up as a writer is working on side-projects when I should be focusing all of my energy on finishing the book at hand. The children’s book I just mentioned is pretty much done, which means I’m going right into a juvenile fiction novel that I wrote a long time ago (which is part one of a planned series, he said, contradicting himself) that I plan on chipping away at until summer, at which point I plan on switching gears and starting on a brand new book that I’m really excited about. How excited? Well, I’ve actually made copious notes and written an outline, something I almost never do when writing, as I prefer to just ‘wing it’ when it comes to plot.

AJ: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

MZ: I don’t know if I ever had a defining moment in my life when that thought occurred to me. I have written for pleasure for so long that it just kind of seems second nature to be doing so. However, I can say there was no stopping Earned Rum once the idea came to me. I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling (who is a genius and I would never dream to compare myself with her in any way shape or form – I only use her as an example) who famously related how Harry Potter’s tale came to her as one complete story one day while riding the train. Something similar happened with Earned Rum for me. One day I was working on Young Poe – which actually was written well before Earned Rum – and suddenly “BOOM!” out of the blue the entire story of Earned Rum rocked me like a hurricane. The plot, the characters’ names, everything – it was all there for me to transcribe, if only I could type fast enough before I forgot it all. That was one instance where I started jotting down names and chapters and little outlines of what happens, because I was afraid I might forget something. It was kind of like catching lightning in a bottle – and I’m really hoping it wasn’t a one-time thing! The juvenile fiction book I mentioned earlier that I plan on starting this summer is rather similar. One of those ideas that kind of just wrote itself.

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AJ: If you could have lunch with any “big time” author, who would you choose?

MZ: Hmmm… a living or dead ‘big time’ author? If it was a dead author, I’d be delighted to dig up the old bones of any of the writers I mentioned above as influences; particularly Poe. I think it would be a gas to have lunch with Poe and pick his brain about writing. I would also do lunch with Lee, a snack with Stevenson, brunch with Buck, and breakfast with Bradbury. If you’re talking about a living author – that one is a bit trickier. There aren’t that many current writers that have had a profound impact on me. Tea with Ms. Rowling would be delightful, I think. I’d have a pint with Keith Richards, too – have a chat about his book Life and shoot a few games of pool. Or maybe a pint with Rowling and tea with Richards? Hell, they could both shoot pool with me over pints – we could play a three person game of Cut-Throat. As the youngest, I break.

Naturally, I would be delighted to have lunch with [Harper] Lee and discuss the new book – but seeing as she’s a famous recluse, I didn’t think to ask in the first place. Pints and billiards with Keith Richards is probably right out with Ms. Lee, but I would be happy to have a cup of tea if she’s up for entertaining a guest at her home. I would bring the cookies and maybe some hand-picked flowers.

AJ: I’m having a hard time with a visual image of Keith Richards sitting down to tea.  

What was the last book you read?  Would you recommend it?
MZ: I’ve read a ton of books recently – and I would heartily recommend them all. Again, in no particular order: Oliver Twist and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates  and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, Around The World In 80 Days by Jules Verne, Travels With Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck, and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I’ve also read Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King and thought it was dreadful. Sorry, Steve (although I really liked Joyland if it’s any consolation).

AJ: You’ve got some eclectic taste in reading material.  That explains an awful lot about the variety of books you’ve written.

You once gave me some great advice about dealing with writer’s block, and I have to say that I have never looked at bananas the same way since. Can you share that advice here?

MZ: I’m not a big believer in the phenomenon of ‘writer’s block.’ It’s all about challenging yourself as a writer. You either have the discipline to write your way out of a perceived ‘block,’ or you cop out and say, “I have writer’s block.” If I’ve ever felt ‘blocked’ from creative ideas, I simply give myself something to do – a challenge as it were. Once, I set a stop-watch for fifteen minutes and gave myself that exact amount of time to come up with a short story – start to finish. That exercise resulted in “15 Minutes of Hell” from my book Serve Cold. Another time I happened to pick up some bananas from the grocery store for my wife. I challenged myself to write that into a short story, using the word ‘banana’ as many times as possible. The character of Bananaman was already written as some kind of psychotic fruit merchant in Earned Rum, but that exercise defined him and made him THE Banamaman – probably the most memorable character from the entire book. It’s not great advice, but there it is.

AJ: Can you tell us a little something about him and Serve Cold?

MZ: Well, now you know the origin of Bananaman. As for Serve Cold, those were, for the most part, a collection of short stories that I had written years ago that had some vague, rather uninspiring James Bond-like ‘secret agent’ as its main character. I always felt the stories were good, but only needed the right character – or at least the right NAME for the main character – to make them really special. After I finished Earned Rum, I was still on a creative high and had lots of energy in reserve. Looking to keep the momentum rolling, I came across these old short stories and thought, “hmmmm, these might be fun to revisit – if only I had the right… holy crap! Bananaman!” He stepped into the role perfectly, and was a fabulous way to end the journey of Earned Rum. Just as an FYI – I’m working on a bonus short story of Bananaman to be included in the paperback version of Serve Cold, which I hope to have out some time this summer.

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AJ: What can you tell me about your newest book Young Poe?

MZ: It’s strange to hear it referred to as my ‘newest’ book, as it’s the book I’ve been working on the longest – I started it in 2008. Its title pretty much sums up what the book is about, but it’s definitely a ‘non-mainstream’ style of book (gasp!) I’m reminded of the book The Man Who Was Poe by the prolific young adult author Avi, as far as tone is concerned. That is definitely a non mainstream book about Poe that was published years ago – and mine has a plot that you won’t find on most Young Adult bookshelves, ie: no sparkly vampires, no dystopian battle-to-the-death games, no wizards. It’s very much grounded in reality – which, I admit, can be a tough sell to kids these days. It’s also a complex read. Young Poe is meant to challenge the reader, but its elevated Lexile level serves a purpose; I didn’t choose big words just to confound the reader – it’s a part of who Poe was, and how characters in that day and age spoke. The classic young adult book Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes illustrates this point perfectly. I don’t expect Young Poe to have the kind of profound impact on a generation of readers that Ms. Forbes’ book did, but I do hope readers enjoy it!

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AJ:  Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you.

MZ: Thanks for talking with me, Amy! This was a lot of fun! Hope to talk to you again soon!

***

If you are an author or blogger who would like to be interviewed for “Ten Questions With –” please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

Inconceivable

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I don’t think it’s any great secret that I have some strong opinions.  Some of these opinions are so strong, in fact, that I don’t really think of them as opinions; to me, they are facts.  Undeniable, irrefutable, indisputable facts.

Connery was the best Bond.

Coke is better than Pepsi.

The best ice cream in the world comes from Sherman’s Dairy in South Haven, Michigan.

Beer tastes better from a bottle.

The book is always better than the movie.  Always.

That last one has just been shaken, which has then shaken my world.  I don’t want to believe that a movie version of a book could ever be better than the book itself.  Can’t be.   I just can’t accept it.

Some movies come pretty close.  In Cold Blood was a fantastic adaptation, faithful to the book in every possible way.  Mystic River almost got it.  Even the Harry Potter movies were more faithful to the books than anyone expected (other than Ron Weasley being more Comic Relief than Loyal Sidekick in the movies, that is).  True, there were a lot of details left out, but it would have taken twenty movies to contain all of the detail that Rowling included in her books.

Most movie adaptations are laughable at best, leaving audiences to wonder if the screenwriter has ever even read the book.  They show an appalling lack of respect for the author.  Love Comes Softly and its sequels were decimated by whoever thought it would be a good idea to re-write Jannette Oke.  The Three Investigators movies were a joke.  And I won’t even discuss what happened to Little House on the Prairie when it moved to TV.

The book is always better than the movie.  Always.

So I just read The Princess Bride, because it had to be even more magnificent than the movie.  Right?

Now, if you disliked the movie, don’t tell me.  I love it, and that makes it another one of those “Amy Facts.”    If you have seen the movie and you don’t get goosebumps at the words “Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya . . .” then we cannot be friends.  It’s as simple as that.  If you’ve never had a romantic fantasy involving a handsome man murmuring “As you wish,” then you have no romance in your heart.

I hated the book.  Hated it.  Every word of it, every minute spent reading it.  Hated it.  Perhaps it is because I saw the movie first, multiple times.  Maybe it’s because I read the “Anniversary Edition” of the book, filled with author’s notes and background information.

William Goldman didn’t write The Princess Bride.  He “abridged” it from an older work by someone named S. Morgenstern.  He never obtained the rights to do so, and as a result spent years bogged down in legal battles.   From his notes, it seems that he was a sad and depressed little man trying to find a way to connect with his son through a book that had been special to him as a child.  Goldman was in the final stages of a dying marriage overrun by passive-aggression and manipulation, and the story-behind-the-story is soul-suckingly sad.  Heartbreaking.  Depressing beyond all comprehension.

Okay, maybe I related a little too strongly because I am in the midst of a divorce, and I sometimes wonder if I am losing touch with my children as they grow up.  Perhaps I pity Goldman so much because I relate to him and I don’t want to explore those feelings just now.

Watching The Princess Bride makes me believe in True Love.  It makes me believe in and wish for the whole fantasy of a love that’s meant to be, of that perfect kiss.  It makes me want to believe in Happily Ever After.  Reading it reminded me that it’s all just a fantasy.  That it wasn’t Westley and Princess Buttercup falling in love, but Cary Elwes and Robin Wright collecting a paycheck for a job well done.

The book killed the fantasy.

At the end of the book, we learn that the adventure continues.  They don’t escape happily on the four white horses.  They are captured again; Inigo nearly succumbs to his wounds.  Buttercup almost dies in childbirth on a lonely deserted island near a whirlpool, and her baby daughter is subsequently kidnapped.

No, no, no.  I want my Happy Ever After, damn it.  I want to see Fezzik’s shy smile before he catches “the Lady” and sets her upon her horse.  I want to know that Westley and Buttercup go on to share the greatest kiss of all time, and that Inigo finds a new purpose in life.  I want my Happy Ending for everyone.

Anything else is inconceivable.

Greetings, Mystery Lovers!

There has been at least one in every generation of my family:  a Reader.  Not someone who merely enjoys reading, but one who lives for those moments of every day that are spent with a book.  One who is at a loss without something to read.  One who often has a hard time stepping out of a book and back into the real world that needs us.  One who might have a hard time choosing between a new book and oxygen if ever forced to choose.

My grandmother and mother were like that.  In my generation, it is my cousin Beckie and me; two of our other cousins married women who read as much as we do, so I am surprised the next generation of our family didn’t emerge from the womb with ISBN numbers stamped on their foreheads.

Mom used to forbid certain books as a sure-fire way of getting me to read them, so I often read things that were probably a bit too mature for me.  However, my favorite books were always those that were part of a series, because I found comfort in slipping back into the familiar worlds created by my favorite authors.

The Hardy Boys.  The Bobbsey Twins.  The Happy Hollisters. Trixie Belden.  I also loved mysteries and puzzles, so these books grabbed me like no others.  I devoured the books, snapping up every one I could find at libraries and garage sales.  When other little girls my age were asking Santa for Barbie Dolls, I begged him to bring me the newest adventure of the fictional characters I had begun to think of as my friends.

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I was seven or eight years old when I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators and was introduced to a new set of fictional friends.  Unlike the other “kid detectives” I read about, these guys weren’t siblings.  There was no sibling rivalry, no parents stepping in to help solve the case, no repulsively cute younger brothers or sisters in constant need of a rescue.  No romance, no melodrama.  Just three friends solving mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, and of course, Hitch himself was there to give me the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, these guys were real.

The series was created by Robert Arthur, beginning with The Secret of Terror Castle in 1964.  William Arden (Dennis Lynds) joined the fun in 1968 with The Mystery of the Moaning Cave.  After Arthur’s death in 1969, Arden was joined by Nick West (Kin Platt) and M.V. (Mary Virginia) Carey, with Marc Brandel jumping in near the series’ end.

Hitchcock made an appearance in each book, introducing the boys and giving hints of the tale we were about to read.   In some books, he became part of the story by introducing them to clients or giving them information to help solve the case, but he usually disappeared until the final scene, when the boys would sit in his office and wrap up any loose ends.

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Hitchcock’s death in 1980 was devastating to the series, but the character of Hector Sebastian was introduced in The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, and Sebastian took over the introductions and closing scene of every book after that.  Many fans felt that this marked the beginning of the downhill slide in quality of the books.  Later “updated” issues of the early books replaced Hitchcock with a fictional Hollywood director named Reginald Clarke.

The First Investigator was Jupiter Jones, described as being very smart and very logical.  He was stubborn and level-headed, and often used long words that confused his friends.  He was a former child actor who sometimes “played dumb” as a way of getting suspects to talk.  But he was also a realistic and somewhat sympathetic character who sometimes made mistakes and even admitted to being stumped from time to time.  He was stocky and unathletic, but never portrayed as a stereotypical fat kid or arrogant genius.

Pete Crenshaw was the Second Investigator, and my favorite character.   He was the athletic one, the one who struggled most to understand the complexities of a case, but once again the various authors avoided stereotyping him.  He was never a dumb jock.  And while he had most of the series’ funny lines, he was never portrayed as a cowardly comic relief character. Pete may have complained about facing danger, but he was almost always the one to take the biggest risks and the first to place himself between his friends and danger.

Bob Andrews, the Records and Research member of the team, was Everyman.  He was the most down-to-earth, relatable character of the three.  While Jupe and Pete both followed their instincts and hunches, Bob was usually the one who showed the most common sense, often voicing the questions that we readers were asking.  Many of the most memorable scenes of the series were told from Bob’s point of view, which makes sense as his character was given the task of recording all of their cases to hand over to Hitchcock (later Sebastian and Clarke).

Bob wore a leg brace for the first few books in the series, having broken his leg in a fall during some pre-series adventure.  He was described as being small and slight, but he never quite crossed that line into being frail or needing protection.   There were a few references to his leg injury for a while, but the character was allowed to recover enough to keep up with his friends as the series moved on.  From the start, his handicap established him as the quiet observer, although he could always be counted on for a snappy comeback or a bit of sarcasm.

Even the secondary characters were memorable, but none ever quite stole the spotlight from the boys. There was Worthington, the British chauffer who drove them around in the gold-plated Rolls-Royce (believe it or not, it really makes sense in the context of the books).  Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who worked for Jupe’s Uncle Titus while spouting some rally embarrassing Pidgin English that would never be allowed in a book published today.  And Uncle Titus himself, the former circus performer who owned the Jones Salvage Yard that Jupe called home.  Titus’ wife, Aunt Mathilda, who spent her days putting the boys to work, is still a fan favorite, although Allie Jamison will always be my personal favorite of all secondary characters.  She appeared in The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and The Mystery of Death Trap Mine and very nearly took over each time; I was always disappointed that M.V. Carey never spun her off into her own series.

The books were deliberately vague about the boys’ exact age.  The older I got as I read the books, the older I imagined them to be.  We were told that Jupiter took advanced classes and was therefore ahead of the other two in school, and we knew that their rival, Skinny Norris, was able to get his Driver’s License in another state, so it was a pretty safe guess that they were supposed to be around fourteen or fifteen years old.

I read and re-read those books, right up until the series ended in 1987 with book #43, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector.  Random House tried to revive the series with the dreadful Three Investigators Crimebusters reboot and a few equally terrible Find Your Fate books, and then my old friends limped off into obscurity.

I found out later that they actually limped off to Germany, where the series blossomed in ways that it never did here in America.  There were new books, radio broadcasts, and even two really odd movies that bore very little resemblance to the books.

2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Three Investigators, and we fans are still a pretty loyal group.  We have a Facebook page and several websites, most notably The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collector Site.   There are fanfiction writers creating new adventures of our favorite trio, and of course there are constant discussions about the possibility of reviving the series.   It probably won’t happen, thanks to the tangled mess of rights and ownership between the publisher, authors, and Robert Arthur’s family. But we can still dream.

My nieces and nephews grew up on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and my older children have enjoyed everything from The Magic Tree House to Percy Jackson.  I’ve tried to get my youngest nephew interested in The Enigma Club, although he still prefers Encyclopedia Brown or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I wish there was a modern-day Three Investigators series for all of them, but I’m sure they will all look back on their own favorites with the same fondness that my friends and I feel for Jupe, Pete and Bob.

What about you?  What were some of your favorite young adult series books when you were a kid, and which ones would you like to see revived?