Author Feature: Andrew Joyce

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My name is Andrew Joyce, and I write books for a living. Ethan has been kind enough to allow me a little space on his blog to promote my new book, MOLLY LEE. The story is a female-driven account of a young naive girl’s journey into an independent, strong woman and all the trouble she gets into along the way.

Now you may possibly be asking yourself, What is a guy doing writing in a woman’s voice? And that’s a good question. I can only say that I did not start out to write about Molly; she just came to me one day and asked that I tell her story.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

My first book was a 164,000-word historical novel. And in the publishing world, anything over 80,000 words for a first-time author is heresy. Or so I was told time and time again when I approached an agent for representation. After two years of research and writing, and a year of trying to secure the services of an agent, I got angry. To be told that my efforts were meaningless was somewhat demoralizing to say the least. I mean, those rejections were coming from people who had never even read my book.

So you want an 80,000-word novel?” I said to no one in particular, unless you count my dog, because he was the only one around at the time. Consequently, I decided to show them City Slickers that I could write an 80,000-word novel!

I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer and banged out REDEMPTION: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in two months; then sent out query letters to agents.

Less than a month later, the chairman of one of the biggest agencies in New York City emailed me that he loved the story. We signed a contract and it was off to the races, or so I thought. But then the real fun began: the serious editing. Seven months later, I gave birth to Huck and Tom as adults. And just for the record, the final word count is 79,914. The book went on to reach #1 status on Amazon twice, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But not quite.

My agent then wanted me to write a sequel, but I had other plans. I was in the middle of editing down my first novel (that had been rejected by 1,876,324 agents . . . or so it seemed) from 164,000 words to the present 142,000. However, he was insistent, so I started to think about it. Now, one thing you have to understand is that I tied up all the loose ends at the end of REDEMPTION, so there was no way that I could write a sequel. And that is when Molly asked me to tell her story. Molly was a character that we met briefly in the first chapter of REDEMPTION, and then she is not heard from again.

This is the description from MOLLY LEE:

Molly is about to set off on the adventure of a lifetime . . . of two lifetimes.
It’s 1861 and the Civil War has just started. Molly is an eighteen-year-old girl living on her family’s farm in Virginia when two deserters from the Southern Cause enter her life. One of them—a twenty-four-year-old Huck Finn—ends up saving her virtue, if not her life.

Molly is so enamored with Huck, she wants to run away with him. But Huck has other plans and is gone the next morning before she awakens. Thus starts a sequence of events that leads Molly into adventure after adventure; most of them not so nice.

We follow the travails of Molly Lee, starting when she is eighteen and ending when she is fifty-six. Even then Life has one more surprise in store for her.

As I had wondered whatever became of Huck and Tom, I also wondered what Molly did when she found Huck gone.

I know this has been a long-winded set up, but I felt I had to tell the backstory. Now I can move on and tell you about Molly.

As stated earlier, Molly starts out as a naive young girl. Over time she develops into a strong, independent woman. The change is gradual. Her strengths come from the adversities she encounters along the road that is her life.

With each setback, Molly follows that first rule she set against self-pity and simply moves on to make the best of whatever life throws her way. From working as a whore to owning a saloon, from going to prison to running a ranch, Molly plays to win with the cards she’s dealt. But she always keeps her humanity. She will kill to defend herself, and she has no problem killing to protect the weak and preyed upon. However, when a band of Indians (for instance) have been run off their land and have nowhere else to go, Molly allows them to live on her ranch, and in time they become extended family.

This is from a review on Amazon:

“A young female in nineteenth-century rural America would have needed courage, fortitude, and firm resolve to thrive in the best of circumstances. Molly Lee possesses all of these, along with an iron will and an inherent ability to read people accurately and respond accordingly.”

I reckon that about sums up Molly.

I would like to say that I wrote MOLLY LEE in one sitting and everything in it is my pure genius. But that would be a lie. I have three editors (two women and one guy). They kept me honest with regard to Molly. When I made her a little too hard, they would point out that she had to be softer or show more emotion in a particular scene.

I set out to write a book where every chapter ended with a cliffhanger. I wanted the reader to be forced to turn to the next chapter. And I pretty much accomplished that, but I also wrote a few chapters where Molly and my readers could catch their collective breath.

One last thing: Everything in MOLLY LEE is historically correct from the languages of the Indians to the descriptions of the way people dressed, spoke, and lived. I spend as much time on research as I do writing my stories. Sometimes more.

It looks as though I’ve used up my allotted word count (self-imposed), so I reckon I’ll ride off into the sunset and rustle up a little vodka and cranberry juice (with extra lime).

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me over.


Andrew

Found by H. Terrell Griffin

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The small town of Longboat Key, Florida is a pretty quiet place. While many tourists visit in the summer, winter sees only a few residents and retirees who are looking to trade the bitter cold of their home towns for the Key's tropical climate. Matt Royal is one of the town's permanent residents. He's a middle-aged,  "semi-retired" lawyer who gave up his prominent career in a large Florida city to settle down in the quiet Longboat Key. He stays busy doing small law jobs for the locals and assisting his friend, Chief of Police Bill Lester, in investigating crimes.

Matt and J.D. Duncan, a Longboat P.D. detective who Matt proudly claims as his "sweetie", are enjoying a quiet morning at Matt's bungalow when J.D. receives a disturbing text message. The message contains an image of J.D.'s college friend Katie Fredrickson. In the image, Katie looks pretty normal and is clutching a copy of the newspaper from that day. Written on the paper are the words "Good Morning Jed", referring to the nickname Katie used for her friend J.D. There's only one problem . . . Katie has been dead for almost a year!

The couple witnesses the start of another case during J.D.'s lunch break. The two watch as police chase a car off the side of a drawbridge, killing the driver. Soon, J.D's phone is ringing, calling her to the scene of a crime. It turns out that the driver involved in that fatal high-speed police chase was fleeing a condo parking lot, where he had just shot an elderly man at close range. The man, a WWII vet, was showing his neighbor some pictures from the 1940's. As J.D. interviews the neighbor and another friend of the victim, she learns that he was on his way to meet with a lawyer. That lawyer was none other that Matt Royal.

The Matt Royal Series by author H. Terrell Griffin has been a consistently enjoyable read over the course of its seven novels. Griffin always injects his love of Florida and the people who live there through witty observations about the city and equally amusing characters. Over the course of the series, readers have grown attached to Matt Royal and his crime fighting band of friends. This, combined with short chapters and unique mysteries, have made the previous installments quick and engaging reads.

The consistent excellence of the series thus far has left me with a decidedly mixed reaction to this latest installment. The eighth entry in the series contains many of the above mentioned elements that readers have come to expect. Unfortunately, the plot becomes so full, that it is difficult to keep each element of the story clear. The Matt Royal books have always required some suspension of disbelief, but Found pushes that idea to the limit. As the characters investigate murder, a missing person, secrets from a WWII submarine, police corruption, and a local mafia drug ring, the plot becomes convoluted and difficult to follow. A third of the way through, flashbacks to WWII are injected amidst the present day narrative, further diluting the focus of the novel. To be fair, the information that is given during these flashbacks is vital to understanding the conclusion, and Griffin does an excellent job making a satisfying end to all of the seemingly disparate plot points. Still, the journey to this resolution requires a good bit of patience.

Plot issues aside, Griffin's deeply drawn characters help to keep the weary reader invested in the story. Matt Royal is a likable everyman who readers are sure to get behind. Griffin explores the relationship between Matt and his equally strong willed girlfriend J.D. as the two come to terms with the complexities of their commitment. Matt operates on a thin line between what is legally acceptable and morally just. This creates tension between him and his law obligated better half. Griffin writes of these issues with a skillful delicacy that brings a much needed reality to the outlandish world he has created. While this is not the strongest installment in the usually stellar series, Found gets enough right to successfully warrant any future Matt Royal novels.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 25)



Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter

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The year is 1991 and college student Julia Carroll has her whole life ahead of her. She's a bright aspiring journalist, dedicated student, and loving daughter and sister. Her strong investigative instincts lead her to the story of Beatrice Oliver, a local girl who mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago. Oliver left her home to buy some ice cream for her father and never returned. As often happens in missing person cases, time advanced, evidence was scarce, and the trail went cold.

In addition to her university studies and role at the school newspaper, Julia volunteers her time at a local homeless shelter. The women who live there have all had rough lives, but are appreciative of the charity they receive. When Julia learns that one of the residents has not been seen or heard from in a few days, she fears the worst. Other residents claim that the young lady was snatched by a man and pulled into a van. Julia worries that this disappearance is related to the Beatrice Oliver case.

Determined to find answers and to warn other women of potential attacks, Julia begins researching data to use in an article covering abductions. All of the girls who vanished were young and beautiful, not unlike the blonde hair, blue eyed Julia. She begins to place herself in their shoes, mentally recreating the moments leading up to their disappearances, and trying to find ways that their actions could have prevented their kidnappings. It is easy for Julia to recognize the mistakes that each women made leading up to their vanishing, but she fails to heed her own advice. As she walks home from a party one night, completely alone, there is nothing she can do to prevent the beginning of her own nightmare.

This short novella acts as a prelude for Karin Slaughter's new novel, Pretty Girls. Slaughter creates excellent tension as the story slowly edges toward its inevitable conclusion. There is palpable suspense as Julia investigates the disappearances of the several women. Slaughter includes statistics on rape and abductions that gives the narrative credibility and makes the conclusion all the more terrifying. Despite the excellent pace and competent writing, Julia is not a particularly likable character. This dilutes the atmosphere of anxiety with bursts of unbridled frustration. It is hard to believe that a girl who is investigating the kidnaping of women who share many similarities with herself would make so many foolish decisions. Still, the solid tone and driving pace of the narrative makes this a fine appetizer to Slaughter's main course.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter is published on September 29, 2015.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 24)

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

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Fresh off of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son, author Adam Johnson is back with an eclectic collection of short stories. Each of the six selections offers a unique tale of a character struggling to come to terms with the realities and challenges of their lives. Johnson highlights these ethical dilemmas with his quietly assured writing.

In Nirvana, a husband struggles to cope with his wife's crippling Guillain–BarrĂ© syndrome. The couple lives in the not too distant future where technology such as Android glasses and Google lanes are commonplace. To help endure the emotional effects of his wife's physical condition, he programs an iProjector hologram of the recently assassinated U.S. President to interact with. He seeks a friend, someone to talk to about his misfortune. The hologram communicates by using bits and pieces of recordings of the President's media appearances, so any "advice" that the husband receives, comes in the form of hollow political sentiments. 

Hurricane Anonymous follows Randall, a UPS truck driver living in New Orleans during the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He is thrust into fatherhood when his young son is left at the foot of his UPS truck. With no note as to the mother's whereabouts, Randall continues to drive his routes while searching for his son's mother. Meanwhile, his mute father is on his deathbed, and his current girlfriend wants to run away with him and start a new life with their FEMA money. Randall does everything in his power to provide for his family as each of them pulls him in different directions. 

In the most personal story in the collection, Interesting Facts, Johnson assumes the voice of a wife facing the effects of breast cancer on her family. Physically and emotionally scarred by the double mastectomy that saved her life, the woman attempts to put the pieces of her life back together. She finds it difficult to accept the affection of her husband. How can he find her attractive after her surgery? Even worse, as an aspiring author herself, she enviously resents the success of her Pulitzer Prize winning spouse. The fact that Johnson's wife is a breast cancer survivor is not lost on the reader as this portrait of marital disillusionment unfolds. 

In George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine and Fortune Smiles, Johnson explores the effects of totalitarian political regimes on the people who enforce and live under them. The first tells the story of a retired warden of the East German Hohenschonhausen Prison. He lives close to the infamous facility, now a museum, and remains adamant that he participated in no wrong doing during his tenure there. He befriends the museum curator and agrees to tell his side of the institution's history. Johnson dexterously illustrates the man's belief in an invented reality that is built upon denial and fear. 

He further grapples with these themes in the title story. DJ and Sun-ho are facing the steep task of acclimating to life as liberated citizens of Korea. Years of oppression under the Northern Regime have left them weary of the freedoms their Southern counterparts enjoy. They find simple pleasure in fast-food restaurants and scratch-off lottery tickets. Still, the elder Sun-ho can't change his ways as easily as DJ. He knows that life in the North was unacceptable, but years of living there have stained his impression of the place that he now calls home. Both of these historical stories prove Johnson's skill as an author and provide examples of all the things that he truly excels at. 

The most intriguing story in this collection has to be Dark Meadows. The narrator is a man so riddled by the distinction between right and wrong that he can barely come to terms with either one. He was raped as a child and never fully recovered from the incident. Now, as a computer technician, he occasionally services the hard drives of child pornographers while simultaneously installing malware that makes their illegal activities easier to track. In a narrative that is disturbing, tragic, and surprisingly sympathetic, Johnson writes of this broken man who precariously walks the line between criminal scum and sorrowful victim.

Be it the tale of a woman facing illness or a child pornographer, a liberated citizen or an unrelenting war criminal, Johnson writes with a sincere conviction that allows readers to form independent opinions of each of his characters. Despite the varying backgrounds and situations they face, the characters in this collection are all fighting for the kind of personal victories that every human can relate to. As a cohesive unit, Fortune Smiles, offers masterful contemplations on life and the human condition that all readers can appreciate.

For more information, visit Amazon and GoodReads.

(2015, 23)




Friday Flicks: The Fault In Our Stars

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It took me a long time to finally read John Green's bestselling novel, The Fault in Our Stars. My life was intimately touched by cancer a couple years ago, so I needed time to become emotionally ready to read the tragic tale. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book was not the tear-jerking cancer story I feared it would be. Yes, it is about kid's with cancer, but the book is more a bittersweet once in a lifetime kind of love story. The genuine characters, sharp writing, and deeper questions of mortality and legacy made for a very strong novel.

Fortunately the film adaptation of the novel remains true to the book and manages to capture much of the magic from the text. The film follows Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a teenager who is fighting a terminal case of cancer. She is on an experimental medication that keeps her disease at bay, but she will eventually succumb to her illness. An only child, Hazel spends her days reading, attending college classes, or watching T.V. with her parents. At the insistence of her mother, Hazel finds herself at a weekly support group for critically ill teens.

It is at these meetings that Hazel meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a lanky, attractive, former high school basketball star who lost a leg to cancer. The two form an immediate connection, and we watch as their young love blossoms. They bond over Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, and obsess about the book's ending, or lack thereof. Their curiosity leads them to contact the book's author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Defoe), and even travel to Amsterdam to visit with him. A plot twist near the end brings their entire relationship into question and forces the two to face realities neither of them are prepared for.

The two leading actors expertly portray the humor, angst, and wonder of two young people falling in love. The stellar performances by each member of the cast helps to elevate what could easily be a cheesy Lifetime Channel romance story into something more. Laura Dern as Hazel's overprotective mother, does a particularly fantastic job as a woman facing the possibility of losing her only daughter. Cancer is a difficult subject to talk about and can easily become morbid and cliche. This film approaches the subject with a respectful lightness and humor, making the tragic elements easier to stomach. There are a couple minor changes from the book, but none of them have a negative effect on the story. Fans of the novel will be pleased that this adaptation maintains the romance, hope, sadness and wit of Green's story.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

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I've never been a huge fan of comic books or graphic novels. I've watched and enjoyed many superhero movies, but I've never read any of the books that they are based on. I recently decided to delve into the genre. The Joker has always been one of my favorite characters, so I decided to read a book that featured him. The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame, is one of the most iconic stories to feature the villain. It offers a rare glimpse at the Joker's back story.

The book opens with Batman visiting the Arkham Asylum to meet with the Joker. In a rare act of diplomacy, Batman is there to put an end to his rivalry with the villain. He has come to the conclusion that their feud can only end in the death of one or both of them. In an attempt to avoid this undesirable outcome, Batman seeks to peacefully end the continuous cycle of hostility. But there is no reasoning with a psychopath.

Batman is a man of reason, a keeper of peace and justice, a warrior against evil who sees right and wrong as black and white. The Joker knows that the world is not that simple. Flashbacks show the Joker when he was just an everyday citizen. At the time, he was an amateur comic, struggling to make ends meet. He and his wife were expecting a child, and he was willing to do whatever it took to support his family. Despite the hardships, the Joker was happy with his life. One bad day changed all of that. Now the Joker is on a mission to prove that, given the right circumstances, anyone can turn evil and crazy. . . even a man of integrity.

This book focuses largely on the Joker. Batman appears more as a supporting character, mostly to be the hero and save the day. Brian Bolland's art is incredible, and each frame dazzles with intricate detail. The writing is equally appealing, but fails to live up to the intricacy of the images. The Joker is bad, Batman is good, and good wins out in the end. This is a little disappointing, especially given the complex ideas that Moore hints at. The story questions the boundary of sanity and madness and how a person reaches either point. What makes the man who dresses like a clown crazy but the man who dresses like a bat a hero? The plot never allows these ideas to reach their full potential, opting instead for a typical conclusion. I can certainly respect this book for what it is, but I don't think it lives up to the hype surrounds it.

For more information, visit Amazon and GoodReads.

(2015, 22)

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