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On the Lisbon Disaster by Olen Steinhauer

Those who have read this blog for any length of time will know that I am a fan of Olen Steinhauer. I have read all of his books and have enjoyed each one. I have interviewed him and interacted with him online (but have yet to meet him in person).  So I am not an unbiased observer but a fan. Take that for what it is worth.

With this in mind, I recently picked up On the Lisbon Disaster to get my Steinhauer fix until the release of The Cairo Affair in later this month.

OnTheLisbonAffairIn a thrilling e-original story, New York Times bestselling espionage master Olen Steinhauer introduces the enigmatic John Calhoun, an international security contractor who plays a prominent role in Steinhauer’s upcoming novel The Cairo Affair.

Before his assignment to the CIA’s Cairo office, John worked in Lisbon, Portugal, where he took part in an extraordinary rendition—the apprehension of a wanted individual for interrogation. But from the beginning of the operation nothing goes as planned, and for John, it soon becomes much more than a career-defining moment; how he handles this crisis will define who he is as a person.

It turned out to be an e-teaser of sorts for the forthcoming novel but a very well done one at that. Tension, bursts of action, complex attempts at the sorting of truth from lies and the inevitable resulting grays, questions about identity and the choices we make: classic Steinhauer really.

Certainly made me want to read the full length novel but whether it is worth less than a dollar is up to you.  Since I would gladly give the author a dollar given all the great books he has delivered it is an easy choice for me.

The ebook also includes an introduction to soon to be released novel; which I foolishly read only to get to the cliffhanger ending with a growing dread that I didn’t have the rest of the book to immediately read. I should have learned my lesson with Neil Gaiman).  But fear not, I have acquired an advance reading copy of The Cairo Affair.  And as a service to you, dear reader, I will promptly read it and report back in this space.

Ten Questions with Author Richard Lewis

Cover of "The Killing Sea"

Cover of The Killing Sea

I am a big fan of Richard Lewis. I Loved his first book and have been enjoying his writing ever since. Maybe it is his unique background, or just his personality, but he brings a different sensibility and viewpoint than most authors – and I enjoy it.

His latest work was self-published as an e-book for reasons discussed below. It might not be economically viable in today’s publishing world but – like all of his books – it is an engaging and entertaining read that I hope you will check out.

BTW, in light of recent events you might want to check out Lewis’s The Killing Sea.  A novel Booklist called “a powerful fictional tale of survival and cooperation in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.”

Richard graciously agreed to answer some questions via email about his books, writing and career.  My questions in bold and his below.

 

Remind us how you ended up writing young adult fiction in the first place.

I wrote a book for adults called THE FLAME TREE, set in Java, against the backdrop of 9/11, about the friendship of the son of American missionary doctors and a Muslim village boy.  It went on submission after 9/11, adult houses passed, but an editor at Simon and Schuster YA read it and loved it.  I had to cut out some sub-plots, but I still think it’s adult.

 

And what led to your self-publishing The Last Witch as an e-book?

Essentially, my four YA novels that S&S published didn’t make them money.  My career as Richard Lewis, YA author, was pretty much done–at least in the traditional publishing sense.  One of the brutal (and impersonal) facts of the business.  I had this novel on my hard drive, and I liked it enough to think it should at least have a chance for an audience.

How do you think the ability of authors to sell directly to readers via e-books changes the self-publishing and standard publishing worlds?
Gosh, so much has ink has been spilled, and pixels aglow on blogs and industry websites, about this topic.  As Yogi Berra said, prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future, so I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I do think some measure of equilibrium between the two will be reached (by standard publishing I mean standard publishing houses publishing both print and electronic editions).  I’ve been honored to be a part of the traditional world.  There is a sense of self-validation in being print published by a major publisher.

What’s happening in the self-publishing world (whether a printed book or an e-edition) is a growing cacophony of noise, and so it seems to me that clever, dedicated, sly, and at times very loud self promotion is key to standing out. People aren’t going to read you if they don’t know you aren’t there.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that personality. I’m a writer–I love writing stories–well, I hate writing stories because it’s a process of continuous, frustrating, hair-pulling dissonance resulting in many nights of insomnia and grouchy mornings, but I do love it too. I’ve always loved putting together puzzles, and there’s nothing like making a story fit together from out of nowhere. But the process is like having ants crawl around in your brain.

The Last Witch has elements of science, higher math, faith/religion, mysticism, etc. All of these elements have appeared in your previous books. Do you use things that might not have been used directly in previous projects or that you “collected” along the way?

Everything that I’ve ever experienced in my life, or heard about, or read about (and I read a TON of non-fiction, love it) is fodder for my imagination, plus my imagination can come up with things on its own.  Being the son of missionaries, who grew up on Bali where the mystical world is just real as the world you see, add in my education in science and math (only to a first year PhD level before I bailed to go surfing), and that’s just the start of what I have to draw on in making up my stories.

As for the LAST WITCH, I’d been doing a lot of reading in science & religion, and the “new atheism” of Dawkins, Hitchens and the other High Prophets of There is No God, plus I’d read Philip Pullman‘s GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy with its atheistic world view, and so I decided to try my hand on the other side of the ledger, so to speak.  Not that I can write like Pullman, but it was a certain aesthetic & world view I wanted to express for myself in a YA story.   (And I’m doing the same again right now, but in an adult novel).  I was not entirely satisfied with the result, but satisfied enough to let it go out into the world, alone with bag slung over the shoulder, to make its way as best it could.

 

Do you find it a challenge to write from the perspective of a young girl? What helps you capture that voice?

Having a daughter helps an awful lot.

 

What drew you to Central Park as a setting? So famous and yet probably full of little known secrets and facts.

A huge sprawling park full of nooks and crannies (Eden both pure and corrupted) in a huge sprawling city (Gotham and Babylon)?  What a set-up for a fantasy, for all kinds of what-ifs.  I devoured books and websites on the park, scoured it with Google Earth.  And I might add, I’m not the only writer attracted to that place. A colleague of mine, Lesley Livingston, used Central Park as a principal setting in her terrific faerie novel WONDROUS STRANGE

 

Do you write with a particular audience in mind (Americans of a certain age, etc.)?
Nope.  The story shapes itself.  Who reads it, reads it.

 

You like to surf. What comes first writing or surfing?  Do you have a set schedule?

Surf depends on swell, which comes and goes. So if the surf is good, yeah, I probably go surfing before I sit down to write.  I also do a lot of boat trips to outer islands to go surfing.  I don’t write, but I catch up on my reading.  (I can’t wait to get a Kindle and travel with one device with a thousand books on it–but Kindle, and other e-devices, aren’t  available in Indonesia, not just the physical platform, but the downloading service.

 

What is one thing that surprised you about writing YA and something you find frustrating?

Nothing particularly surprising.  Or frustrating for that matter, except for maybe the increasing PR writers are expected to do.

 

What’s next? On to “adult” fiction? Can you give us some insight into what you are working on now?

Oh, adult fiction for sure. Last year I wrote a very adult novel on the 1965 massacres in Bali (over 50000 Balinese massacred by other Balinese as a consequence of a Communist-inspired coup attempt in Jakarta, although it’s more complicated than that).  Impossible to get this book traditionally print published at this moment of upheaval, but there is definitely a niche audience, so I will probably get it e-published later this year.

Right now I’m working on a more commercial project, a kind of post-apocalypse set in the States, from New York to Chicago to Vegas to LA. More info later!

 

Ten Questions with Author Richard Lewis

Cover of "The Killing Sea"

Cover of The Killing Sea

I am a big fan of Richard Lewis. I Loved his first book and have been enjoying his writing ever since. Maybe it is his unique background, or just his personality, but he brings a different sensibility and viewpoint than most authors – and I enjoy it.

His latest work was self-published as an e-book for reasons discussed below. It might not be economically viable in today’s publishing world but – like all of his books – it is an engaging and entertaining read that I hope you will check out.

BTW, in light of recent events you might want to check out Lewis’s The Killing Sea.  A novel Booklist called “a powerful fictional tale of survival and cooperation in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.”

Richard graciously agreed to answer some questions via email about his books, writing and career.  My questions in bold and his below.

 

Remind us how you ended up writing young adult fiction in the first place.

I wrote a book for adults called THE FLAME TREE, set in Java, against the backdrop of 9/11, about the friendship of the son of American missionary doctors and a Muslim village boy.  It went on submission after 9/11, adult houses passed, but an editor at Simon and Schuster YA read it and loved it.  I had to cut out some sub-plots, but I still think it’s adult.

 

And what led to your self-publishing The Last Witch as an e-book?

Essentially, my four YA novels that S&S published didn’t make them money.  My career as Richard Lewis, YA author, was pretty much done–at least in the traditional publishing sense.  One of the brutal (and impersonal) facts of the business.  I had this novel on my hard drive, and I liked it enough to think it should at least have a chance for an audience.

How do you think the ability of authors to sell directly to readers via e-books changes the self-publishing and standard publishing worlds?
Gosh, so much has ink has been spilled, and pixels aglow on blogs and industry websites, about this topic.  As Yogi Berra said, prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future, so I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I do think some measure of equilibrium between the two will be reached (by standard publishing I mean standard publishing houses publishing both print and electronic editions).  I’ve been honored to be a part of the traditional world.  There is a sense of self-validation in being print published by a major publisher.

What’s happening in the self-publishing world (whether a printed book or an e-edition) is a growing cacophony of noise, and so it seems to me that clever, dedicated, sly, and at times very loud self promotion is key to standing out. People aren’t going to read you if they don’t know you aren’t there.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that personality. I’m a writer–I love writing stories–well, I hate writing stories because it’s a process of continuous, frustrating, hair-pulling dissonance resulting in many nights of insomnia and grouchy mornings, but I do love it too. I’ve always loved putting together puzzles, and there’s nothing like making a story fit together from out of nowhere. But the process is like having ants crawl around in your brain.

The Last Witch has elements of science, higher math, faith/religion, mysticism, etc. All of these elements have appeared in your previous books. Do you use things that might not have been used directly in previous projects or that you “collected” along the way?

Everything that I’ve ever experienced in my life, or heard about, or read about (and I read a TON of non-fiction, love it) is fodder for my imagination, plus my imagination can come up with things on its own.  Being the son of missionaries, who grew up on Bali where the mystical world is just real as the world you see, add in my education in science and math (only to a first year PhD level before I bailed to go surfing), and that’s just the start of what I have to draw on in making up my stories.

As for the LAST WITCH, I’d been doing a lot of reading in science & religion, and the “new atheism” of Dawkins, Hitchens and the other High Prophets of There is No God, plus I’d read Philip Pullman‘s GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy with its atheistic world view, and so I decided to try my hand on the other side of the ledger, so to speak.  Not that I can write like Pullman, but it was a certain aesthetic & world view I wanted to express for myself in a YA story.   (And I’m doing the same again right now, but in an adult novel).  I was not entirely satisfied with the result, but satisfied enough to let it go out into the world, alone with bag slung over the shoulder, to make its way as best it could.

 

Do you find it a challenge to write from the perspective of a young girl? What helps you capture that voice?

Having a daughter helps an awful lot.

 

What drew you to Central Park as a setting? So famous and yet probably full of little known secrets and facts.

A huge sprawling park full of nooks and crannies (Eden both pure and corrupted) in a huge sprawling city (Gotham and Babylon)?  What a set-up for a fantasy, for all kinds of what-ifs.  I devoured books and websites on the park, scoured it with Google Earth.  And I might add, I’m not the only writer attracted to that place. A colleague of mine, Lesley Livingston, used Central Park as a principal setting in her terrific faerie novel WONDROUS STRANGE

 

Do you write with a particular audience in mind (Americans of a certain age, etc.)?
Nope.  The story shapes itself.  Who reads it, reads it.

 

You like to surf. What comes first writing or surfing?  Do you have a set schedule?

Surf depends on swell, which comes and goes. So if the surf is good, yeah, I probably go surfing before I sit down to write.  I also do a lot of boat trips to outer islands to go surfing.  I don’t write, but I catch up on my reading.  (I can’t wait to get a Kindle and travel with one device with a thousand books on it–but Kindle, and other e-devices, aren’t  available in Indonesia, not just the physical platform, but the downloading service.

 

What is one thing that surprised you about writing YA and something you find frustrating?

Nothing particularly surprising.  Or frustrating for that matter, except for maybe the increasing PR writers are expected to do.

 

What’s next? On to “adult” fiction? Can you give us some insight into what you are working on now?

Oh, adult fiction for sure. Last year I wrote a very adult novel on the 1965 massacres in Bali (over 50000 Balinese massacred by other Balinese as a consequence of a Communist-inspired coup attempt in Jakarta, although it’s more complicated than that).  Impossible to get this book traditionally print published at this moment of upheaval, but there is definitely a niche audience, so I will probably get it e-published later this year.

Right now I’m working on a more commercial project, a kind of post-apocalypse set in the States, from New York to Chicago to Vegas to LA. More info later!

 

Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry

One of the fun things about owning a Kindle (or any e-reader for that matter) is the free books. Publishers offer books for free in order to introduce you to an author or series in the expectation that you will then purchase the latest book(s).  Being a cheapskate fugal shopper I frequently download free books for my Kindle and Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry was one of the latest.

Here is the publisher’s description:

Billy Allman is a hillbilly genius. People in Dogwood, West Virginia, say he was born with a second helping of brains and a gift for playing the mandolin but was cut short on social skills. Though he’d gladly give you the shirt off his back, they were right. Billy longs to use his life as an ode to God, a lyrical, beautiful bluegrass song played with a finely tuned heart. So with spare parts from a lifetime of collecting, he builds a radio station in his own home. People in town laugh. But Billy carries a brutal secret that keeps him from significance and purpose. Things always seem to go wrong for him.

However small his life seems, from a different perspective Billy’s song reaches far beyond the hills and hollers he calls home. Malachi is an angel sent to observe Billy. Though it is not his dream assignment, Malachi follows the man and begins to see the bigger picture of how each painful step Billy takes is a note added to a beautiful symphony that will forever change the lives of those who hear it.

A great deal of the Christian fiction I come across is just plain bad (although to be fair maybe I haven’t sampled widely enough) and let’s be honest some of the books that are free on Amazon are free for a reason.  So the first thing to say here is that Almost Heaven is not one of those books that you simply don’t want to finish. In fact, I was so interested in the opening chapter that I just kept on reading it (something I rarely do when I download a free Kindle book).

Is the Book the Body or the Soul?

J. Mark Betrand ruminates on the End of the Book debate.  I particularly liked this passage:

Book is a shifty word, denoting both the physical object and the content within. As an author, I think of myself as having “written books,” when in fact I’ve typed hundreds of pages of fiction and nonfiction into various word processing files, e-mailed them to my editors, and only much later seen them take physical form. To say all that, however, seems pedantic. To describe myself as, say, a “content provider,” however fitting the term might seem, strikes me as something akin to insult. I write books.

And I’m a lover of books, too, unaccustomed to making a body/soul distinction where the printed word is concerned. The book is the object and its contents, inseparable in my mind. I dwell in a house lined with shelves, most of them bowed by the weight of their printed content. Beautiful books and ugly ones. Read and unread. Objects of comfort, outrage, derision, admiration. Some pristine and others scarred. Some bound in leather, some in paper (at least one in shagreen). Prized and cheap side by side. Tangible things, each with a history. I can tell you where they came from, where they’ve been. The ones I sought out and the ones I discovered unexpectedly. The ones kept under glass in dark bookstores and, all too often, the ones overnighted from the clean, well-lit warehouses of Amazon. All of that will disappear when the book’s body does.

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