Friday, July 31, 2009

And the Winner is. . .


Today's the day to announce the winner of the book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Not only was she the first person to enter the contest, but she was also chosen in the random drawing. And the winner is:

Erica!

Congratulations, Erica! The book will be sent to you very soon.
Erica's book blog, The Book Cellar, also hosts giveaways, so hop on over when you have a moment.

Thank you all for your comments. Special thanks to those who posted this on their own blog or Twitter. It has been so much fun. Stay tuned for more book giveaways in the future!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Interview with Shawn Klomparens




















Having just read and reviewed his new book,
Two Years, No Rain, I'm honored to present an exclusive interview with the author, Shawn Klomparens.

1)
Shawn, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Please tell us a bit about your background. Have you lived in San Diego, where we really do have a scarcity of rain?

SK: I'm originally from Michigan and Ohio, but I worked for a company for a while here in Jackson headquartered in La Jolla, so I was traveling to SD quite a bit. When I went back a couple years ago for a friend's wedding (right when
Two Years, No Rain was coming together in my head), it struck me that that part of the country would make an ideal setting.


2) What inspired you to write Two Years, No Rain?

SK: When I worked for that same company above, I was also going to New York here and there, and ended up going out one evening with a group of people including a minor TV guy who stayed with us for about 15 minutes before leaving with some swooning woman. That stuck with me (though Andy is quite a bit more sympathetic than that guy was). I've also always been interested in meteorology and old kung fu movies, so those worked themselves in there, too.


3) Was this book more difficult to write than your first, Jessica Z. (which I haven't yet read, but would like to), or easier? Or was it just a different kind of experience?

SK: It was significantly more difficult to write. I was doing it on a deadline, and dealing (not very well) with some distractions in my "real" life, all of which were pretty hard. And I think I put quite a bit more of myself into TYNR and the character of Andy, and that was, at times, not so pleasant. The characters in Jessica Z. were mostly based on people I knew, and were great to write. Writing about the shortcomings and insecurities of your friends is one thing; exploring them in yourself is another trip entirely, and not always very fun.


4) Did you follow a writing schedule, such as writing every morning for a certain length of time? What helped you to stay motivated? What words of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

SK: I did follow a schedule, but not one I'd recommend to any sane person: I'd get up at 7:30 in the morning, go work my day job, get home around 6:30 at night, hang out with my family for a little while, then write from 10 in the evening until 3 am or so. If a deadline was approaching, I'd take vacation time and just write for as long as I could until I couldn't see straight anymore (I ended up needing glasses by the third draft). I imagine there are far better ways to write a book.

As for advice, I'd tell someone trying to write a book to not listen to anything anyone tells you about how to do it. But keep in mind that the only way to have a book is to write it.



5) How much research did you do for this book? Do you mostly use Google, the library, or something else?

SK: Wikipedia is a pretty fantastic invention; it's my go-to for quick fact checks (but I will always look elsewhere to verify). I did some research on typhoons and the impact they have on Hong Kong, and I read a number of books about the Apollo program to get the details with Mr. Nelson right (mostly for a bit of dialogue that I ended up cutting out). I did go to the library a bit, but more just for a peaceful place to write, and it was nice to stroll through the stacks if I just needed to clear my head.

The thorniest thing for me was tracking down the actual name of the mesh guard that goes in front of a studio microphone -- it's called a pop screen.


6) I can imagine Two Years, No Rain as a movie, because it has comedy, drama, and romance--and mostly takes place in Southern California. What songs or music would you want included on the soundtrack?

SK: I listened to Bon Iver's wonderfully melancholy For Emma, Forever Ago quite a bit while I was writing the book, and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot while editing it. Both of those albums play in my head when I go back to read it.


7) What's in the forecast after Two Years, No Rain? Are there other books in the works?

SK: I do have something outlined that I've been starting to work on (and it doesn't take place in California!) -- so maybe, someday, there will be another book.


Shawn, thanks again! I look forward to reading
Jessica Z. and your future books.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for helping to arrange this interview. Your comments are appreciated.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Years, No Rain: A Contemporary California Novel

"My neighbors liked to ask me when the rain would come. I should know, right? Here I was, Mr. Meteorologist, a professional, with a master's degree in atmospheric sciences and an AMS seal of approval. I had been a TV weatherman. I was on satellite radio. But I still could not just make it happen. I did not have that power. I do not have it now."
~Two Years, No Rain, Shawn Klomparens

California, along with other western states, may be at the beginning of the worst drought in modern history. In San Diego County, there's a serious scarcity of water and rain. Things are so bad that this summer, we have Level 2 mandatory restrictions on the amount of water we can use. We're allowed to water our lawns only three times a week on assigned days, depending on the type of dwelling we live in and our address. We're told to take showers that last for five minutes or less, and shallow baths--no deeper than three inches of water (why even bother?). These are just a few of the restrictions. Lack of rain and water shortages are not fun and require planning and sacrifice. So while I don't judge books by their covers--although I must admit I'm drawn to books by their covers on occasion--I did think I'd be able to relate to Two Years, No Rain on the basis of the title, and the fact that the book takes place in San Diego, where I live.

This is a brand new book, the second novel by author Shawn Klomparens, who lives in Jackson, Wyoming. Published in 2009, Two Years, No Rain is the story of Andy Dunne, who is going through some major changes in his life. First, he loses his wife, Elise, who has moved out. Next he'll lose his job as lead forecaster at a radio station. Coaxed by his love interest, Hillary Hsing, Andy takes a leap of faith and auditions for a part as the host of a children's TV show. As Andy tries to move past his failed marriage, he helps his sister and her family, and things begin to heat up between Andy and Hillary, who's unfortunately married. In fact, the only thing that doesn't seem to change in his life is the weather in San Diego--it hasn't rained in nearly two years.

Within a couple of days, I'd finished reading Two Years, No Rain. Once I settled into my favorite reading couch with this book, I was drawn quickly into the life of Andy Dunne, the main character, wanted to continue reading, and did! Written in the first-person narrative, I liked hearing things from a male perspective for a change. I cared about Andy because he's basically a decent guy with a conscience who's struggling to do the best he can after his life falls apart. Things may look bleak for him, but the tone of the book's hopeful and funny rather than somber. At times, this novel is darkly humorous. (Yellow sticky notes take on a very funny significance in this novel. I won't spoil it by saying more.) I wanted Andy to get the job and the girl, and a chance at a new life.

In this contemporary novel, Klomparens uses modern technology to capture some of the highs and lows of romance, with cell phones buzzing and text messaging, which is how Andy and Hillary keep in touch, and plays a large role in their courtship. And now's a good time to mention sex. There is sex in this book, and some profanity, so I suppose this book would be rated R, although it could easily be turned into a PG-13 movie--and I think it would make a terrific movie.

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Without revealing too much, Two Years, No Rain is about more than romance; it's a story about hope for the future, about picking yourself up after you fall, about getting out in the world and trying your best. Those are my favorite kinds of books. Here in San Diego we really do get excited about the possibility of rain, about the sight of approaching rain clouds, the promise that our lawns and fruit trees and gardens will survive, and the thought that maybe water restrictions will ease up a bit. As a Southern Californian, I enjoyed the book's references to California: the different areas of San Diego county, the Coast Highway and freeways, the lack of rain and greywater (neither's actually enjoyed), shopping at Target. The familiar setting made the book more accessible to me. Although even if you don't live in Southern California, I think you'll enjoy reading this funny, sharp, and original novel.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for the opportunity to review this new novel. Please stop by again on July 23 for an exclusive interview with Shawn Klomparens! For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on the Two Years, No Rain book tour.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Free Zombies

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
~First sentence of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."
~First sentence of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, 2009

Austen is in the air. Stephanie's Written Word is hosting an Everything Austen Challenge, Laura's Reviews talks about Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the bookworm has been hooked by Austen as well. I've jumped on the bandwagon. I have one new copy of the Quirk Classics NY Times best seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith to give away. The story follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but takes place in an alternative universe version of 19th century England, where zombies traipse the countryside. This parody of Austen's most popular novel about heroine Elizabeth Bennet has been purchased by a major film company and will be made into a movie.

To enter this contest, leave a comment after this blog post by 5 PM PDT on Thursday, July 30. If you also mention this giveaway on your own blog, you'll have an extra chance of winning the book. I'll put all commenters' names "in a hat" and select one randomly. The winner will be announced on Friday, July 31.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Envelope, please

Just when I thought life was pretty darn good, it got even better! Within the past month, I've received three awards from other bloggers. From Laura of Laura's Reviews I got a second Lovely Blog Award, from LuAnn of Reading Frenzy I received a Humane Award, and Cathy of One eyed stuffed bunny and. . . gave me a Kreativ Blogger Award. Thank you all very much. You have wonderful, unique blogs, and were gracious to give me these awards. I am honored to display them on my blog.

For the Kreativ Award, I'm supposed to list seven of my favourite things. (I'm using this spelling of favourite because it makes me sound more sophisticated--please read this post with a lovely English accent.) Only seven things? That's really hard for me to do. How can I limit myself to seven? But I'll be a sport and give it a try.

These are (a few of) my favourite things:

1) Family and friends
2) Food, glorious food
3) Reading and writing
4) Nature (includes animals, flowers and trees, the ocean, sunsets, mountains, storms)
5) Exhilarating surprises (that's on everyone's list, right?)
6) Peace of mind
7) Everything else I love

Okay, so I didn't exactly limit myself to seven things, and some of the things aren't even things.
This is all in fun, anyway. Thanks again to Laura, LuAnn, and Cathy, for your kindness, support, and awards.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beyond the Cayenne Wall: Exotic Short Fiction

Last month I had the pleasure to review Saffron Dreams and to interview the author, Shaila Abdullah.

This month I read her debut book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall: Collection of Short Stories, published in 2005, which received the Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction--the highest award in the Norumbega Fiction Awards--and the DIY Convention Award.

Although you don't typically find short fiction on summer reading lists, short stories are perfect for a morning at the beach, or an evening on the porch. My problem with short stories is that I tend to race through them, one right after the next. I finished reading Beyond the Cayenne Wall all too quickly, and longed for another story.

In Beyond the Cayenne Wall, Shaila Abdullah presents short stories about the often tumultuous lives of young women in Karachi, Pakistan. She brings Pakistan's largest city to life with vivid, descriptive prose, and even includes a glossary of Urdu words used in the book. These stories are not for the faint-of-heart. Each story is poignant and gives us an intimate look into the hearts and minds of seven Pakistani women:

Tannu, who's not allowed to seek work outside of the house, because she's seen as a "prized cow", an "incubator" for prospective offspring, but who fails to conceive.

Dhool, who's married to a man willing to allow his eleven-year-old daughter to get married to a rich old man.

Minnah, on the brink of marriage, who worries greatly about the secret she carries in her heart.

Shiwali, who's just going through the motions out of duty in a loveless marriage.

Siham, who wants to know the truth about her biological family, especially her father.

Mansi, who brings her aging mother from Pakistan to Texas to live with her.

Nyssa, who fears she will have to give back her beloved child, Vera.

Although these stories are fictional, they're based on the traditional way of life in Pakistan, which includes arranged marriages and limited roles for women. After reading this absorbing collection of short stories, I found myself grateful for the many freedoms I enjoy, and too often take for granted.

These haunting stories will remain in my heart and mind for years to come.

If you've read Beyond the Cayenne Wall or have a related comment or question, I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Writing: Are You Serious?

"I'll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style."
~On Writing, Stephen King

Once again, I have a confession. Like many writers, I receive books about writing as gifts, among them the original edition published in 1920 of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.. Unfortunately, it stayed up in the bookcase unread until recently. I'd opened it up once or twice and read parts of it, but not very much. I didn't really appreciate its value until I read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (a gift I gave myself) which frequently mentions Strunk's book. In fact, the two books belong together, and will be shelved next to each other in my home, near my writing desk.

Published in 2000, the first part of On Writing is autobiographical, although the whole book is sprinkled liberally with facts from King's own life, pertaining to his childhood, long marriage to novelist Tabitha, struggles with drugs and alcohol, near-fatal accident, and career as a writer. The second half of the book is entitled On Writing and centers on how to write fiction (although much of it applies to other kinds of writing as well). With over 300 million copies of his novels sold, and many stories adapted for film and television, I think King is well qualified to write about writing.

Although King says that there's no magic formula for becoming a good writer, he offers solid, down-to-earth advice in an entertaining way. His friendly style and honesty drew me in as I discovered that On Writing is filled with practical advice. One thing King says, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who aspires to write, is to "read a lot and write a lot". By this King means four to six hours daily. That's a large portion of the day (or night, if you're more nocturnal). But a serious writer needs to have discipline and work at the craft.

King's book reinforced what I learned in school by emphasizing the basics. From the book, here are some ideas about what good writing is:
  • Active and purposeful
  • Adverse to adverbs
  • Free of clichés and hackneyed phrases
  • Clear and concise (cut out extraneous words)
  • Courageous (take some risks)
  • Follows grammatical rules, but breaks a few rules once in a while
  • Honest, plain, and direct
  • Offers the right amount of description
Mr. King, if I've left anything crucial off this list, please let me know.

Read this book if you're serious about your writing. It may even count towards the daily requirement of four to six hours of reading and writing!

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
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in exchange for my honest reviews.