IAM15 Interview…with Mel Cusick-Jones

IAM 2015 - TopperHello! Welcome to our fourth annual Indie Author Month on Aside from Writing – I hope you enjoy what we have coming up over the next few weeks in July and get to meet some great new authors, seeing their thoughts and experiences on what it is like to be an indie writer these days.

As you’ll probably know, I’m one of the main bloggers for the site, along with my author buddy Tony Talbot. This year, we decided that one of us would open the event as the ‘author of the day’, with the other closing the event at the end of the month.

One thing I realised we’d never done on here, was actually interview ourselves. We’ve interviewed loads of authors over the last few years, particularly during the Indie Author event months, but neither Tony nor I had ever featured in a ‘proper’ interview on the blog. So, for my first feature of the day, I’m doing a snapshot interview with myself 🙂 It’s a lot more normal than it sounds and not at all Taxi Driver scary. Promise.

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A genie grants you three writing-related wishes: what would you wish for and why?

Firstly, I would wish for the little writing cave of my dreams…a cosy little room, with the walls all lined with bookshelves. There would be a nice, comfy couch for my dog to lie on and snooze the hours away as I work. There are some french windows in the room that lead to a garden outside and my desk in next to it… silly items and knick-knacks from my current mini-cave would be on the wall above my desk, to keep inspiring me as I day dream looking out of the window.

My second ‘big’ wish would be, that when I talk through scenes and dialogue in my head, that they magically appear in a notebook ready to use. I can’t count how many good things I’ve thought of and not remembered because I couldn’t write them down at the time. I’ve tried using a dictaphone, but something goes wrong between my head and my mouth and what gets recorded is just a terrible, flat version of what I was thinking of originally!

Final wish would be for an editing fairy…someone else that perfectly edits and finalises my finished work! That’s always the longest part of the project for me.

How do you react to a bad review?

It’s feedback, so generally I try to take any learning points from what’s said and apply that to my work. There’s several improvements (I think) I’ve made to my writing style and editing over the last few years since I started getting reviews of my books. Without the feedback, which wasn’t always given in the nicest of ways, I might not have seen the issue and improved. If you get a ranty review, you might not get anything that useful from it for improving your work, and in those cases I just kind of shrug and get on with something else. Everyone likes different things and I’ve had my share of DNF books that I’ve not enjoyed, so I can understand it from the reader side of things too.

Cirque de la Nuit coverWhat are you working on at the moment – do you have any other books in the works?

My current project is outside the ‘Ambrosia Sequence’ series, which I’ve been working on for the last few years and released the first two books so far – although I am about two-thirds of the way through the third book ‘Outlanders’ and I need to get back to working on it at some point! At the moment, I’m focusing on writing a stand-alone YA paranormal mystery ‘Cirque de la Nuit’ about a uni student who finds herself in the middle of supernatural gang warfare, after a visit to the mysterious Cirque de la Nuit. A bit of change from sci-fi related dystopian, but hopefully people will enjoy it when it’s ready to release.

What inspired you to want to become a writer?

The main inspiration is that I’ve always loved reading and disappearing off into other people’s stories. Because of that, I’ve always dabbled with writing: short stories, couple of plays (don’t ask!) and then when I finished studying English at uni, I started writing as a hobby. The first few things I wrote were really terrible and it took a lot of practice to actually write a full book with beginning, middle, end…sounds daft, but ask most authors and they’ll tell you that they didn’t just sit down and run off a perfect first draft. The first few books I wrote still sit in my laptop and may (with lots of revision) some day be worthy of release…

Who is your favourite character from Cirque de la Nuit and why?

At the moment, my favourite character is Alexander – the vampire ringmaster who gets Beth (the main character whose POV we read the story in) involved in the first place. He is probably the character, aside from Beth, who changes the most during the story. That said, I really like Mikhail, especially when you get him and Beth sparring off one another – I love sarcastic banter!

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Mel Cusick-JonesWant to know more? Check out the links!

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Melanie-Cusick-Jones/214124072009513

Twitter @melabupa     Author Blog http://melcj.com/

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5395324.Melanie_Cusick_Jones

Tony’s Review: The Giver

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3/5 – Spoilers throughout

When Jonas reaches the age of twelve, his career will be chosen for him, as it is for every twelve year old in the community where he lives. Some will become labourers, some mothers, some doctors.

Jonas is the reciever of memory – every memory in the history of the old world, passed on by his tutor, The Giver. The question is, what will he do with that knowledge?

This is a short book, only about two hundred pages, so it only took me a few hours to read. The premise, though an old one – Utopia with a dark heart – is unique in its width. The community (it’s never named) has pushed blandness to an art form. Even colour (somehow) and music are banned, for fear of the population going wild and rioting if they see a patch of green grass or hear some Mozart, or something. Sex is forbidden and love controlled with drugs. Procreation is moved to a rotating group of birthmothers (who are presumably inseminated artificially).

However, they have taken the smart move of delegating everything ever learned onto one person. Most Utopias seem determined to forget the past ever existed.

Early in the book, Jonas talks about elderly patients and miscreants being sent ‘Elsewhere’ and ‘being released’, and it was very obvious from the first references that this is a community that not so much enjoys euthanasia as revels in it; ‘sub-standard’ infants and the elderly all go through the procedure. So it’s no shock to witness it when it happens late in the book to a baby.

The technical aspects of this book – it’s all telling and no showing (“Jonas was angry”, not “Jonas clenched his fists”) – and the oddly stilted dialogue make this book feel like it was written in 1955, not 1993. The writing is at the level of a children’s book; this is not YA, people! Eleven year olds have moved on – you don’t need to spoon-feed them by telling and not showing.

On the other hand, that stilted approach works well in the community as presented – everyone is bland and two-dimensional as the colourless world where they live. But here’s the thing: For effect, that tell-not-show should have changed when Jonas began his lessons with The Giver. And it didn’t.

Because of that, I felt nothing for Jonas or anyone else. I didn’t connect to him because he remained so two-dimensional. He could have been given so much more depth, but he’s never given the chance before he’s running away from home.

Jonas is also very passive. His relationship with The Giver is there only for exposition. Instead of Jonas finding things out for himself, instead of him pushing the boundaries of his life, instead of him maturing into an adult, he asks and The Giver explains the world to him on a plate. Spoon-feeding again. So the hero in this book does nothing until the last twenty pages.

Let’s talk about those last twenty pages, which is when the book really starts to fall over. Jonas crests a hill, finds a sledge and slips through the snow. It’s the first memory The Giver passed on to him. I had the feeling that Lowry wanted some deep metaphorical ending, but it didn’t work for me; Jonas is obviously hallucinating, or already dead. So the passive hero who does nothing but flee dies at the end. Lovely.

I rated this three stars, but I hesitated between that and two. Lowry creates a solid world, and one that works, but the hero in it is bland, even when he has the chance to become much more. The only colour in the book comes from The Giver, and all he does is exposit.

For a better time with a Utopia with a dark heart, read Mel Cusick-Jones, “Hope’s Daughter” – teenagers who actually discover things for themselves.

Disappointing.

IAM Guest Post…Why I Write Indie

Guest Feature

Guest Feature

 Today we have a post from one of the regular Aside From Writing blog authors, Mel Cusick-Jones. Today she tells us what she loves about writing as an indie and why she self-published in the first place.

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I’d written for a long time before I published Hope’s Daughter, and even though I had worked on the novel for over two years (part-time around work and the rest of my life!) and taken it through numerous revisions and read-throughs with friends there are basic elements I would change now, especially with an extra 18months of reviews and feedback to take into account. But that’s the best part about reviews, and was the main reason I published the book in the first place…I wanted to know what other people thought of my story.

What I should say is that publishing isn’t what it was once… you can self-publish easily and relatively cheaply (promotion is tough though) where that was not really an option before ebooks came onto the scene.

I published Hope’s Daughter myself because:

I’m really impatient and didn’t do well with the traditional agent/publishing route. What I’d do is get a piece ready, send it away, wait X months and when it came back as a negative would begin something completely different thinking “well if they didn’t like this, maybe they like this” (hence I’d done several books before Hope’s Daughter). I think I’d sent one proposal to three places and Hope’s Daughter to one, before I decided to go the indie route – and that took me five years because of what I did in between.

A friend of mine works in product design and marketing and she agreed that it can be SO subjective whether they take on a project/design or not, and imagines it’s the same with publishing houses. You’ve got to get the individual liking it and then also from a business perspective it must fit with their operating model and where they want to spend their money at any given time – that’s a lot of considerations and a ‘business’ approach for a book. And look at some of the dross publishers do put out, simply because they want to replicate Twilight or another success story!

Personally – that wasn’t what I needed. Of course I’d love to hold a ‘real’ copy of my book in my hands or see it on the shelf in a shop – but the ‘virtual’ world bookshelves aren’t much less exciting. Your first good reviews are no less wonderful because someone’s read your book on a kindle and not in hardcover.

Creative writing is something I do when I’m not working and so it didn’t have to pay the bills (if that’s what you want – good luck – I’ve read that only 5% of authors make a living doing solely that), so when I was happy with the book I put it out there: I wanted to get wider feedback on the book beyond my local readers. And also, I’d written it so ‘why not’? It wasn’t doing anything sat inside the laptop.

And I suppose – from the occasional self-pub success story you see – if you are good, sometimes generating your own readers can demonstrate to publishers that you are viable as an author…without having to wade through dozens of slush piles to show them (also another long shot – but it does happen).

Hope’s Daughter had been through five full MS edits as well as numerous localised ones – so I was happy with the story. Four pre-readers had gone through it and given me feed back. I’d read it so many times I could probably recite scenes from memory – so I did it!

If you are going self-pub, make sure you’re ready to market – ideally before the release of the book – as you can get REALLY bogged down in the writing/publishing side to organise this properly. One of the best prepared launches I saw in 2012 was Marie Landry for Blue Sky Days – she used her network of blogs to ensure there was excitement for the book before release and then a very strong blog tour starting immediately after. Plus – it’s a good book! 🙂

Also – couple of good places to hone your skills – try Miss Lits (I’ve seen them on facebook) – you get to write short or full stories, everyone reads, reviews, etc. and you get constructive feedback, which like Ann says, you can then work on. Also – goodreads groups often have writing areas which you’ll get support and feedback on for your stuff so try there.

Phew – sorry – I got on a bit of a roll there – but hopefully it’s a little helpful and not just waffle. Basically, if you love writing – do it! Get the feedback, take it on board and practice. And when you’re really happy, try whichever route you want to go and that works best for you

Mel x

Just finished…Hope’s Daughter (Melanie Cusick-Jones) *Spoilers*

Cassie and the remains of humanity live on an immense space station, taken from earth when environmental disaster wipes out the population.

At least that what she’s always been told…with the help of her friend (and then boyfriend) Balik, Cassie explores the dark secret behind Space Station Hope, a revelation that eventually leads to her fleeing for her life.

Although the book was a little slow to get started, I didn’t feel like I wanted to put it down at any point. Mel C-J created a believable world, and a mystery which kept me guessing right up to the last chapters.

Some theories I was flicking through as I was reading included Nineteen-Eighty-Four, Logan’s Run, Soylent Green…Was it even a space station, I wondered?
All of these theories were way off the mark, and close to the end, I wondered if Cassie’s parents were androids, and all of what was happening was benign. Wrong again!

The idea of a space station run by aliens so they can harvest human DNA was done with subtle hints and misdirection. At no point did I guess that was what was happening on the station.

In some places, the editing was a little rushed, and because of that, some of the nice ideas in the book slipped past me. I was too busy trying to figure out the sentence to concentrate on the story. Mel C-J did seem to need more commas so I could get a sense of what’s going on.

That was particularly bad near the end of the book, when Cassie’s father showed up. I think the scenes with him could have been cleaned up quite a bit, and the pacing slowed a little so I could absorb what was going on. I also think a bit more world building to establish the scale of the space station would have helped, and I would have liked to have seen more of the guts of the place, as it were.

I liked all the characters in the book, even breathless Ami and Olivia, who shows her humanity later in the book despite her superficial appearance and personality. Everyone was well rounded and nicely developed. I even felt empathy for the aliens, forced to harvest humans to survive.

In the end, I’d give it 4/5, mainly dropping the star for the grammar errors that needed fixing. But I’m hooked enough to start looking for the sequel!

Hope’s Daughter by Mel Cusick-Jones

Life should be simple for Cassie.

For the small population of Earth survivors who live on the Space Station Hope everything they do is planned and scheduled, down to the cyclical food menus, their roles in the station, even how many children they have.

Despite rigid controls directing her life, Cassie feels more out of synch than ever and worries she won’t find a place for herself within the station community. Perhaps that’s because she’s hearing things inside her head that can’t possibly be real. Or maybe it’s the regular elopements of her peers, heading off to a romantic future in the Married Quarter of the space station, whilst she’s never even been attracted to a boy – no matter how hard her best friend Ami pushes them at her. Then there are the odd questions her work placement partner Balik keeps raising. His questions are just as troubling for her as his distracting smiles and eyes that seem to see inside her.

As Cassie draws closer to Balik she finds that everything else in her life begins to shift. He tells her things that call into question the system they live within. She can’t believe he is right, but at the same time she finds it hard to deny the sincerity of his ideas. Could there be a connection between Cassie’s problems and Balik’s questions? The truth will drag them both to a terrifying and deadly conclusion beyond anything they could have imagined.

Remember…you could win a copy of Hope’s Daughter in the main event giveaway, so make sure you’ve entered to win! Follow us on Facebook / Twitter and get vocal on the Indie Author Event comments to earn yourself additional entry points 🙂 

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***EXTRA GIVEAWAY – Visit the Giveaway Site to Win Hope’s Daughter – EXTRA GIVEAWAY***5  copies to be won***EXTRA GIVEAWAY***

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 Gimme 10 – Mini-Interview

Please answer each question in 10 words or less – that’s what makes it tough but fun! 🙂

Where do you find your inspiration? All types of people, books, life, films, family and love.

What is your favourite aspect of Hope’s DaughterThe complimentary relationship between Cassie and Balik – love conquers all…

Who is your favourite character from Hope’s Daughter and why? Cassie, because it is her story, her world, her life.

What are you working on now? Rainbow Maker’s Tale, which is Balik’s story and Outlanders.

What do you love about most about writing? Solving character’s problems – the freedom to go wherever you want

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About the Author

After graduating from The University of Sheffield with an English Literature Masters in 2003, Melanie has been writing fiction – time permitting – ever since.

The Ambrosia Sequence (started in 2008) and The Elementals (begun in 2004) are both ongoing, extended projects each containing several novels, aimed primarily at young adults and hover somewhere in the middle of sci-fi, futuristic and fantasy genres. Hope’s Daughter, released in December 2011, is her debut novel and the first of The Ambrosia Sequence, with the sequel – Outlanders – due in 2012.

When she’s not writing Melanie enjoys the wet weather of the north of England with her dogs or disappearing into a book for a few hours (no surprise there then). Unfortunately, all too often the ‘day job’ gets in the way of the nicer things in life!

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Want to know more? Check out the links!

Find the author:

Website – http://cusick-jones.com

Blog – http://melcj.wordpress.com and Aside from Writing!

Facebook – Hope’s Daughter and Mel Cusick-Jones

Twitter @melabupa

 

Buy the book:

You Tube Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/kLuf6DKg8I8

Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk   Apple iBooks   Barnes and Noble

Also available at: Kobo, Sony Reader, Copia, Ebook Pie, Baker & Taylor

Thinking about Cassie…

Mel’s recent post on being surprised by your character

Mel Cusick-Jones

I’ve recently read a review of Hope’s Daughter on Goodreads (view it here) and it got me thinking – in a good way – don’t worry I’m not about to begin a rant about reviews and readers! Instead I was thinking that it’s really interesting to see how readers view your characters once you’ve created them, bundled them into a book and then sent them off into the world. The lady who reviewed Hope’s Daughter wasn’t really sure of what to make of Cassie at the beginning of the book and I’d agree with that – Cassie is rather confused and has plenty of self-doubt to contend with early on 🙂 who doesn’t at that age?

What I found most interesting was that the reviewer found Cassie more interesting once she got onto her placement and began to interact with Balik. I’m not sure whether I intentionally wrote it to work in…

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