Writer’s Quote Wednesday

Peace crane @ Manzanar - with text

The state of the world this week had me tuning into the news more often than usual. I saw a clip of a man who carried a portable piano on his bike to the sidewalk in front of one of the Paris attacks. He sat down and began to play the John Lennon song, Imagine. The crowds gathered around him and a hush fell as tears streamed down faces filled with confusion and fear.

I am also reminded of a poster we have had in our home for so many, many years it is faded and tattered at the corners but the message remains strong.


Here’s for all we yearn for peace and understanding.


This post is part of Colleen’s weekly writer’s quote feature on SilverThreading. Make sure to stop by her blog and check out her round-up of all the great quotes.

Colleen's Writer Quote Wed. cartoon

Location, Location, Location–Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen


It gives me great pleasure to reignite the location series by featuring Nicki Chen’s highly rated historical novel, Tiger Tail Soup. I met Nicki via the WordPress blogosphere and I have enjoyed her posts over on Behind the Story. I also follow Nicki through her Facebook Author page. Her updates are always interesting and recently one of them spurred me on to purchase and read her book. Not too many pages into her wonderful novel, I knew I had to see if Nicki would be willing to write a guest post for the Location Series. So, without further ado, take it away Nicki Chen.

reading in Monroe

Walking the Lanes of Kulangsu Brought My Novel to Life

I’ve always been partial to stories that take me away to some far-off, fascinating place. Maybe my affinity for distant shores was exactly why my late husband captured my heart. Besides being a marvellous storyteller, Eugene had a bagful of stories about an exotic spot: the unique little island off the coast of southern China where he was born.

Kulangsu (now called Gulangyu) is still considered special, even by the Chinese. It’s a quaint vacation spot known for beaches, food and its longstanding ban on wheeled vehicles. Even bicycles aren’t allowed on the island, and it’s been that way for as long as anyone can remember. No one complains, though. The island is small and the lanes narrow.

For years, we thought we’d never have a chance to visit Eugene’s birthplace. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember how China was cut off from the rest of the world, existing behind what we used to call the Bamboo Curtain. Even after Richard Nixon’s 1972 surprise trip to Beijing, China remained off-limits for most of the next decade.

Then in 1983, while we were living in Manila, we heard that a travel agency was arranging trips for overseas Chinese to travel to Amoy, a larger island that’s only a short ferry ride from Kulangsu. Great! We made reservations, flew to Hong Kong, and sailed up the coast to Amoy (now known as Xiamen).

In honor of the new more open policy, Xiamen built a brand new hotel to accommodate their overseas brethren, the Hotel for Overseas Chinese. It was a brave step forward in a country whose doors had been shut to the outside world for more than thirty years. A brave step. But then we showed up, my Chinese husband and his white wife and three half-white children. “Not possible.” The desk clerks shook their heads and blasted my husband with a barrage of refusals in the Hokkien dialect. The hotel was for overseas Chinese, they insisted. Only overseas Chinese. No way around it.

Since the city hadn’t thought to build a hotel for foreign visitors, if we couldn’t get into this one, we’d have no place to stay. Eugene was forced to drag out his best powers of persuasion and an apt Chinese proverb. After twenty or thirty minutes, he finally got us in. (See “No Room at the Inn.”)


Every day that week, we took the ferry across to Kulangsu. We walked its lanes and beaches, tasted its food, and talked to old family friends. If I’d known that I would one day write a novel set on Kulangsu, I would have taken more notes and snapped far more than two rolls of photos.

These days, when I look online at photos of Xiamen, I don’t recognize it. It’s all shining steel and glass skyscrapers and highways and parks. In 1983, it was grimy three-story buildings and bicycles, the way it must have looked right after WWII.

For me, that postwar period of stagnation was a lucky break. The time period for my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is 1938-1946, a time when the streets and lanes of Kulangsu and Amoy (Xiamen) must have looked about the same as they did the year of my visit. Walking those lanes myself, brought the story of my novel to life … even before I thought of writing it.


My Five-Star Review of Tiger Tail Soup

Nicki Chen’s novel, Tiger Tail Soup, left me feeling as though I had watched the most vividly beautiful movie. Every word is a delight to the senses, the writing as elegant as her description of a tiger. “I could see the golden sheen of his fur and count the perfectly carved pieces of night that were his stripes.”

As the sub-title warns – the subject matter is China at war. But carefully woven through a story of loss and hardship are numerous threads of beauty, humour and love.

In Chen, the reader finds a craftswoman of extraordinary talent when it comes to painting a scene or aptly describing an emotion. The moon is a fishhook over the sea, peace soaks through a crust of skin and sun-warmed rocks are fragrant. Consider this passage when An Lee is preparing to send a batch of letters she’s written to her husband, Yu-ming.

“I pulled out a green silk ribbon, the exact color chosen long ago: a soft lotus-leaf green for the wind-skirts and the water-pads of a lotus pond. Seeing the ribbon, he would think of mandarin ducks swimming in pairs among white lotus flowers blooming pure and untouched above the muck.”

No matter the challenges and privations faced by An Lee as the war drags on and life on the small island of Kulangsu becomes more and more brutal, her life is lived with thoughts turned to beauty.

The tiger thread that wends its way through this novel is powerful. I felt as though I could feel the padding of the large animal’s paws walking alongside of me. Chen expresses An Lee’s connection to the animals so well. “It seemed to me that everyone loved tigers – their beauty and strength, the danger they represented. Tiger-ness, that’s what I love, the idea of a tiger, the myth.”

Tiger - google images

Throughout the novel, the author is relentless in showing us An Lee as she is – flaws and all. By the end of the story, I felt as satisfied as any doting mother would be at An Lee’s maturity. She reflects on what life reunited with her husband will be. “Yu-ming is only a man, after all. He’s not a mold that fits around all my corners. He isn’t a river that will forever flow into the basin of my emptiness.”

This is the type of book that demands a reader slow down as the end approaches. It is a story to savour. It is a story to remember.

The e-book of Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen is currently selling for the outrageously reasonable price of $1.98 (Amazon.com) Similar bargain price to be had for the Nook version and the Apple iBook. Nicki’s novel has twenty-three, four and five star reviews on Amazon and great ratings and reviews on Goodreads . I invite you to read this book – you won’t be disappointed.

Location, Location, Location–Peter Ralph & The CEO

CEO coverIt gives me great pleasure to push the boundaries of this series to include, not only a stunning journey thorough the business district of Melbourne, Australia, but to also take readers into the twisted corridors of the corporate boardroom. I’m not sure how I discovered Peter Ralph’s novel, The CEO, but the moment I finished reading it, I knew I wanted Peter to write a piece for this series.

So, without further ado, take it away, Peter.

Francis, the offer to appear on your blog is extremely kind. Many thanks.

Real life business events are the inspiration for my novels. I change the characters, embellish the facts, add a degree of violence and suspense and voila . . . a story.

I have a heavy background in business. Eons ago I was a chartered accountant specializing in corporate reconstructions and recoveries. Part of this job involved spending literally hundreds of hours in the Supreme and Federal Courts as a ‘supposed’ expert witness. Sounds exciting, huh? It wasn’t as I was rarely ever called as the vast majority of these cases were settled or determined by deals worked out by the respective barristers. What was great though, was that I got to listen to the great legal minds of that time. I spent hours in their chambers mainly listening but in some cases advising them on particular issues and drafting affidavits. There are very few lawyers who would’ve been exposed to the same level of expertise and naturally I learnt a little on the way.

I then became CEO of a large private company. (and no, I wasn’t ‘The CEO’) With this background it’s very easy for me to write business related novels including those about white collar crime.

Crooked businessman 8

The CEO, is a conglomeration of every bad CEO that I have ever known or met. Douglas Aspine is 45 and desperate to attain a CEO’s position when death deals him a lucky card and he is appointed to run an underperforming, staid, asset rich company. He has one driving ambition and that is to massively enrich himself, and he has absolutely no scruples about how he is going to do it. This a man who doesn’t have second thoughts or any compassion about sacking twenty-per cent of the company’s workforce, cheating on his wife and children, defrauding his employer, lying to the stock exchange and his co-directors, reneging on promises, and hitting on any female employees that take his fancy. Each chapter of this novel is written in such a way as to pique the reader’s interest as to whether Aspine can get any worse and in each ensuing chapter he doesn’t disappoint, going from being totally unlikeable to unbelievably despicable. He wields enormous power and it is hard to see him ever getting his just desserts.

The CEO and Dirty Fracking Business, were published by Melbourne Books. The owner has become a good friend of mine and he is a fine publisher. That having been said, I will never again use a publisher. Not because I dislike them or bear them any ill-well. It’s just that I can earn far more self-publishing with Amazon. The CEO and Collins Street Whores were never published in e-book form so I took it upon myself to do so. What a revelation. I never imagined or guessed the complexities and benefits of the Amazon website or for that matter how lucrative it could be. I’m still learning and have been exposed to so many great books via e-book marketing.

My Five –Star Review of The CEO

A totally captivating read – I couldn’t put it down.

I literally held my breath through a good third of, The CEO. The author plunged me into a world I know next to nothing about (the boardroom and backroom goings on off corporate finance) and inside the mind of a man who could well have been the devil’s incarnate, wearing an expensive three-piece suit and racing around the streets of Melbourne in a red Ferreira.

Though I am uneducated when it comes to the wheeling and dealing of the upper echelon of corporate executive officers, Ralph made the going a breeze with his wealth of detail put forth in clear, easy prose. Now, if that wasn’t challenge enough, he manages the feat while never losing sight of the fact that he’s telling a story and the humanity he endows his characters with is never lacking.

We watch Ralph’s main character, Douglas Aspine, wrack havoc in the lives of most everyone he encounters. He amasses huge sums of money and moves it effortlessly around the globe from one highly sheltered account to another. Nothing fazes this guy, no amount of pressure or short-term stumbling block gets in his way. His single-mindedness and confidence in his own ability to pull off just about anything becomes totally enthralling. It is like watching a train headed full-speed towards the end of the tracks that just happen to hang over a deep ravine while the engineer drinks a cup of coffee and causally reads a newspaper. You simply can’t drag your eyes away.

Though self-centered and self-serving to the core, Ralph does let us see ever-so-slight glimpses of what’s left of Aspine’s conscience and in this way saves his main character from becoming a complete caricature of evil. He warns his son to be careful travelling in South-East Asia, the drug laws and penalties imposed for breaking those laws are not to be taken lightly. Aspine feels remorse and guilt for his baser sexual behaviour.

What I found most fascinating was the ways in which the weaknesses of the people around Aspine were so easily manipulated. This isn’t a simple morality tale or story of black and white, good and bad, though upon first glimpse it may seem so. Aspine turns out to be just one marker on a whole continuum of greed and amorality.

The ending, which after a certain point begins to seem inevitable, and may in fact satisfy many readers, left me unwilling to think that all was well. Perhaps the obligation to do the right thing should not rest on how deserving or undeserving the recipient of that action might be.

The CEO is a totally captivating book and I suspect most readers will bite the hook, be drawn in and not be able to put the book down until the final page has been turned.

So, there you have it – the corporate boardroom, a dramatic setting every bit as gripping as any landscape location. Visit Peter over at his website: Corporate Thrillers. Check out his Facebook Author Page. And do pop over to Amazon and read the reviews for The CEO.

Location, Location, Location–Kristin Anderson’s novel: Green


bookcover_GREEN_kindle_versionThis month my location series takes us to the bustling, glittering streets of downtown L.A. and various other spots in Southern California. I hope you’ll help me give a big welcome to Kristin Anderson and her novel, Green.

Before we get to Kristin’s guest post, let’s take a few moments to marvel at her cover design. Lovely – right? As well as intriguing, this cover made me want to read Anderson’s book. Kristin tells of finding the image for her cover and the process of contacting the digital artist and working to fine tune what she knew had to be the cover of her book on her blog – do check out her post.


Take it away, Kristin.

During my honeymoon in Italy, we traveled through a series of small northern Italian towns in the off season. When we stepped off the train at the next destination, I announced the name of the city in an effort to gain my bearing.

“Ah. So this is Treviso,” I would say.

“No. We were in Treviso this morning. This is Belluno,” my husband would correct me. He’d been with me long enough to realize I had a little (big) issue with directions; well, with geography in general, but this was a strange step beyond reason even for me. And it kept happening. Why was I constantly referencing backward?

I share this little slice from my honeymoon over a decade ago, as it is directly relates to my author brain and the writing process. Sometimes, you have to leave a place to wake up to its beauty. When I lived on the central coast of California, the layers of mountains, the deep blue Pacific, the chaparral and oak trees lining the mountain trails were a part of my landscape. And I took them for granted. I didn’t notice them, really, any more than I noticed the details on the palm of my hand.

And so is it with my writing process. True, I started my debut novel Green while living in California where it takes place, but the majority of the story was written while living in The Netherlands. Just like that honeymoon train ride so many years ago, I was reflecting backwards, writing about a place where I used to be. Of course, I’ve long forgotten the details of Treviso, Italy, as we were only there for a few days. But I grew up in California and the thirty plus years of impressions that have etched their way into my mind are easily available to draw upon in my writing. And for everything else, there’s Google.

Green is about relationships, but also about the environment. Environmental activism plays a big role in my plot, in character development and in ethical dilemmas that challenge the lead characters. In order to make the character debates realistic, conversations need to be grounded to their location; character backgrounds need to be defined in order for the reader to better understand character development. All of this is related to place.

Downtown L.A. (3) Bruce Witzel photo

For example, my lead character Ellie Ashburn grew up in rural Idaho, but has cast off the benefits of rural life to pursue a career in the big city of Los Angeles. When she goes to a tribal gathering in rural Santa Ynez Valley, California with her new boyfriend Jake, the natural surroundings awaken a part in her she has forgotten.

She felt something loosen inside her as she glanced around at the rolling hills, not a single building in site. Ellie knew she felt at home. A dusting of soil settled into the creases of her crisp white jeans and stickers poked into her rhinestone sandals as if mother earth herself was trying to push the city girl away and bring Ellie back to her humble beginnings.

Todd Anderson - photo (2)

This sense of dusty earth coming up to claim you is something I personally relate to, having grown up in the Santa Ynez Valley of California myself. It doesn’t matter how urban you become; the rural life of your childhood is ingrained within you, and just a little contact can pull you back to your beginnings.

The majority of my novel takes place in urban Los Angeles, and thus many of the settings are in restaurants, clubs and office buildings or the city streets. How do our characters interact with their natural and, in this case, man-made environments and how do these settings inform us about the characters? Consider this passage. Ellie and her best guy friend Arno are attending an environmental art opening at a gallery.

Downtown L.A. - Bruce Witzel photo

Here is what happens when they arrive by car.

They headed to Studio City and pulled up in front of a contemporary building of steel and glass.

“Where’s the valet parking?” he asked an employee.

“There’s only valet parking for bicycles this evening, sir. However, there is a secure automobile lot two blocks away,” the attendant explained, pointing.

“Oh this is going to be interesting,” Arno chuckled as he turned toward Ellie. “You wait here while I go park my evil little gas guzzling Carmengia.”

Clearly the artist was popular as they had to wait in line to get in. When they finally reached the entrance they were greeted by two glamorous women in green sequined dresses with matching stilettos. They handed Arno and Ellie cloth napkins with a forest design signed by Earl Diamond, the artist.

“These are for your use this evening, and yours to keep. This is a waste-free event and Mr. Diamond encourages you to switch from paper to cloth” they chirped in unision.

“I hope there’s t.p in the bathroom,” Ellie whispered to Arno mischievously.

“Multi-purpose cloth in your hand there, dear,” he clamoured.

In this short passage, we learn through their reaction to the setting, that both Ellie and Arno are not entirely comfortable with environmental concepts, and address their discomfort through humour. Although the gallery in Studio City I envisioned is a figment of my imagination, I have been to events that have bicycle valet parking, and have been to a handful of contemporary galleries made of steel and glass, several in Los Angeles. Thus creativity mixes with reality.

Downtown L.A. (2) Bruce Witzel photo

Each location introduced serves a purpose; it is a catalyst to understand characters. And I believe it is best to write about locations with which you personally have experience. My latest work of fiction, an eco-thriller to be released in the summer of 2015, is set in the Netherlands, where I currently reside.

My Review of Green

A 30-something coming-of-age story set in beautiful L.A.

I recommend Green as a coming-of-age story for the 30-something crowd of readers – or those approaching that age range and the life decisions that seem to come with that territory these days. Things have changed a lot since I was thirty, married for several years, raising two children and asking what else life had in store. Thirty is the new twenty, I’ve heard. Young people are using the years from twenty to thirty to exercise their options in everything from careers to relationships and this novel illustrates well the dilemmas faced.  

Upon first blush, Anderson’s main character, Ellie, seems to have it all – a rewarding, upwardly mobile career, looks and fancy clothes, a nice home and the whirl of an exciting social life. And yet she struggles on the edge of knowing that the time has come to make a relationship commitment and reorder her well-constructed life to allow that something more to happen for her.

She meets and falls for Jake, a committed, walk-the-talk environmentalist, a guy who is nothing like anyone else she has ever known. It would seem a true case of opposites attracting as Ellie no more fits into Jake’s world than he fits into hers. The stage is definitely set for a crash or two along the road to true love.

The story is rich with details about L.A. and the surrounding area, the environmentalist movement, going green, and the lifestyles’ of several characters. Anderson’s attention to detail made me feel like I had actually gone to many of the places she describes – be it hikes in the wilderness or desert, gallery openings, fancy restaurants or a perilous bike ride down Sunset Boulevard.

sunset boulevard - yelp.com - John W. photo

My one objection, albeit a small one, is that the characters were a bit too polished perfect – in how the they saw themselves and how the world saw them. I wanted both Ellie and Jake to step of their pedestals now and then – let their hair down so to speak.

You can find, Green on Amazon I recommend you pop over and peruse a few of the twenty reviews. I won’t be surprised if you decide this novel is worth the investment of a few hours of reading time. 

Florida Fiction with P.C. Zick – Location, Location, Location

Florida Setting 1

I have been fortune enough to be featured on P.C. Zick’s, Writing Whims Blog no less than four times! An incredibly generous blogger, P.C. does interviews with authors on Wednesday and features her book review of that author’s work on Friday. A great double whammy for readers who want to get to know a knew author. It gives me great pleasure to feature P.C.’s guest post on why she writes Florida fiction as part of the Location, Location, Location series.

Take it away, P.C.

Florida Setting 5

The landscape, the climate, the wildlife, the people —these are all the reasons I set my novels in Florida.

For thirty years, the humidity of the Sunshine State seeped under my skin and into my blood. Even though I moved away four years ago, it haunts my fiction. And I’d not have it any other way.

When my first husband suggested we move to Florida from Michigan in 1980, I asked, “You want to live in Miami?” That’s the only image I had of Florida until we moved to twenty acres in north Florida, sixty miles south of the Georgia border.

My first indication that I’d entered into a unique world came when we were driving to Florida from Michigan. We stopped for breakfast just over the Georgia border somewhere north of Jacksonville. We chose an old diner with a glass case containing dusty toys and candy bars and torn Naugahyde booths and greasy walls. As I perused the menu, a movement on the wall caught my eye. The largest cockroach I’d ever seen in my life crawled toward the ceiling. When the waitress came to take our order, I said, “There’s cockroach on the wall.” She continued chewing her gum and looked down at me as she held her pad and pen poised to write down my order. She never glanced at the wall. “What kin I git ya?” she asked.

I’d arrived in Florida where the word cockroach does not exist. What I saw on that greasy wall that morning was a palmetto bug, I soon learned. What’s not to love about a place that names an insect known for its attraction to filth after a beautiful tree?

Florida Setting 7

Adjustment came slowly. My new world frightened me. I didn’t see the beauty of the live oak trees draped in moss or understand the lure of frogs singing on a summer night. The wildlife of northern Florida held threats to my safety. I saw danger lurking in the surrounding wilderness. One morning I looked in the mirror and saw a tick, fat with my blood, attached to the center of my forehead. The first time I saw a broadhead skink, I threatened to leave my new home and head back to a land of lizard-less landscapes. After hearing that I wanted to leave, a neighbor suggested I read Cross Creek. I had never heard of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings even though The Yearling sounded familiar.

Not only was Ms. Rawlings a writer, something I aspired to be at that time, but she had conquered her fears of a Florida wilderness and wrote with affection about an area much more rural than anything I had experienced. For the first time, I began to understand the rhythms of life in this land that was beginning to own me.

When I began my writing journey in 1998, Ms. Rawlings remained my inspiration, and I found all of Florida’s wonders creeping into my articles, columns, and novels.

Florida Setting 6The abundant wildlife and their precarious balance with the human population make compelling stories. I try to include their plight within my novels, making their stories parallel to the struggle of the characters. In Trails in the Sand, I used the sea turtles and the danger to them as oil gushed out of the well in the Gulf of Mexico during BP’s 2010 oil spill. The race to save the hatchlings from drowning in oil appeared as the main character, Caroline, raced to save her family. Stories of alligators, Florida panthers, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, and crocodiles abound as their habitat shrinks, and they risk extinction. I haven’t even begun to write about the invasive species that thrive in the tropics of Florida. The Burmese python and iguanas are begging me to include them in a novel.

The landscape may not be as dramatic as the mountains, but a variety of settings—from the beach, to rivers, to the swamps of the Everglades—do exist. North Florida’s rolling hills, live oak trees interspersed with palm trees, and peaceful flowing rivers and springs make ideal settings for a novel. But I also like to set scenes on the beach, and in the swamps and marshes of the coast and the Everglades.

I use the heat and humidity to set the mood, and I employ hurricanes and tropical storms to indicate turmoil in the characters’ lives or create conflict within the plot.

I write about Florida because I know it and I love it. A passage from Trails in the Sand best expresses my awe and respect for Florida’s natural wonders.

Joey took us on the grand tour – we flew through the water until we came to small paths that took us right through the heart of the Glades. Then he slowed down and allowed us to take in the beauty of the land around us. The herons and egrets swooped down in front of us. The hawks glided overhead and the gators came out to take in the warm February morning sun. Simon leaned over at one point and kissed me on the cheek.

“I see why you love it here so much,” he said. “It’s nature’s cornucopia.”

My Review of Trails in the Sand

Trails in the Sand - BookcoverFollow the trails left in the sand through a blazing and heartrending story not soon forgotten.

P.C. Zick’s Florida Fiction novel, Trails in the Sand,  kept me page turning right to the end. I had to actually stop myself from racing through. I’m glad I exercised control because the book should be savoured as much for the story as for the many detailed descriptions of the current state of the environment.

The author’s writing is replete with detailed descriptions – the natural landscape, the gardens and the architecture are all painted in lush words.

At its most stripped down level, the book is the love story of Caroline and Simon. Their decades-long torch-carrying for one another is the live wire that keeps the spark of this book burning, but there are so many more fires that require the reader’s attention. Flitting through and around both Caroline and Simon is the deep-seated trauma of family dysfunction. Gladys Stokley, a woman caught in her own pain, had set-up a rivalry between her two daughters, Caroline and Amy, which nearly destroyed them all. Simon, the man who figures predominantly in the lives of both sisters, is caught in Gladys’ web as surely as the Stokley girls. The dysfunction tracks its way into the next generation and Caroline finds she must act. Family secrets will be traced to their source and hard truths revealed.

Caroline is a freelance, environmental journalist. This proves to be a clever device that allows the author to weave into the story yet another blaze – current events close to her own heart. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning in the Gulf and the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion in West Virginia provide a fiery backdrop to the more personal story elements of relationship and family.

And through the traumatic and painful life events of the characters and the tragedy that is countless barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf waters, we follow the trails in the sand left by the turtles. Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, the leatherback, the hawksbill and the green – the reader learns about each and comes to care equally for how these wonderful sea creatures will fare as for the human characters that populate the pages of this story.

Florida Setting 2

Please visit Amazon.com to check out P.C. Zick’s Florida Fiction novel, Trails in the Sand. It currently has thirty-eight, four and five star reviews, averaging a 4.7 ranking and the e-book is selling for the great price of $3.07. You can also pop over to P.C.’s blog, Writing Whims, for the links to various formats for all her novels.

Funny Friday–Kafka Anyone?

Someone sent me this comic the other day.

Kafka cartoon

Hilarious Smile

Kafkaesque – a nightmarish situation which most people can somehow relate to, although strongly surreal.

Get it – I no longer have to pretend I know what Kafkaesque means while actually in a Kafkaesque situation. Double hilarious. Smile Smile 

While actually being Kafkaesque. Triple hilarious Smile Smile Smile 

I dare you not to grin.

All kidding aside, though, Kafka wasn’t a particularly humorous guy.

“The first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.”

Hmmm . . . not much to smile about there.

On the other hand,

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

That thought simply must free us to believe, passionately, with all that we are. We build the road as we go (Mondragon Cooperative), the next chapter of our lives is not yet written.

The Web - Bruce Witzel photo

Location, Location, Location: Dianne Gray and Wolf Pear

Cover of Wolf Pear

Today, I am delighted to welcome Dianne Gray to my Location Series. I’m not sure how I came upon her novel, Wolf Pear, but wow, am I ever glad I did. Location leaps off the pages and I defy anyone to read this novel and not want to travel to the places this Australian author so skillfully describes. You can find out more about Dianne’s novels by visiting her website. You can also keep up with her doings by taking a hop over to her blog.

Take it away, Dianne! 

Every morning I look out from my house and think, how could anyone not write about this place?

1 View from back of house

2 View from front of house

I live in a small country town in Tropical Queensland, Australia. The main produce is sugar cane, the scenery is spectacular, and the townsfolk make incredible characters.

Small sugar cane trains chug along the countryside and the fields are lush and green before the sugar cane is harvested

3 Train

I’ve written two stories featuring this location:

Let Sleeping Gods Lie – the scenery that features heavily in this story is something I look at every day from my veranda. The narrative throughout Let Sleeping Gods Lie is layered with powerful themes examining cult religions and the shadows they can cast across a landscape, through communities and within families. This book was shortlisted in the Australian New/Zealand IP (Interactive Press) Award in 2007.

Excerpt: Grains of sunlight sprayed through the bush as if scattered by the yawns of bushlarks and wagtails. In the distance open red blankets of freshly worked earth lay bare, while others cringed with green anticipation of what the following days would bring. Each patchwork field ran in perfectly combed rows. The river she had followed the previous day wound around her hill in a twisting mohawk of trees all the way to the mangroves. Small rail lines and dirt roads gouged through the countryside.

4 Red soil

The other book featuring this landscape is Wolf Pear – the story of a lonely woman named Esther who buries a body in her yard and plants tomatoes over the grave. A psychic detective is on the hunt for a serial killer and the smell of tomatoes leads him directly into Esther’s deadly garden. I based Esther’s house on my own house.

Excerpt: Esther’s small farm sat in the bowl of the mountains. A quaint looking shack that had been used as a worker’s barracks early last century by itinerant workers when sugarcane was cut by hand. The corrugated iron roof rose above the sugarcane fields like a pyramid. The tongue-and-groove walls had been sanded and painted the colour of flesh. At the front corner of the house a large mango tree hunched like a gargoyle over the roof. Below it a fishing-net was attached to the gutter and tied to the trunk of the tree to catch falling mangoes. Several avocado trees stood guard on each side of the driveway. Lemon, lime and lychee trees dappled the neat yard and gooseberry bushes climbed trellises that had begun to pull away with the weight of the fruit at the side of the old shed.

5 Front of house

I’d like to thank Francis for this wonderful opportunity to share my location with you. I love learning about the locations that influence other writers and look forward to reading more Location posts here in the future.

My Review of Wolf Pear

One of the most unlikely and satisfying love stories I’ve read in a long time!

Wolf Pear is, hands down, an absolute delight – like sinking one’s teeth into a ripe and luscious tomato fresh off the vine. For that is what a wolf pear is – a tomato. And this novel is about as juicy and tasty as its title suggests.

Now you might ask yourself – how can anyone call a book about a poor woman who has been bullied, pushed, shoved, and taken advantage of her whole life and a grief-stricken, haunted police detective on the trail of a serial killer, a delight? I guess you had to be there because delightful it is.

From the opening pages, as Esther Crooke scrambles to bury a body in the soil of her garden, through Detective JD Cusack’s cross country chase, always steps behind a killer, Gray hooks the reader into the story with effortless ease.

To hide the makeshift grave, Esther puts in a crop of tomato plants given to her off the back of a truck headed for an experimental farm. And boy or boy, do those tomatoes grow, achieving exactly the opposite of what Esther had hoped – her attempts at camouflage shine a spotlight on her makeshift grave.

As JD Cusack’s past secrets and special ability brings him closer and closer to the killer, Gray neatly weaves in all the loose ends of the story like an expert knitter finishing off a scarf.

This book abounds with location and character details that cause the reader to chuckle out loud or sigh with sadness.

Esther owns and runs the Crooke Books & Café, a converted house out on the highway. “Its roof pitched like a witch’s hat slashed with orange rust.” A startling juxtaposition of description tells all in a handful of words. The café is filled with books Esther has collected, none of which are for sale. Sit down, have a coffee, some of Esther’s famous carrot cake or her sticky date pudding and read a book. Patrons choose their tables based on the reading material nearby. Aren’t you dying to go to this place? Books for Esther are precious, “Miniature cameos of the world.”

At one point, Esther confronts a picture of herself in the local newspaper as she fends off a reporter and photographer who have come poking their nose into her tomato crop. “She had seen her real self in the newspaper – an ugly monster with claws and teeth and a chin like Jabba the Hut.” Oh my – read that and try not to sigh.

The place names are another source of delight – the town of Boonup, taking a trip up to Woorumbilly and the Jabiru Hotel.

Wolf Pear is a finely crafted story that pulls no punches when describing how the innocent suffer and yet the reader is forced to laugh at the incongruity of life while coming to see that always redemption awaits, growing wild and free like the wolf pears in Esther’s garden/graveyard.

Let Sleeping Gods Lie cover

There you have it folks – an author straight out of cornfields and red earth. Time spent reading anything by Dianne Gray is well worth the effort. And in that vein, I am happy to inform you that Dianne is, at this very moment, running a free promotion until Saturday the 22nd for her book, Let Sleeping God’s Lie. Is that title not completely brilliant? No time to waste my friends. Get yourself over to the Amazon site of your choice and try out a wonderful author for free.

Alan Bricklin’s Crossword–Location, Location Series

001I became aware of Alan Bricklin’s book, Crossword, via Review Seekers, a Facebook site that allows authors to request a book review if they are willing to offer a free copy of their book or let other subscribers know that their book is free on Amazon. Something about the cover of Bricklin’s, Crossword intrigued me. I felt due for an action-packed mystery, so I hopped over to Amazon and downloaded a copy. No regrets, for sure. I managed to connect with Alan via a niece of his on Twitter and he agreed to do a guest post for my location series.


Take it away Alan!

Crossword takes place in numerous locales including Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, England and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I think it’s interesting to take a look at the genesis of this novel, since many of the locations flow from the story itself.


Smal Street in HohenemsSmall street in Hohenems

I’ve been intrigued by espionage ever since I was a teenager. I don’t remember the exact genesis of this interest; but I suspect it came from reading books about code breakers and spies. I was an avid reader from a fairly young age and read a great variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction. A few years ago, while reading the Los Angeles Times, I came across an article about lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee, which separates parts of Germany and Switzerland.


Lugano, Switzerland

Although the article was mainly a piece on travel and vacations, the author mentioned that during World War II the lake had seen its share of spies crossing between the two countries on opposite shores. This got me to thinking that this might be part of the setting for a spy novel I had been thinking about writing. Shortly after this I read a piece about Hitler’s attempt to develop an atomic bomb, and I wondered how I might utilize this along with the locale of lake Constance.



I was able to get several rolls of microfiche from the Department of Defense that had recently been declassified and dealt with operations that had taken place in Switzerland and in the vicinity of the lake. Further research turned up information about the transport of fissionable material from Norway to Germany, and I could visualize the nidus of a story and several locations that would each play a part in the action.

rhein swiss aust border

Rhine River near the Swiss-Austrian border.

Every story needs a hero or heroine, or at least a protagonist, and that was my next task. To add interest, my protagonist needed to have his own personal problems to deal with as well as the challenges of the task assigned to him. The “back story” for my hero presented an opportunity for yet another location, and I choose one with which I was very familiar, Philadelphia, the city where I was born and lived for the first thirty years of my life.

I believe that a story is not just about action and events. All of these take place in specific locations, and details about locations enrich the tale I’m telling, just as the thoughts and feelings of the characters make them come alive. A lot of research went into investigating places, especially ones that I had not actually visited. What buildings were in existence during the time period of the story, what did they look like, who would have frequented them?

OSS SwitzerlandThe OSS Building in Switzerland

norskNorsk Hydroelectric

Italian marketItalian Market

These were some of the questions I endeavoured to answer. Research, photos and imagination allowed me to paint a picture which I hope created a realistic background for the story I told.

My Review of Crossword

Crossword is an espionage thriller with enough twists and turns to keep the most enthusiastic of fans page-turning. Rich in detail, the book plunges the reader back in time to the closing weeks of World War II. Various settings include Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the American streets of Philadelphia.

Point of view shifts from character to character, allowing a wide angle perspective across battle lines and allegiances. We meet SS General Gerhard Waldman who is described as standing, “ . . . just over six feet tall, with chiselled features and jet black hair, his lean, athletic build hidden by his uniform and the long leather coat he wore. His features were almost a caricature of himself, and in the eerie light he looked, at times, more like an illustration than a living human being.” Images of black and white comic book Nazi characters flood the imagination.

Then their is Heinrich Schroeder, the quintessential military man – a soldier’s soldier – he doesn’t consider politics but ultimately, the action he takes to preserve what he cares about lands many in a political storm.

Early on we are introduced to Sten, the Norwegian resistance fighter. He suffers through the Nazi occupation and describes well the reality of war. “Fighting may kill you but it was all the other things that chipped away at your soul and sucked out your energy so that no matter how strong your muscles were, no matter how good your physical condition, you always felt drained and weak.”  Life under the Germans was for Sten, “. . . as if all his actions took place on a giant cobweb of infinite dimensions, each movement held back by sticky stands, never knowing if he would reach his destination and always, in the back of his mind, the spider.”

Allan Dulles, the consummate spymaster and power broker for the allies has seen too much and envies the clouds. “He stared out his office window a moment longer, watching the clouds float by, and with an anthropomorphism he didn’t really believe, envied them their distance and detachment from the human race, watcher who were serene in their total inability to do anything to alter the course of history . . .”

Larry Sabatino, the US soldier turned spy who hails from the streets of South Philly, looks through a forest clearing to note, “Flecks of mica within the rock reflected those of the sun’s rays that penetrated the forest cover and gave the appearance of a giant mirrored orb in the center of some Coney Island ballroom.” And thus the author links with brilliant ease two entirely disparate locations.

The story unfolds through espionage and counter espionage. “Questions wrapped in an enigma and sent into a spin by deception and trickery. Tradecraft at its best. Nothing is what it seems.”

Love and betrayal, lost and found people and things, all juxtaposed against the life-shattering confusion of a war coming to an end. A haunting question is posed. ‘How do you search for someone who’s no longer among the living? Do you look for a ghost, some ethereal spirit that haunts places once familiar, that lingers in corners of times gone by and peeks from behind some almost forgotten theme?”

Bricklin’s superb use of imagery and setting location throws the reader inside the emotional landscape of war. Reality is reflected through a prism that sheds insight on all sides. For the reader who is looking for a complex novel, Crossword will not disappoint.

Please hop over to Amazon and check out Alan Bricklin’s book – Crossword.

Tess of Portelet Manor–Location, Location, Location.

Cover of Tess


I’m an long-time follower of  Back on the Rock, Roy McCarthy’s blog. Seeing his posts pop up in the WordPress reader, his icon on my like bar or accompanying a thoughtful comment has become part of my blog world. I read Roy’s book, Tess of Portelet Manor, last year and when I had the idea for this location series, I knew that Roy would be a great guest. His novel simply drips with Jersey location.




Take it away, Roy.

Portelet Bay2

Jersey, lying in the bay of St Malo within sight of France but belonging to the English crown, is a fortunate isle. Sloping gently north to south it is regaled by our unofficial national anthem as ‘Beautiful Jersey, gem of the sea.’

Today it is a busy, cosmopolitan place with the problems that come with being a relatively prosperous community on a finite land mass. Finance is the mainstay of the economy, but this wasn’t always the case.

Come with me to the west of the Island and imagine you have stepped back 80 years in time. It’s not so very hard to do. The golden beaches where Tess used to walk with her best friend Lucille, collecting shells for her mirror frames and the places she courted Robin are still there.

You may still climb the steps cut into the cliff and find yourself on lonely Portelet Common, a myriad of colour during summer, wild and swept by wind and wave in the winter. Find yourself there on a misty day and you may see Tess’s cottage. I saw it. Or maybe it was just my imagination.

Railway Walk

Walk the few gentle miles along the Railway Walk from Corbière to St Aubin, the breeze playing in the pines. Close your eyes and visualise the steam trains that were once part of everyday life.

German troops arrive in 1940


Watch now in horror with Tess as her beloved island is captured and overrun by soldiers of the Third Reich. They come in their thousands to build the Atlantic Wall, tearing up coastline and countryside, leaving their ugly handiwork as a monument to naked greed and ambition. For five long years the islanders can only accept their fate and give thanks that it wasn’t worse.




Rejoice now with Tess and her friends as the Allies liberate the Island and the people are left to rebuild their little corner of the world. But it is impossible to destroy all that concrete, those ever-present reminders of a cruel occupation.

How easy it is to write a story of Tess and her times. And how emotional to be able to give a reading from that story, deep in the German Command Bunker at Noirmont Point, during the 2013 Liberation celebrations.

Thanks, Roy.

Roy has written a number of interesting posts about the island of Jersey and his endearing character, Tess. Here are links to just a few.

An interview with Tess

An early autumn stroll around the island of Jersey

The final liberation of the Channel Islands.

My Book Review: Tess of Portelet Manor

Tess, the main character of McCarthy’s novel, is a woman with an abundance of grace and courage in the face of adversity.

The author takes the reader on a journey through a period of history that would test the most stalwart. A young woman named Tess comes to realize her true measure as she faces up to the challenges of being on her own, on the island of Jersey, during the German occupied years of World War II.

The book has a distinctive feel. Almost as if McCarthy had access to Tess’ journals and then sat down to retell her story. This becomes evident in the multitude of details given. The reader is easily able to imagine Tess’ life and empathize with all the ups and downs, both small and large. McCarthy writes Tess as a woman most people would love to know – selfless in a way that is admirable, but not unaffected by her own flaws.

The Jersey landscape is lovingly described. Anyone who reads this book will want to travel there someday. For those readers too young to know anything of the deprivations of the War years, the book will leave them wondering – what on earth would I have done in such a situation? And for those needing inspiration to get through tough times, Tess’ grace and courage in the face of adversity provides an admirable model.