Tag Archives: reviews

Open Call Ends August 31, 2020

Sunspot Literary Journal is dedicated to amplifying diverse multinational voices. We offer an Editor’s Prize of $50 for the annual edition. Artwork selected for a cover will be paid $20. Visit SunspotLit.com to download digital editions for free.

All types of prose from flash fiction and poetry to stories and essays, including scripts and screenplays, are welcome. We also accept long-form, novelette, and novella length works up to 49,000 words. Translations welcome, especially with access to the piece in the author’s original language.

One piece per prose submission; two works of visual art per submission.

Use the correct form according to the length of your prose and poetry. Works longer than allowed by the form used will be declined unread.

The Fast Flux options offer a two-week turnaround, with most responses going out within one week.

All submissions must be unpublished (except on a personal blog). Simultaneous submissions welcome. Submit as many times as you like.

Submissions must be sent through Sunspot’s Submittable page.

Author Interview & Free Book

On August 11, this blog will post a review of Secure the Shadow, the latest novel from Marion Grace Woolley. Author of such deliciously dark tales as Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, Woolley is offering a few free copies through this blog. The free copies will be available to the first five people who contact the blog during the days after the review posts. Today, the author joins us for an interview about her work.

Tell us something about yourself and how you became an author. 

Hi, sure.

I’ve always been an avid reader, and enjoyed writing stories growing up, but it wasn’t until I moved to Rwanda as a sign language researcher in 2007 that I made a serious attempt at writing a novel. Back then, books were quite hard to find, I didn’t have a telly or a radio, and the internet was too slow to stream movies. There really wasn’t much to do in the evenings, so I thought I’d take a shot at writing a novel, just to see whether I could make the word count. Once I discovered that I could, it became a bit of an addiction, and I’ve been writing ever since.

I still live in Rwanda, where I currently work with organisations helping those who survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and in my spare time I’m trying to build the first Rwandan piano with my friend Désiré.

I now have a bookshelf and the internet is fast enough to stream movies, but I continue to write novels now and then.

Which books stand out for you as a reader? 

As a very young child, I think Puddle Lane took the prize. They were short fairy tales that had a page for the adult to read and then a short sentence for the kid to read. My dad always made me read out loud before he’d turn the page. So, I have fond memories of learning to read with him.

In my teens, I was a Fighting Fantasy, Terry Pratchett and horror buff. I loved Shaun Hutson, Stephen King, anything with blood and gore.

Nowadays, I read a lot more non-fiction. Yuval Noah Harari, Peter Frankopan and Bill Bryson, but also a lot of fiction, usually more on the literary side like Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Madeline Miller, but also some silly stuff like Yahtzee Croshaw. He wrote an entertaining story about the world being taken over by man-eating strawberry jam.

Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? 

Not so much. I feel like I know what I’m doing nowadays. I’ve kind of got to that stage where I realise the things that bug me, and I find difficult, are mostly the same things all writers struggle with. There really isn’t a magic answer to a lot of things, like character development and plot block, we’re all just stumbling through it the best we can.

I’ve been very lucky in that my family used to take me to the Cheltenham Literature Festival most years, so I got to sit and listen to a lot of the greats, like Ken Follet, Philip Pullman, Lionel Shriver and Ian McEwan. I was able to hear a lot of their advice first-hand.

A lot of other writers have made their brains freely available to pick, or at least leaf through. Aristotle, Stephen King, Adrian Magson and many others have written books on writing. In Stephen King’s case, literally On Writing.

Being a writer is pretty solitary. You’re the only one who can hear those imaginary voices in your head and tell the story you dreamed up. Sure, you can discuss it with people, but that doesn’t get it written any quicker. You sort of learn to become quite self-reliant.

If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?

I’ve been rather smitten with Alicia Gris from Labyrinth of the Spirits recently, but I’m not sure how much tea we’d get drunk. Just a very dark and enjoyable character. I’d like to see her perform her fountain pen trick on a buttered scone.

Anybody a little bit magical would be entertaining company. Howl, if I could pluck him from his moving castle, or Chrestomanci. I’m a sucker for a smoking jacket.

There are just too many to choose from.

Do you have some writing rituals or habits?

No. I’m useless at routine, and whenever I try to stick to one, the universe usually has other ideas. Writing is a chaotic process, so I prefer to embrace the chaos.

Where do you come up with your ideas? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉

Neil Gaiman did a good interview where he said, ‘never ask a writer where they get their ideas.’ Honestly, I don’t know. You can have an idea any time of the day or night. Riding on the bus, walking across a park, staring at your navel. There are hundreds of ideas all over the place. The question is, which one is going to make it to 100,000 words?

That’s always the issue. Not every idea has the longevity to be interesting for more than a couple of pages. Most stories are a hotchpotch of lots of different ideas, and when you start to run thin on ink, it’s time to throw another idea in there and keep writing. Usually, you need a collection of ideas to produce a full-length novel.

But many of those ideas come to you once you start writing. Stories are fluid. Half the fun is discovering the story as you’re writing it, which means new ideas can ambush you along the way.

If I were a memoirist, I’d write about people I know, but as I write fiction, I’m wholly devoted to those I make up. For me, fiction is escapism, I’d hate to pollute it with reality.

Can you offer any tips for writers?

Nothing more than other, much more famous, writers have said: read a lot, read as widely as you can, expect the first few stories you write to be dreadful, but learn from them.

To paraphrase Labyrinth of the Spirits: ‘Writing is a profession that has to be learnt, but it’s impossible to teach.’

Grammar can be taught, sentence structure and plot construction can be taught, but what makes a story work – that’s more art than science, and it just takes time.

What are your future plans?

I’m currently working with a fantastic group of actors to turn my epic The Children of Lir into an audiobook. It’s been wonderfully creative and a real treat to be part of something so collaborative. I’m also self-narrating The Tangled Forest, a collection of dark fairy tales I wrote a few years back. That’s proving more of a challenge. Despite having written the book, I’m actually finding it pretty tricky to read out loud. In between, I’m doing a little light research for another novel, set in ancient Akkad. So, lots of fun things on the go at the moment.

Excerpt from Secure the Shadow

Reuben took a piece of white paper and a brush, painting its surface with silver nitrate. Then he placed the silhouette over the top and took it into the hallway, exposing it to the full force of a carbon arc lamp. As he did so, the paper began to darken until it was the same black as the silhouette. He peeled the top layer away to reveal Bella and Archie, their outline wedding-white like fallen snow.

“A photogram,” Reuben explained. “The earliest form of photography. From photo, meaning light, and gram, meaning drawing. A light drawing.”

“But why did you choose to make one of–”

“Watch.”

As they stood looking at the simple play of shadow on sun, the white image began to fade. At first, just the edges started to fray. Then, piece by piece, the entire picture began to turn black. Archie and Bella, and their archway of ribbons, darkened until there was nothing left of them.

“Gone,” Reuben whispered, looking down at her. “How do you feel?”

“Better, I think.”

“A life that might have been, but never was. Captured for a moment, then returned to history.”

“A clever trick.”

He kissed her gently on the cheek.

Open Call Closing Feb 29

Sunspot Literary Journal is dedicated to amplifying diverse multinational voices. We offer an Editor’s Prize of $50 for the annual edition. Artwork selected for a cover will be paid $20. Visit SunspotLit.com to download digital editions for free.

All types of prose from flash fiction and poetry to stories and essays, including scripts and screenplays, are welcome. We also accept long-form, novelette, and novella length works. Translations welcome, especially with access to the piece in the author’s original language.

One piece per prose submission, including poetry; two works of visual art per submission.

Use the General form for prose from 501 to 3,500 words. Flash fiction and works longer than 3,500 words must be submitted through one of the other forms. If they are submitted through the General form, they will be declined unread.

Using the Fast Flux (two-week turnaround or less)? Select the correct fee option to avoid delays.

All submissions must be unpublished (except on a personal blog). Simultaneous submissions welcome. Submit as many times as you like.

Closes February 29, 2020 at midnight.

Book Review: Fever Dream / Take Heart by Valyntina Grenier

I first had the pleasure of encountering Valyntina Grenier’s work through Sunspot Literary Journal’s Single Word contest. Since then, this talented artist was picked up by Cathexis North West Press.

Fever Dream / Take Heart is a doubled poetry book. Two chapbooks have been produced in a flip-book format. Bound in the  tête-bêche style, Fever Dream and Take Heart provide two forays through this poet’s feverishly delicious style.

Lifting off from nature, Grenier leaps intuitively between images that comment on humanity’s impact on the climate, corrosive politics, and all that is ferociously feminine. 

Leap anywhere into these works and emerge with your senses swollen and your will to enact change fortified with iron.

FDTHCover75

Valyntina Grenier is a poet and visual artist living in Tucson, Arizona. She was born in Lancaster, California, and educated at The University of California, Berkeley, and St. Mary’s College, Moraga. Graduating with an MFA in poetry, she is self-taught as a painter, installation and Neon artist. In both language and visual art, she pushes the boundaries of representation and abstraction to create a vantage from which to view violence and prejudice. An LGBTQIA artist and activist, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lana Turner, High Shelf Press, JuxtaProse, Sunspot Lit, Bat City Review and The Impossible Beast: Poems of Queer Eroticism. Find her at valyntinagrenier.com or Insta @valyntinagrenier.

Soulful Book Offering Gifts from the Ocean

Sweet LifeI’ve been following the journey of a particular book called The Sweet Life from creation through to its final version. The book, which offers up gifts that originate deep within the ocean, is fascinating.

It started years ago when a group of women were called to travel to various places around the world. They set up sacred stone circles in many places, and the sites can be visited by readers who want to experience the journey themselves.

The book is now available on Amazon for those who want to hear from the very special beings who protect our planet and all humans on it. Guaranteed to be a deeply moving read, and perfect for book clubs.

Tin House to Close; Sunspot to Open

books-2158737_1920June of 2019 will see the last Tin House literary magazine roll off the presses. After twenty years publishing original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Tin House is saying goodbye.

The move was done in the face of mounting costs associated with print publishing. Rob Spillman, the co-founder and editor, is moving on to other areas. The closing brings an end to a very long stretch of quality contributions to the literary arena.

While some new works will still be published on Tin House’s website, the loss of yet another print publication is difficult for writers. Much of the industry still gives more weight to credits in print publications, so the loss of even one magazine can be bad news.

There is a bright spot, however. Sunspot Literary Magazine is launching in January of 2019. For the first year, one print edition will be published. The magazine hopes to add additional print editions in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, digital editions are scheduled for every quarter. The founder is also considering adding frequent special editions that focus on a single author or a single category.

The magazine’s mission is to “change the world through words,” and is open to new and established authors and artists. Submissions of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays, art, interviews, and reviews of books, movies and galleries are being accepted through Sunspot’s Submittable portal.

This is an excellent opportunity to be heard and to enact the change you want to see.

Wind, Waves, and Wonder: Where Dolphins Walk

Where dolphins walk_CoverToday is the first day you can buy Where Dolphins Walk. This memoir from a commercial airline pilot who has traveled the world brings a level of thoughtfulness and meaning to how we move through the world…not only while traveling, but in our daily lives.

With profound consideration and lively stops in a number of the world’s most beautiful countries, Douglas Andrew Keehn gives readers a global cultural tour. The weight of his experiences happen in South America, where he eventually lived for a time before returning to the US.

Throughout his journeys and the book, Keehn returns time and again to the message conveyed by the subtitle: A Memoir of Bridging National Lifestyles, Positive Change, and the Powers of Silence. 

Destined to become the modern-day A Year in Provence for South America’s many jewels, Where Dolphins Walk connects readers with the global harmony that Keehn so clearly feels is not only possible, but is present for everyone who wishes to engage respectfully with other cultures.

Read this over the holidays, and you’ll know exactly where you want to go for your vacations…and possibly for the rest of your life.

Keen CockpitDouglas Andrew Keehn was an avid saltwater angler and deckhand as a teenager. Born in NYC, he was raised in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. He began flying at age seventeen, and has been a flight officer for a major commercial airline for thirty-three years.

After crossing numerous U.S., Canadian, and Mexican cities, his travels shifted south to Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. He resided in Florianopolis, SC, Brazil for more than six years.

Author Interview: Mark Noce

Mark NoceLast week, I posted a book review for the second title in a historical series by Mark Noce. The first two titles are Between Two Fires and Dark Winds Rising. Both feature Queen Branwen of Wales, an original empowered woman!

Today the author has been kind enough to answer a few questions. So, here we go!

MC: Hi Laine, and thanks so much for having me here!

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Hmm. My advice would be…don’t take too much advice. I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of good advice out there, but it’s crucial for each author to find what works for them, and what doesn’t. Experiment, trying things, learn the hard way. It’s what I do. Try writer’s conferences, creative writing groups, online forums, and see what speaks to you.

As for the writing itself, I adhere to Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a lot and often, otherwise, “if you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

I dream about writing (seriously I do), so I’m not sure that I ever really do take a break. Writers are readers, so if you feel you need a break, make sure to plug your time with as much reading as you can. It’s grist for the mill, and there’s so much good stuff out there to enjoy. Writing’s work, but it’s fun too. So long as you keep it fun, you won’t want a break from it.

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

There are plenty of challenges, but it wouldn’t be worthwhile if it was easy either. One of the big challenges is simply getting your message heard through all the white noise that fills everyone’s everyday lives. When you promote a book or even get your novel into someone’s hands you probably still don’t have their full attention, i.e. the TV is on, they’re multitasking at work, their kids are interrupting them, etc. All you can really do is try to connect with them right from the get go with those first few lines so that they make the conscious choice to dive into your story. It’s part skill, part luck, part faith.

What books are you currently reading?

Everything! There’s nothing I won’t read. I try to read about 3-4 books a week (and during the summer I try to reread some of my favorites). I’ve been diving into history books lately, fiction and nonfiction. Stuff by James Jones, George Orwell, and even Katharine Hepburn (yes, you read that last part right).

Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? (The authors do not have to be living.)

It’s difficult to say, as you never know what books are being loved in people’s homes across the world, but aren’t bestsellers. I’m a big Lawrence Durrell fan, so if you haven’t read Justine or any of the Alexandrian quartet, you’re in for a treat.

Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

One book that really blew me away this year was Cherie Reich’s stories entitled People of Foxwick. If you enjoy fantasy, check it out. When I read it, I was shocked that a major press hadn’t picked it up yet, it’s that good.

Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

Everyone is different. If you do something 60 days in a row though, it typically becomes a habit. Then you simply do it without thinking. Also, it’s key to develop your own regimen. For me, I write on weekdays, but give myself weekends off to read and absorb life. By Monday I’m always chomping at the bit to get writing again.

Dark Winds RisingCan you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

Sure, I’ve got lots. The sequel in my Queen Branwen series, Dark Winds Rising, came out this month, but I’ve got two manuscripts for two different series already with my agent. One is set during the Viking age and another in WWII London. They both feature female protagonists, and I’m really excited to get these out there with publishers.

Do feel free to tell me anything else you think people should know about you, the book, the writing lifestyle, or your process.

I love writing, especially historical fiction. I work by day as a tech writer in Silicon Valley, and when I’m not writing, I’m with my wife raising my kids. My little redheads are great, but looking after them makes writing and the corporate world look easy by comparison. 😉

I hope you enjoy Dark Winds Rising, and I look forward to connecting with all of you. Please feel free to drop me a line at marknoce.com any time. Thanks!

Book Review: Dark Winds Rising by Mark Noce

Dark Winds Rising by Mark Noce. St. Martin’s Press, December 2017.

DarkWindRising_FBCover_onsaleFinally, finally, the wait is over! You can–if you haven’t already–get a copy of Dark Winds Rising, the second in the epic historical series about a Welsh queen who stepped into her power in order to help her people.

The first book in the series is Between Two Fires. That work shows Queen Branwen’s strength of intellect and the strength of her heart as she accepts that the man she married is not her true love.

Now, in Dark Winds Rising, she must face the Queen of the Picts when raiders land on the shores of Wales. A mysterious assassin intent on killing her young son haunts her trail as she moves between different areas. The leaders of various areas would rather maintain their petty feuds with each other than join forces against the enemy, so the queen has her hands full.

Oh, and by the way, she’s pregnant. Provides a whole new angle on that modern mom thing, right? Even though sometimes young kids make it feel like Pictish raiders are marauding through your home!

Well, Queen Branwen never shirks her duty to her people or her country. Although taking her son with her on the road exposes them both to additional dangers, the assassin leaves her no choice.

The scenes in camp between her and her husband, Artagan, are some of the best in this book. They show the real dynamics between men and women during the medieval times while providing Branwen with enough room to move in her own direction.Dark Winds Rising

 

Plus, the touching moments with the family are heightened outside stone walls. Readers participate in very warm and moving interactions between parents and children. And yet the tension never gives way, which of course gives those intimate scenes all the more impact.

This second title in the series is pitch perfect from front to back. You won’t a single place where you lose interest or where you feel lost. You will be thoroughly immersed in Branwen’s world, her time, and the rugged beauty of Wales.

 

Perfect Gift for a Special Teacher

Essential Knowledge for Teachers: Truths to Energize, Excite, and Engage Today’s Teachers by Barbara D. Culp
Rowman & Littlefield
978-1-4758-3132-0

Culp TeachersThrough Writer’s Resource, I helped this author bring this idea into the world. So I know firsthand that this is a perfect gift idea for that special teacher!

Educators build the future of our world by nurturing one mind at a time. If you want to say thanks in a really thoughtful way, give a copy of Essential Knowledge for Teachers by Barbara Culp to the teachers in your school.

This book was selected as a finalist in the Education/Academic category of the 2017 Best Books Awards by the American Book Fest. Something like 2,000 entries were received, so this book rose to the top percentile in order to be classified as a finalist.

It’s such a great gift, you might buy more than one for each of your children’s teachers, or for more than one teacher you want to thank. So, try Jet.com because when you buy two, you get a dollar off the price of each!

Here’s a link to the book on the publisher’s website.

If you have Amazon prime, it’s available for free shipping here.

And for folks who don’t have a local indie bookstore to order it from, here it is at Target.

 

Cutest Dual-language Picture Book!

English-Spanish Hardcover resizedJuvenile author Wendy Gilhula has sent me a copy of her debut work. Pika Bunny and the Thunderstorm has some of the sweetest illustrations I’ve seen in a long time!

Gilhula and I worked together some years ago on prose and poetry she had written. The ideas she had just would not let her go. One of them was a series of stories about a bunny named Pika.

Pika Bunny explores the world and illustrates the most touching elements of the parent-child relationship. After Gilhula put her ideas down on paper, she found a publisher who wanted not just one of the works, but several.

Today she is celebrating because Pika Bunny has found life in several formats. The debut story is available in paperback and hardbound versions. There are also English-only and Spanish-English editions, for a total of four versions!

When I received my copy, I reread the story that had demanded the author’s time and focus. Pika Bunny is frightened by a thunderstorm. Then he learns all the good things about rain and thunder. Pika Bunny triumphs over his fear!

PikaBedWashFrom the first page, I really was taken in by the illustrations. Adrianna Allegretti is the illustrator here.

Like most children’s books, the illustrations stay focused on the characters. In a few places, however, Allegretti opts to draw only the storm or other elements of nature.

The combination of the characters in nature, in their cozy interior spaces, and the ones that allow nature to roam free across the page lend this work a particular feeling readers will love.

One of the coolest things about Pika Bunny is that the work is available in a dual-language version. The story is told in Spanish and English, with the same text running in both languages on the same page.

The work has been nominated for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI’s) Golden Kite Award. 

Of special note is the dedication in the front of the book. Gilhula thanks a number of individuals, all by listing their first names and the first initial of their last name. These are all kids who were her beta readers!

She wanted to honor the contributions of these dedicated fans. And here she has, while also preserving their identities and therefore their safety.

Want more of this cuteness and sweet words? Tune in next week for an interview with author Wendy Gilhula!

Kids as Book Reviewers

One of the best ideas to come about these days is turning kids into book reviewers. BiblioNasium is a growing digital network that has long supported literacy and independent reading among children. Their new platform allows kids to post advanced book reviews.

These are the readers of today, and the adult readers of tomorrow. Anything that supports them and makes them feel more engaged will help authors and publishers in the long run.

Goodreads Tops 100K Authors

Goodreads, one of the top reader review sites, now has over 100,000 authors in their author program. Authors who join their program create their own author page, which enhances readers’ ability to discover their fiction and nonfiction books. Even if your work is out of print, if it’s available as a used book in hard copy, make sure you join their author ranks today!

Goodreads Doubles Again

2013 was a banner year for Goodreads, the reader review site. It doubled its membership again (just as it did during 2012). It now has 25 million members, many of which are interested in fiction much than nonfiction.

Here’s a cool infographic with other tidbits about the site’s activities over the previous year.

Amazon’s Top Reviewers

Reader reviews are an important to boost book sales. On specific sites, you’ll find lists of top reviewers…individuals who are so prolific with their reviews that they have achieved top ranking on that site.

It might not sound like much but it’s important. Top reviewers have followers…some of them tens of thousands of followers. When one of the top reviewers pays attention to your book, their followers discover your work. Good or bad, the review can introduce you to individuals who otherwise might never come across your stories.

Over the holidays, one of my novels was reviewed by an Amazon Top 50 reviewer. The post is fairly long and detailed, and can be read here. The reviewer is Grady Harp, who commands spot number 41 in the reviewer ranking. I’ll be following the sales numbers and will report back in a month on any developments.