Guest Post & Review: The Frenchman

Frenchman-ebook-cover
Lise McClendon. Thalia Press, $15, 294p. ISBN 9781548691257.

In this 5th installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries (beginning with Blackbird Fly), attorney Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to drink in the essence of la France Profonde and write her own novel.

But the countryside is not as tranquil as she’d hoped it would be. A missing Frenchman, a sinister one, an elderly one, a thieving one, and a vandalizing one, all conspire to turn Merle’s sojourn of reflection into a nightmare of worry. Where is Pascal, her French boyfriend? Who is the man with the terrible scar? Why is someone spray-painting her little stone house in the Dordogne? And will her novel about the French Revolution (snippets of which are included) give her a soupon of delight or a frisson of danger?


From the Author: What my characters have shown me as they’ve grown

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.Frenchman - Lise McClendon

So Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

Thanks for the chance to discuss the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. I hope you enjoy reading them!


Review: The Frenchman

Lise McClendon’s The Frenchman is McClendon’s fifth novel in her Bennett Sisters Mysteries series. It is a frame story variation in that Merle, the protagonist, tells a story of her own throughout the mystery.

As McClendon’s story opens, Merle seems to be a bit lost within herself. She’s taking an extended leave from her work as a lawyer in New York in order to go to France and get started on her novel. Merle’s son, Tristan, is growing up and heading off to college this year, and her French boyfriend, Pascal, works a job that frequently keeps them apart for long periods of time and with little communication. Upon arrival in France, Merle finds herself with tangible insecurities as well – her house has been vandalized, and she has need for a vehicle but no knowledge of how to buy.

Meanwhile, Merle begins to write her novel, Odette and the Great Fear, and McClendon includes Merle’s chapters as stand-alone chapters within The Frenchman. Writing acts as Merle’s escape: “It was so comforting to live in another world where the mundane was an afterthought, where pain was just a word, where one had control of all events, and the author was a god.” (Kindle Locations 1356-1357). This comfort is better understood later, when McClendon’s mystery comes to light as Pascal disappears.

The Frenchman is as much a mystery novel as it is an exploration into the personal life of an author. McClendon’s character, Merle, strives to build her own character, Odette, in a seemingly reflected manner of McClendon’s own efforts to dive into Merle’s character. McClendon grants access into how a casual observation can play itself into a piece of detail, and skillfully reveals thought and emotion of her characters to her readers. Merle and Odette’s characters are tied together in a pleasant analogy.

The Frenchman is a delightful stroll through a grove of mystery, with a woven path through a light French countenance that makes for a formidable leisure read.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lise McClendon is the author of fifteen novels of mystery, suspense, and general mayhem plus short stories. Her bestselling Bennett Sisters mystery series began with Blackbird Fly. She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate, the latest of which is Plan X. Her short story is included in this fall’s noir anthology, The Obama Inheritance. Lise lives in Montana.
Visit her website | Subscribe to her mailing list | Follow her on Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Buy the book: on Amazon

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Guest Post and Excerpt: I Stop Somewhere

I Stop Somewhere
T.E. Carter
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: February 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn’t need to be popular, she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.

But then, the unthinkable happens, and Ellie is trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn’t the first victim and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.

The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

The Lovely Bones meets All The Rage in a searing, heartbreaking contemporary story of a lost teenager, and the town she leaves behind. T.E. Carter’s stirring and visceral debut not only discusses and dismantles rape culture but also makes you slow down and think about what it is to be human.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble


From the Author: The story of the cover design and why it couldn’t be pink

Admittedly, I had very little involvement in the cover design for the novel, since it was handled internally at Macmillan. However, there are so many elements that the cover just got so right about the novel itself, that it’s a really interesting topic of discussion.

TE

My editor did ask during our second round of edits if I had any feedback or specific requests. I didn’t, to be honest, except that I knew the cover shouldn’t be pink. There’s a recurring theme in the novel about what makes a girl and I worried that this would lead a designer to pink, and I don’t like the automatic linking of girls to pink. I don’t mind pink, but Ellie (the main character) doesn’t like pink, and one of the key themes of the book is that defining a girl is about more than stereotypes or this idea of what a girl should be. So pink felt somewhat antithetical to that. At the same time, I then thought maybe pink would be ironic and could be effective, so I wasn’t too useful in providing insight into the design process.

When they first showed me the cover, I fell in love with it aesthetically, but I also found myself a little confused. It was nothing like I had expected. I knew it was a cover that I would be drawn to, and it does make sense for the book when you stop and think about it, but I figured that the primary setting – an abandoned house – would play a role in the design. When there were no houses, I was a bit taken aback.

After thinking about it, though, I realized an abandoned house would have hinted at the book being horror or a thriller, and it’s not. It’s firmly rooted in contemporary realism, so combining a thriller-looking cover with a summary that’s a bit mysterious may actually have worked against getting the book to the target reader.IStop

What I love about this cover is that it’s black, which clearly illustrates that it’s not a light read. It’s not a light or easy story and I like knowing what kind of book I’m getting when I pick up a book. The cover is also symbolic of so many aspects of the story. The leaves are covered in frost, showing that they shouldn’t even be alive. But there are small flowers finding their way through anyway. It’s this idea of life fighting for a way, even when it’s impossible. Plus, it also speaks to the story, which does try to show that even in the darkest and coldest places, there can be small bursts of good.

I also did some research into the plant itself, which is stinging nettle, and discovered that the plant thrives in places where iron has been left to rust. The town where the book is set has seen better days and is full of abandoned factories; it is, in essence, “rusting.” In addition, the plant symbolizes being detached from your body and a lost soul, which is the entire premise of the book. After an assault, Ellie is trapped and trying to find her way back to life before. Stinging nettle also helps heal trauma in youth, especially in situations of low self-esteem, and both of these are key parts of Ellie’s character. According to http://www.beefieldsfarm.com/read/2016/03/stinging-nettle, “[stinging nettle] is also useful for those whose body/soul fusion has been incomplete, or is damaged due to trauma,” and this could not speak more to the novel and its themes!

Finally, there’s the title. It’s so bold and the book is very much about Ellie not having a voice and not feeling like she’s even part of the world she lives in. As the summary says, she was a girl no one noticed, but the title refuses to go unnoticed. I like this, as it’s almost like Ellie screaming from the darkness and demanding to be heard for once.

So, while I had little say in the cover, it really does capture everything about this story beautifully and I think it speaks volumes to what a reader can expect.


Excerpt from I Stop Somewhere:

Later, I remember how my dad would stand in my doorway, watching me. Trying to reach me across so little space, yet so much. He stared at me like you look at a museum display or a creature in the zoo. I was the coelacanth and he was awed by my strangeness.

“I brought you something,” he said, holding a bag out across the threshold to my bedroom.

My room was an experiment. Posters and magazine pages and images covered the walls and the vanity and my dresser. All the people I wanted to be, wanted to look like. They were the people who mattered. I stared at myself in the mirror, hating how I looked. I hated how the curves made the boys poke me through the back of my chair in class, and how they made the girls call me fat. I hated how far the people in the magazines were from me. I thought I would never count, because I wasn’t them.

“What is it?” I asked my dad, gesturing toward the bag he was holding.

“I thought you might like it.”

It happened every few nights. He’d show up, presenting an offering in a plastic bag. Makeup. Clothes. Hair bands. He tried. He tried and so I tried, but the discount stickers said it all.

They were marked down, because the lipstick was too orange. The tank top wasn’t cut right. The hair pins would have been perfect for a girl my age – ten years ago. But I wore them for him and he smiled, because he didn’t know the difference.

“Thanks, Dad. I love it,” I lied.

“You’re beautiful, Ellie.”

I was a markdown girl.

I did know the difference.


T.E. Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her passion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, obsessing over Game of Thrones (she’s one hundred percent Team Lannister), playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge-watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and their two cats.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

 

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Guest Post and Excerpt: Hunger Moon

HMBrand new from Alexandra Sokoloff comes Hunger Moon, the latest installment in The Huntress Moon Series (which is in development as a TV series!). The Huntress Moon Series is the product of years of screenwriting in Hollywood and wondering why most serial killers are men. Today, Sokoloff shares an excerpt from Hunger Moon, and writes to share what inspired The Huntress Series, and what has molded Agent Roarke’s character. As a fan of true crime and how psychology is involved (and also of small towns with neon hotel signs), I can only begin to try to communicate through my fingers how interesting this series sounds.

Hunger Moon
Alexandra Sokoloff
Publication date: October 24, 2017
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Thriller

“Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”   – The New York Times


From the Author: Where The Huntress Moon Series came from 

“My motivation for writing the Huntress Moon series is pretty basic. I am sick to death of reading crime novels and seeing movies and TV shows about women being raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered. I’m not too happy about it happening in real life, either.

So, my Huntress series turns the tables. The books follow a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer.

I worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for ten years before I snapped and wrote my first novel, and in that time I worked on several film projects featuring serial killers. One of my core themes as a writer is ‘What can good people do about the evil in the world?’ – and as far as I’m concerned, serial killers are an embodiment of evil. So for several years I was doing research into the subject every way I could think of, besides actually putting myself in a basement with one of these monsters. I tracked down the FBI’s behavioral science textbook before it was ever available to the public. I stalked psychological profilers at writing conventions and grilled them about various real life examples. I went to forensics classes and law enforcement training workshops.

And while I was doing all that research, one thing really jumped out at me about serial killers. They’re men. Women don’t do it. Women kill, and sometimes they kill in numbers (especially killing lovers or husbands for money – the “Black Widow” killer; or killing patients in hospitals or nursing homes: the “Angel of Death”). But the psychology of those killers is totally different from the men who commit serial sexual homicide. Sexual homicide is about abduction, rape, torture and murder for the killer’s own sexual gratification. (And please don’t get me started on books and films that portray serial killers as having an artistic or poetic bent. Ridiculous….)

Hunger Moon bannerThe fact is, one reason novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is that it’s the stark reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators — we’re the prey. But after all those years (centuries, millennia) of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there… wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say, ‘Enough!’?

And maybe even strike back?

I believe my job as an author is to give my readers a thrilling, sensory, gripping adventure that makes them feel — and also makes them think. It’s all about the fight against everyday evil, for me, and about the deep connections people make with unlikely other people when they commit to that fight.

With the Huntress series I finally have an umbrella to explore, dramatically, over multiple books, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.

As one of the profilers says in the book: ‘I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more women acting out this way. God knows enough of them have reason.'”


 

Excerpt from Hunger Moon:

A bleak sky, streaked with white, stretches over the desolate South Rim of the canyon. There will be snow tonight.

The grinding of a pickup truck grates through the silence.

A four-door Tundra. Tonneau cover over the bed. Two men dressed in camouflage inside. Fast-food and jerky wrappers litter the wells at their feet. In the back seat, a cooler packed full of beer.

And three rifles, three-inch twelve-gauge magnums, strapped to the padded back-seat gun rest.

Hunters, driving the rim.

The front-seat passenger sets his sights on something moving ahead of them, leans forward greedily. “There we go, there we go.”

The driver follows his gaze, fixes on what he is tracking. Not a deer, but a young girl, shining black hair underneath the hood of her parka. Schoolgirl’s backpack on her shoulder.

On the men’s faces, something crude and capering.

“That’s some tasty-looking pussy.”

“Oh, yeah, that’ll do.”

“Let’s go.”

“Get her.”

The driver swerves the truck over to the side of the road, squealing brakes.

The girl hears the sound, stiffens, is starting to run before she even completes the glance back.

The truck skids to a stop in the snow. The doors fly open; the men are out of the car, grabbing for their rifles.

The girl runs for the rocks, but her pursuers are bigger, faster. Two of them, grown men, against a teenage girl.

They move forward into the strong wind, a military-style formation, heavy boots crunching in the sandy snow.

They pause at the rock outcropping, looking out over the boulders. The girl seems to have disappeared. Then a scrabble on the rocks betrays her. Hearing it, the men grin at each other.

The driver rounds the rock first, his mouth watering. He is already hard in anticipation…

The tire iron bashes him across the face, breaking his jaw. He staggers back, howling inarticulate pain.

The girl kicks him viciously in the knee, crumpling him, then swivels as the second hunter rounds the edge of the rock. She slams the tire iron against the side of his head.

Now both men are collapsed on the ground, moaning and cursing.

She steps forward, no longer feigning that youthful, hesitant gait.

She lifts her arm and uses the tire iron on their skulls. Two, three, four blows, and there is no more moaning. Thick crimson drops spatter the snow. Her breath is harsh. Her face is ice.

There is only the wind, swallowing the sound of her breathing.

Cara stands at the edge of the canyon, looking out at the spires of Spider Rock, the vast open gorge.

Below her is an icy crevasse. The canyon has any number of them, deep splits in the rock wall where whole sheets of the cliff have broken away. Behind her is the hunters’ pickup truck.

Their bodies lie at her feet.

She drags one, then the other, to shove them over the cliff’s edge, stepping back to watch each body hurtle down into the crevasse, tumbling into oblivion.

The snowfall tonight will cover all trace of them. Later, birds and animals will pick the bones clean.

Another offering to the canyon, and the gods and ghosts that haunt it.

Goodreads / Amazon

Pre-order today!

PLUS: Books 1-4 are on SALE for $1.99 each for a limited time only!

Previous books in the Huntress/FBI Thrillers Series:


About the Author

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black Quill Award-nominated author of the Amazon bestselling Huntress/FBI series (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, Cold Moon, Bitter Moon, Hunger Moon – now in active development as a TV series), and the supernatural Haunted thrillers (The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters, The Space Between). The New York Times Book Review called her a “daughter of Mary Shelley,” and her books “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”

As a screenwriter she has sold original horror and thriller scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. She has also written three non-fiction workbooks: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, Stealing Hollywood, and Writing Love, based on her internationally acclaimed workshops and blog (www.ScreenwritingTricks.com), and has served on the Board of Directors of the WGA West and the Board of the Mystery Writers of America.

Alex is a California native and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, where she majored in theater and minored in everything Berkeley has a reputation for. In her spare time (!) she performs with The Slice Girls and Heather Graham’s all-author Slush Pile Players, and dances like a fiend. She is also very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But not an addict. Seriously, it’s under control.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Guest Post and Excerpt: The Invasion

Invasion

As the popular quote goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Looks like this is true of even authors. Next week, Book 4 of The Union Series is published, continuing a four-year-long telling of an American dystopia. Author T.H. Hernandez has taken a journey of her own, along with her readers, in discovering her characters – enough to feel a desire to revise Book 1, published back in 2014.

Here’s a look into what moved T.H. Hernandez to better Book 1, The Union, followed by an excerpt of her latest book, The Invasion!

The Invasion (The Union Series, #4)
T.H. Hernandez
Publication date: August 1, 2017
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult


From the Author: How writing Book Four led to revision of Book One

“When I first published The Union three years ago, it was the first novel I’d written. It had been through more than thirty rounds of edits, incorporated feedback from a publisher, an agent, and my critique partners, and had been professionally edited. However, when I went to pull some quotes for an upcoming blog tour, I realized my characters didn’t sound like themselves.

THAfter writing three more books in the series and outlining a fourth, I know my characters so much better. Even though they go through incredible growth throughout the series, they are essentially themselves, and I wanted them to sound that way.

In addition to fixing character inconsistencies, I shaved off close to 12,000 words without altering the storyline. The result is a faster-paced story that I hope readers will embrace.”


 

EXCERPT FROM The Invasion:

Liquid fills my nose and mouth and I claw in front of me, searching for the surface. I gasp, choking on a combination of air and water, and shove my drenched hair out of my face. Hercules One holds an empty bucket at his side, water still dripping from the rim.

Dizziness takes hold when I sit up, my body tilting. H-1 grabs my biceps, yanking me to my feet mere moments before my head would have conked on the concrete. Guess he wants the honor of doing the head conking himself.

Something about my face doesn’t feel right. My fingers run over the planes of my face, hitting a tender spot on my cheek. Pain shoots through my jaw and into my head while stars dance across my vision until everything disappears.

Another blast of water hits my face and my eyes fly open to a pair of cold blue ones staring back at me. “Where did you train?” Draya asks.

My lips part to tell her off, but the words catch on their way out.

Hercules Two approaches me, and without warning his fist is in my stomach. A yell tears from my raw throat and I double over, screaming through my teeth.

“Where. Did. You. Train.”

“In the Northwest,” I gasp.

“Where in the Northwest? Which camp?”

The pain begins to ebb, allowing me to control my mouth. If I tell them what they want, they’ll have no reason to keep me alive. I’m just not sure how much I can tolerate before I verbally vomit the truth along with the threatening bile. H-2 strikes the left side of my face with the back of his hand, sending blinding pain racing from my head into my spine.

“Northwest Seven,” I scream. Shit, at this rate, I’ll tell them everything and be dead within an hour.

Draya’s eyes dim rather than brighten with the information. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Who was with you?”

“Other recruits. There was a whole truckload of us, plus all the kids already there.”

She narrows her gaze before turning on her heel and leaving the room, returning a few moments later with a tablet. “Several soldiers left that camp unauthorized, including the commander. Who was your commander, and where is he now?”

What the hell? First, I’m not telling her anything about Cyrus, even if she tortures me, but second… “Don’t you know who the commander was?”

Her only response is an unblinking stare.

The open-palmed slap doesn’t hurt any less as it rocks my head to the side. The stakes are too high now, and I manage to keep my mouth shut. “Answer the commander,” H-2 snarls.

I bite my lips together and prepare for the next blow, another backhand across my face. In an instant, the face of the first girl I shot to save Marcus’s life flashes before me. I close my eyes and do my best to stand a little straighter and take the next strike as penance for her. The fist in the gut is for the boy I killed, and I crumple to the floor. The boot to my ribs is for the kids blown up when the explosives went off. I hear the first crack, more than feel it. What they’re doing to me pales in comparison to what I did. I can take this, I deserve it. But I can’t prevent the small whimpers from escaping with each kick until the merciful darkness comes to take me again.


The complete series:

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Book One, The Union, is only 99¢ for a limited time!

 


About the Author

T.H. Hernandez is the author of young adult books. The Union, a futuristic dystopian adventure, was a finalist in the 2015 San Diego book awards in the Young Adult Fiction category.

T.H. loves pumpkin spice lattes, Game of Thrones, Comic-Con, Star Wars, Doctor Who marathons, bad lip-reading videos, and all things young adult, especially the three young adults who share her home.

When not visiting the imaginary worlds inside her head, T.H. Hernandez lives in usually sunny San Diego, California, with her husband and three children, a couple of cats, and a dog who thinks he’s a cat, affectionately referred to as “the puppycat.”

You can find T.H. online at http://thhernandez.com

Author Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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