Q&A with the Author: New Release I.R.I.S.

Q1: What first inspired you to write I.R.I.S.?

Author Response (AR): I was writing another book and the underlying theme of ravens as spirit guides kept popping into my head. Plus, around that time, I’d be out walking my dog around the neighbourhood and I was often followed by a trio of young, playful ravens. As they flew overhead one day I wondered what it might be like if they were spying on me, literally.

Q2: Why did you choose to self-publish rather than seek traditional publication?

AR2: As an unknown writer I was keenly aware that finding a publisher in today’s changing landscape might take a long time or result in many rejections. And, it’s widely known that a book can take years to go from manuscript to actual store shelves. This book was written for my sons and I wanted them to read it before they were beyond the age and scope of the story. As it turns out, many of my readers are well beyond that age range yet still love the book; and, since it took me four years to write my kids are already older than the intended age range anyway; so I’ll just have to trust that they can still enjoy a good action/adventure story. I also woefully admit that I like having total control over a project that is so dear to my heart, and the rewards in publishing it myself have far out-weighed the alternative of seeking traditional representation where I might not have any control over important things like the title or cover.

Q3: Had you written or published anything before I.R.I.S.?

A3: Yes. I’ve stirred my spoon in several pots, or so to speak: published in community newspapers, print and digital magazines, on websites, and chapters or excerpts in the books of other authors. I’ve written a number of food and travel articles, editorials on being and raising Canadian kids while living abroad, short essays on education, health and wellness; articles on being and raising multilingual children in bi-cultural families, educational guides, and chapters in books of English as a second language for foreign nurses. And, I’ve also been something like a ghost writer for more than ten years; reviewing, editing, and translating medical and scientific research for publication in international medical journals. Last year I self-published a novel for young adults, Sumac Summer, and it has received rave reviews. The experience was so rewarding I thought I’d try it again. My short story was long-listed for the CBC’s Creative Nonfiction contest in 2015. And, I recently won first place in a writing contest for a flash fiction challenge in a new Canadian literary magazine.

Q4: Using an acronym as a title is a bold thing to do. Were you worried?

AR4: Yes, I was worried that people would connect the title to ISIS, which was practically unheard of back when I had the idea for the book but has since become commonplace. And I also worried that people wouldn’t be sufficiently intrigued by it, but so far it has done what I wanted it to do: intrigue, and boost the notion of agency or secrecy.

Q5: What more can you tell us about your micro-press?

A5: Winter Wind Press was first established in July 2015 with the aim and mission to publish unique and timeless stories in different or cross-over genres for young adults and teens who love to read. Using my own books as pilot projects I first intend to self-publish three or four stand-alone books before taking on the monumental task of publishing the work of someone else (keeping that as a future goal).

Q6: How did you come up with the name Winter Wind Press?

A6: I wanted something distinctly and whole-heartedly Canadian that would embody the idea that ‘a good book will always keep you warm so let the storms outside rage on’. My kids get credit for the name, logo and brand. It’s a family thing.

Q7: Is there a sequel to I.R.I.S.?

AR7: There is a prequel and a sequel, yes. I just need to find the time to write them.

I.R.I.S. Sneak Peek

Chapter 1- Shadows (Excerpt)

There was a noise and Jay sprang upright. Everything in his vision spun wildly for a brief second. He felt so tired. Remembering was really hard work when you were recovering from a coma; so hard in fact that he almost hadn’t noticed Maggie standing beside him, fiddling with his heart monitor and tsking.

“Oi! I thought I told yeh not ta turn it off me lad.”

It wasn’t a question.

Mrs. Margaret MacKay had a hospital name-tag clipped to the left pocket over her heart, and beside the letters RN, hand-written in sparkly purple marker, was her own definition: ‘Real Nutcase’.

She also had a miniature koala bear clipped to her stethoscope, gripped there as if it were swinging from some purple jungle vine, hanging on for dear life. Everything about this ‘jungle’ seemed to be tinted purple, from her auburn hair to the orthopedic clogs on her feet.

“Hey Maggie.” Jay might only be fourteen years old but he knew how to read people. Or at least he thought he knew how to read people before he broke his head and went bonkers. Maggie was the only nurse who didn’t baby-talk him. And when she gave him medicine she didn’t say, “Here’s your sugar pill, Honey,” like all the others.

The anti-seizure syrup was sweet enough. He didn’t need reminders.

Maggie pulled a pink Smartphone out of what she called her pocket full of tricks, and passed it to Jay.

“What? Should I order us a pizza?” he asked with a wry smile.

She laughed, “Och, lad ya crack me up, hah. O’ sorry. No puns intended ‘bout your wee cracked noggin’ eh! No, me boy, jus’ be a love and look at the screen would’ya then?”

He could tell by the lilting end to her words that she was asking him if he wanted to and so to please her, he looked: there were phone numbers, all the same, piled one on top of another like floors in a skyscraper.

“Geeze, somebody really wants to get in touch with you,” he remarked dryly.

“Yeh don’ recognize it?”  She scrunched up her round face.

He glanced again, and worried as he tried to concentrate on the numbers. He used to be good with numbers. His mom, code name Math Professor, had always been overly proud, but now she might have one more thing to fear from his accident. There were too many numbers. The call was long distance, that much he did know, but he moved his head very slowly, very gently, in the direction of ‘No’.

Maggie took the phone from his hand and waved it in front of his face, “It’s yer uncle lad, the one who lives in Berlin. That’s a nice place by the way, I went there when–,”

“–Uncle Henry?” Jay blurted.

“Yah, yah, I had to give ‘im my personal number ‘cause the girls at the station were complainin’ ‘bout him ringin’ them up all night long and they couldna get their work done.” She handed him back the phone. “He seems nice, yer uncle. Yeh should ring ‘im up, he’s worried sick about yeh.”

“But Maggie, wouldn’t that be an expensive call?” Jay frowned, and tried not to wince at the pain it caused.

She passed her phone back to him, “Unlimited international calling plan me darlin’. I’m on shift for twelve hours and maybe even a double if that useless twit Doreen doesn’t show up again, so use it any time yeh want and jus’ beep me at the desk when yer done!”

Pivoting to go she added, “An, don’t be goin’ ta sleep now eh! I’ll be back with yer medication for tha’ headache.”

“How did you know?” he asked.

She put a hand on her round hip and raised one thick, pencilled eyebrow. “I’ve been nursing a long time m’dear and I can read between the lines on them machines pretty good too.”

He only hoped that Maggie MacKay, Real Nutcase and Registered Nurse Extraordinaire, couldn’t read minds as well as she could read machines. He wasn’t ready to share his secrets or his fears.

As the door swung shut there was a flutter of movement out on the window ledge but Jay purposefully looked the other way and watched the green beats on the monitor, seeking evidence that he was alive rather than evidence that he had lost his wits.

He did not see it from the corner of his eye; no, he did not. He did not hear its sharp bill knocking at the glass, pecking at the February chill; no, he did not. His peripheral vision was not closing in on him; no, it wasn’t. He was not going crazy. He couldn’t.

But he also couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that it might be possible for a bird, his bird, to have flown twelve thousand kilometers just to sit there and watch him.

Jay’s curiosity overcame him. He glanced out the window. The shadow shifted, turned, and peered through the glass directly at Jay, watching him.

 

Anticipation

It’s that sweet build-up of wonder, the feeling of exhilaration mixed with the unknown: who’s hiding around the corner, what’s going to happen, where’s this going next?

You feel it coming on like a distant thunderstorm before the first crack of cloud and rain. The sky around you subtly changes colour. The cows bed down in their fields. And, is it your imagination or does the air taste different too?

BOOM!

SPLASH!

It takes skill to craft the right amount on tension in writing. It takes practice and time to lead the reader onward and forward. Hooking them is easy enough, if you’ve got a way with words, but how do you keep them wondering? Guessing? Wanting more? Then, how do you leave them hanging off that proverbial cliff just so they’ll want to climb again?

In this age of media bombardment and hyper-stimulation it’s not as easy as it once was to catch and keep your readers’ attention. So it’s more important than ever to know how to draw them in and keep them within the boundaries of the limitless story you’ve created. You want nothing more than to pull them into the pages of your work just so you can engage their minds to fully roam and explore that world, those events, and these characters.

There’s no greater compliment to a writer than, “I couldn’t put your book down,” or “I devoured your story.” Good tension is one of the best ways to achieve that goal.

“The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.” -Oscar Wilde.

CRACK!

BOOM!

Here’s how I attempt to create suspense in writing.

  1. Create characters that have something to work for, an objective or a goal; then make them engaging and memorable, and give them an opposing force or antagonist.
  2. Invest your characters in the pursuit of their goal. Make them work for it. Don’t give things to them easily (other than real flaws, which help readers identify with them).
  3. Raise the stakes, push characters away from their goal enough that readers feel it might not be possible to achieve; but use hope constantly, in the background, to make readers want the character to succeed (play on reader empathy and concern).
  4. Use each chapter as a mini-backdrop in the whole book’s ‘rise, peak, and fall’; but at chapter breaks leave the reader hanging off each mini-peak with a leading question or uncertainty (until the moment when the climax is reached and the main conflict is fully resolved, when the ‘fall’ becomes story conclusions).
  5. Inject multiple sources of tension into the storyline. Make secondary characters or other events important and weave them together with the main plot to create more wonder, being careful not to over-do it (too many unrelated conflicts/characters can get confusing depending on the age of your audience).
  6. Infuse urgency into the scenes that require more anticipation through word choice, dialogue, and action: cut off sentences, make characters move, drop the ball and let it roll away…, then make the readers chase it.
  7. Engage readers’ senses in the writing.         It’s raining sheets on the other side of the lake, moving closer as if pushed from behind by giant hands made of wind. I blink and the sky changes colour from summer blue to fire-pit grey. The air around us suddenly tastes and sounds like it’s chewing on tinfoil, spitting out sparks. We wave the kids in from the dock against their pleas to stay. “Hurry! It’s coming! RUN!” Arms flail. Feet slip on grass. Goosebumps prickle my thighs as Danger speaks to the dark corners of my mind, ‘Get out of the water, take cover or I’ll get you.’ Metallic air crackles as they reach the porch just in time, soaked and laughing. Thunder roars overhead. We towel them off and wonder how long it will last as rain smashes on the cottage roof and the storm engulfs us. “Did anyone bring candles?” 
  8. Balance dramatic tension with calmness (used similarly to protagonist-antagonist).
  9. Use plot twists in unexpected moments and places to push your character/story in interesting directions and keep readers engaged.
  10. Keep dialogue real but tighter, condensed, more intense and less boring than everyday talk. Don’t speak about the weather, spread niceties or humdrum details of everyday life. Let characters speak and act through dialogue as they tease, argue, and mislead and interrupt one another. Never use dialogue to teach the reader something that the ‘speaker’ should already know.

The storm passes and the sun peeks out from behind the curtain of cloud like a shy child.

“Let’s swim,” she says. 

“It’s safe?” he asks. 

“Lightning’s gone Dumbo.” She runs to the waterfront. His shorter legs chase behind; her perpetual, younger shadow. 

They count to three and jump from the dock into the water that now feels like a bathtub compared to the air around. 

“No more lightning but did Mom tell you about the huge fish that live in here?” she asks, and then slips beneath the surface where he can no longer see her.

Something brushes against his ankle…

 

 

Upcoming Release

I.R.I.S:

Intelligent Roaming Information Systems  

Recovering from COMA, fourteen-year-old Jay Garcia fears the doctors are wrong. The accident must have addled his brain. What else could explain the hallucinations? Yet once he figures out that the looming shadow sitting sentry on his hospital window ledge is not a figment of his imagination, he’s more than relieved: he’s eager to recover so he can join the top-secret IRIS project and work as an agent for the Global Nations Mission Control.

There’s only one problem. His parents must never find out. So when Jay’s uncle, the project leader, sends urgent message of a Triple Code Red threat, it’s immediately clear that Jay is the only one who can help.

What he least suspects is that the task will take him halfway around the world, and force him to confront a dangerous, extensive web of crime; knowing, if he fails, that his family will lose everything. And if his mom, Code name Mother-Bear, ever finds out what he’s up to she will definitely KILL him.

Jay has no choice. With his family’s lives and livelihood at risk, he has to succeed!

The question, is how?

 

Category: young adult fiction for readers 11+.

Key words: action, adventure, espionage, mystery

Praise for Sumac Summer

A refreshing break from all the dystopian novels out there. I really enjoyed this book. It was powerful, well-written, moving, detailed, uplifting and motivational. The characters are memorable, there was lots of suspense, and great tension; and I just couldn’t read it fast enough because I wanted to know what would happen! I recommend this book: 5/5 stars (H.C. Grade 9).

The book brought out lots of emotion. It made my heart lift and soar. I would recommend it to many people. It was interesting and I didn’t want to stop reading it. It was heart-warming, hopeful, sad, relieving and inspirational. Overall, a wonderful book that gave me hope and made me think anything is possible! I loved it (E.C. Grade 7).

Sumac Summer is addicting, funny, sad, enjoyable and exciting. I liked the plot twists and how the characters are described. It’s a very interesting story that I could barely put down. I loved the ending! In general this story was amazing. I would definitely buy this book (N.A. grade 8).

I read this book and thought it was very interesting and well-written. I loved it! Definitely recommendable, I am sure my fellow book lovers would also love it. I would describe it as: memorable, informative, exciting and heart-wrenching. The characters are relatable and while it can have a sad mood I still wanted more…It was fast paced and never boring. I loved the ending. It was a great wrap to a great book (M.H. Grade 9).

Dear Author, your novel is evidently a hit! Here are the reviews [reading the book in one go was the easy part for both of these girls].

(Q.S. age 12) It was a really, really good book. The best ever! It was engaging and I loved it! A great story and great book. (L.B. age 13) Suspenseful, sad, realistic, water-loving, Sumac Summer was a great read. I could relate to the characters and I would recommend this book to anyone.

“I’m loving Sumac Summer. It keeps you engaged all the time, in waves. Frustrating that I don’t have enough time in the day to read because I can’t put it down! At the same time, I’m sorry to be finishing it so quickly. Maybe I’ll force myself to read slower, to enjoy longer…” Ana (Age 45).

5 stars: ” I absolutely loved this book! It had a great story line and lots of plot twists along the way that were exciting to read. Sumac Summer is all emotions and anticipation in one book and I recommend it for anybody around my age (13). It has a great story behind it and I would definitely read it again.” smile emoticon

Well, about the book! I read the whole thing in one afternoon because I just could not put it down! Yes, I cried several times and I just adored the story. I will recommend this book (C.B. age 57).

Humble appreciation to all who have written a comment or review. Thanks so much. G.M.