Friday, April 18, 2014

We Have a (Sorta) Winner!!!

Alright folks. I know you're mostly here to find out who won the Terrible Writing Contest for the signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus", so I won't dillydally. I think that should be counted as my good deed for the day.

Thank you to everyone who entered! It was a tough decision. Every entry was truly awful in totally rad ways.

After much deliberation I winnowed down my choices to D.L. Mackenzie's whopper of a sentence:

"A grey pall of boredom--not the ordinary boredom one might experience while listening to another of Uncle Chet's long-winded tales of his glory days in the San Jose Police motor pool maintenance crew, but a rather more sudden and intense lack of stimulation, like a kind of waking narcolepsy--failed to fall over the room (as might have been anticipated under the circumstances), for Jolly Jim Fitch had arrived quite unexpectedly (after having maintained emphatically for days--as he often did--that he would not do so), bearing liquor and ribald anecdotes, a welcome departure from the proceedings thus far, but one which would ultimately prove as disappointingly dull as the surface of a piece of unfinished furniture left in the driveway of an abandoned tenement for a couple of months during a rainy spell even wetter than the rainy spells to which we were now so accustomed since the atomic bomb blast which had leveled our city, altering the weather, not to mention apparently touching off the zombie apocalypse Uncle Chet had so often warned us about."


Congratulations D.L. on devising a sentence/paragraph that makes sense in an almost nonsensical way!

I did also want to also share a couple of Honorable(?) Mentions.

Brian Patrick McKinley:

"The night was moist."

Patrick Casey:

 "Hail!" shouted Nathan Hale over the wail of pale hail that hailed down around him, nailing him in the cranium."

Again, thank you to everyone who entered my little contest! If you didn't win this time around, don't worry, another contest will happen soon, I promise.

If you wish to follow my movements more closely without the use of binoculars, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn), or Goodreads!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some Delightful Banter

Hello Ladies, Gentlemen and any fish that have a clear view of a computer screen from their bowl. I hope everyone's week was splendid.

Mine was... interesting? There are only so many times in one's life that one gets mistaken for a patron saint. I think it's even rarer to be mistaken for Saint Sebastian (pictured to the right) when one is both alive and female.

Apparently being on mass amounts of meth, and who knows what else, can influence a person to believe that a female standing just over five feet tall could in fact be the patron saint of archers. Who knew?

Also, can I point out the ironic sense of humor the Catholic Church must have had in naming the unfortunate fellow to the right the patron saint of archers? I'm not sure that if I were an archer I would necessarily feel very protected just looking at the paintings of Saint Sebastian.

A quick reminder: The contest to win a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" ends this Sunday. All you have to do to enter is write the most terrible opening line to a story that you can think of and post it either on the contest post my Facebook page or in the comments section on the post you will get if you follow this link: Enter

Today on Normally Surreal we are joined by author Chris Westlake who wrote, "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..."

What do you do when your well-established life falls apart? In "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." author Chris Westlake explores this question with his main character Nick. Nick has a pretty awesome life, a pretty girlfriend, a good job a group of friends, but over the course of a couple of days he finds his situation almost completely reversed.

As Westlake unfolds the story of a young man returning to his native Wales and family, readers are immersed in the story as Nick tries to discover himself, while solving several little mysteries along the way. The author does an good job inserting the reader into the head of the main character as Nick tries to pull his life back together.

Funny, sad, interesting and introspective, readers will certainly find something to love in "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..."

Here to talk about his work himself is author Chris Westlake!

1. How would you describe "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." to curious minds?

Hi Allison, thanks for inviting me here!
 
"Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." tells the story if Nick, a twenty-something from Wales who is living the high-life in the city. The readers probably won't like him too much at first. The guy is all image - you know the type - good job, plenty of cash and a trophy girlfriend on his arm. Right from the very first chapter, though, he is on a downward spiral. He catches his girlfriend in an uncompromising position with his best mate, he loses his job after unintentionally sending him an email telling him to shove things were 'the sun don't shine' and before we know it, he is catching the London Paddington to Bridgend with his tail between his legs.

This is where the reader - hopefully - starts to realise that Nick isn't such a bad guy after all. Scrape away at the artificial coating and a sensitive guy just trying to make sense of the world is hidden underneath.

There are a number of overlapping storylines all competing for attention - what secrets is best friend Den hiding? Why have Mum and Nan not spoken to each other for as long as Nick can remember? And where has school friend Sam disappeared to?
The general tone is light-hearted and there are plenty of laughs, but the book does explore a number of more serious issues - the impact of family feud, missing people and dementia.

2. What inspired you to write this book?

Well, I felt the time was right to write a full length novel. I'd spent a few years concentrating on writing short stories and I had won some competitions. It had always been my intention to move on a novel.

Why this book in particular, though? Well, as it was my first book, I wanted to be realistic. I didn't want to write War and Peace. I wanted to get the basics right - involving characters, a good storyline; a book that was enjoyable and entertaining. And I think "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." achieves that goal pretty well.

3. Your characters seem very real, how much of this book was based off of actual events or people you know?

I'd say the characters are a mix of personality traits from hundreds of different people I've met in my life. But the traits are put in a blender and the people who come out are very different.

4. How much of this book is autobiographical?

Well, in a backwards kind of way, quite a bit. Just like Nick, I moved from rural Wales to London when I was in my early twenties and I guess I was pretty superficial, too. It definitely felt like I was doing well, leaving home and moving to the big city. I've never moved back to Wales, though. I know live in Birmingham, another big city, but a city that is still dwarfed by London. My nan and gramps had dementia, and so that storyline has a personal element. 

On the other hand, I've never had a missing friend, my mum and nan have always been close and my own dad has always been one of my heroes.

5. If you had to choose one of your characters to compete in a three-legged race with, who would you choose and why?

Oh my days, that is an interesting question!

Probably Nick's mother. She has amazing determination; she would do absolutely everything possible to get to the line first. If she is able to stop talking for a minute, of course. Three-legged races are more about co-ordination and team-work than physical ability, and she is a practical, rational thinking woman. We would have it in the bag!

6. If you wanted readers to walk away with one giant takeaway lesson from your book, what would that lesson be?

These questions are getting harder, Allison? :) I think that is quite tough because I made a conscious effort not to send a message. The story is more an observation of life rather than an interpretation of it. I'd quite like readers to reach all different conclusions from reading the book. It is all about prompting them to think for themselves. But then, sub-consciously, I have probably not been completely objective! I suspect some readers may think I'd like them to reconsider what is important in life, that friends and family are much more important than material things. But honestly - hand on heart - that wasn't my intention.

Their Flag Has a Dragon... Points for Wales
7. You are a Welsh author. For those on this side of the pond, what would you most want Americans to know about the Welsh culture?

Welsh culture is very close-knit and unashamedly patriotic. I think this is partly because of the size of the country. We are surrounded by our larger neighbour, England, in every direction. We absolutely love beating England at rugby, which to be fair, happens a fair bit nowadays. Traditionally a focal point of Welsh life has been the pub. There are two main cities in Wales - Cardiff (the capital) and Swansea. A considerable part of the country is rural, with small communities. I think generally we like the rest of the world to know that there is more to the UK than London and no, Wales is not in England! But from my experience, Americans already have more knowledge about Wales than other countries do.

8. How did you get started in writing and what other works have you written?

I always knew that I would write, it was a matter of time. I wrote stories as a kid but then school, University and work all got in the way. And then I decided it was definitely time to pull my finger out. In 2010 I enrolled on an online writers course. My tutor said that I was a very good writer and that was a massive boost. I wrote some letters to magazines and some got published and I earned some extra pocket-money. I started writing short stories and got some published and I won some competitions.

My stories have been published in Fight or Flight, The Heatwave of 76, The Road Home, which can be found at Stringybark Stories. For readers who are not feint-hearted, Sex in Sin City can be found in the xcite anthology Dark Pleasures.

9. Where can interested readers find your book?

To be honest the best place is my website, www.chriswestlake.co.uk (yes, I know, very original). It has  details of everything that I have had published and links to where they can be bought. Oh, and feel free to check out the blog!

10. If you had to choose between defending yourself, using only a butter knife, against a fully-grown angry gorilla or be forced to listen to operas played in reverse for 24 hours, which would you choose?

Oh, that's usually the first question I get asked! Joke.
It has to be the opera option. The gorilla option is a lose-lose. Either I end up hurting a gorilla, which I wouldn't want, or I get my butt handed to by a gorilla, which I wouldn't want, either. And my money is on the gorilla. With the opera, it is just 24 hours of pain and then I can get on with life. Unless of course the music keeps playing in my head....

If you want to know more about Chris Westlake check out his website or his Twitter!



As always, you can find me lurking on Twitter (@AllisonHawn), Facebook and Goodreads!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Discovering a Lost World

Hello all, I hope your weeks have been more splendid than the thought of a thousand koalas synchronized swimming to the tune of Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare."


I just wanted to add a quick reminder that the terrible writing contest to win a free signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" will be going on until Sunday, April 13th!

I've already gotten some pretty awesomely awful entries. All you have to do is write the most terrible first line or two that you can come up with to a story and post your entry either on my Facebook Page or in the comments section on this page: Enter the Contest Here!

So come on, show me how horrendously you can write!

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing author Andy Peloquin about his first novel "In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent!"

Andy Peloquin's "In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent" is certainly a fast-paced adventure. The story never seems to pause as the reader is thrown head-first into a great mixture of political intrigue and action.

The subject matter of Atlantis is interesting on its own, and the envisioning of the fabled land by Peloquin is fascinating. Peloquin also does an excellent job creating characters that actually read like real people that readers can really get behind. Mixing excellent dialogue with suiting inner-struggle, readers will find themselves gripped by the story.

A great plot, splendid characters and a fantastical ancient civilization to boot. An excellent first work by Andy Peloquin!


Let's find out what's going on in the depths of Andy Peloquin's mind.
 
1. What made you want to start writing?
It was actually thanks to an English/science professor of mine when I was still in elementary school. He was so passionate about all things science and literature that I couldn't help but find joy in it as well. He had me writing poetry by the age of 11, and I wrote my first short story by age 12. It was total garbage, but I guess it set the stage for what has been a good decade and a half of writing. I'm now a professional freelance writer, a graphic novelist (coming soon!), and now an author.

2. Why did you choose Atlantis as the setting for your book?
The mystery of it. For me, the idea of a world no one knows about is hugely intriguing. I could do pretty much anything I wanted with the story, and it worked simply because there is no written records of Atlantean civilization. Sword and sorcery (Conan-style) is one of my favorite  genres, and this seemed like the perfect setting for a book.
3. How on earth did you come up with your character's names?

To be honest, the names sort of popped into my head. I knew I wanted a Historian and an Empress, and the rest kind of just fell into place. I use name generators, but rarely stick with the names that are generated. I use the generated names to give me ideas for the names ultimately used.
4. Who is your favorite character from the book and why?
I'd have to say Daltos the Creator is my favorite. I wrote him while high on two large mugs of espresso, and I had so much fun creating him!
5. If you could choose a character from your book to play a game of one-on-one basketball with who would you choose?
I'd say Traga, as he's very short, but I know he'd cheat. Probably Deucalion, the main character.
6. What was the most difficult part of the writing process?

The editing. It's always hard to see your work sliced up by an editor, but thankfully there weren't too many edits to make. It just took more time to do, and it was far more real WORK than the writing. For me, writing is a release of tension, and a great way to relax.

7. I kind of had a soundtrack playing in my head while reading your book. Was there any particular music you were listening to when you wrote it?
I have a playlist on YouTube called Comic Book Songs, which I used when writing comic book scripts or my novel. It's a lot of dubstep, techno, and some oddly unique songs like Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Sail by AWOLNation.
8. If you had to choose between having to face off in a fencing match with Patrick Swayze or learn how to Cha-Cha with Richard Simmons which would you choose?

Fencing match! I've always wanted to study fencing and swordplay, and taking martial arts lessons over the last year has piqued my interest even more!

Thank you Andy for being willing to answer whatever popped into my tiny little mind to ask you!

If you are interested in reading Andy's book you can find it on Amazon and you can find out more about the author on his website

As always, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn), or Goodreads!

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Very Merry Unbirthday Contest

Hello everyone! I hope you have all had splendidly awesome weeks!

This week Normally Surreal turns one year old! You know what that means?


As a way to say thank you to all of my followers, commentators and people who ended up here by mistake, I have decided to run a little contest.

It is true that it is difficult to write well, but it can be just has hard to write terribly. That is why there are contests, such as the famed Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, to find people who can skillfully craft a terrible work of fiction.

For instance the 2011 winner of the Bulwer-Lytton won with this entry:

"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories." — Sue Fondrie, Oshkosh, WI

Human/Velociraptor Not Included
The rules of this contest are simple, write one terrible opening line to a story and post it in the comments below or on the contest announcement pinned to the top of my Facebook page. Two weeks from now, I will pick a winner to receive a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus!"

So show me your creative writing side, and don't worry if it's bad, that's the point!

Thanks again to everyone who has followed me through the bizarre journey that is my life for the past year! You guys are more fantastic than the thought of a thousand wombats playing "Carry on My Wayward Son" on harmonicas!

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Bit of January in March

Hello all who venture here! I hope everyone had an absolutely top shelf week!

It has been a fascinating bit of time on my end. It was a week full of adventure, intrigue and a woman who tried to hide a chihuahua in her bra.


I never thought I'd hear someone utter the phrase, "No ma'am, we know you've got a chihuahua in your bra because it's staring at me and it just barked."

What can I say? Some girls just have all the fun.

I am extremely excited, however, because the guest for this week's blog post is first-time author Gail Chumbley!

Now, for those who have read "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" the name Gail Chumbley might seem rather familiar. That is because Gail Chumbley was my 10th grade history teacher, and it was in her class that I unceremoniously passed out due to a Benadryl mishap. (I'm sorry Mrs. Chumbley, I didn't take Benadryl for four years after that.) If you want the full story, I'm afraid you will have to read my book.

Aside from being a respected and well-loved teacher and absolute history buff, Gail has also written a book due to be released next month titled "River of January." Gail was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule and answer a few questions for inquiring minds on her new work (and she didn't give my questions a failing grade!).

And a spiffy cover, I might add.
1. What motivated you to start writing?  

The short answer would be, I didn't have a choice. The story of Helen and Chum, the protagonists in the work were fighting to burst out.

2. How would you describe River of January?  


The book is a work of creative non-fiction.  The characters are actual, lived their lives fully for nearly the entire stretch of the twentieth century.

3. This is your first published work of fiction, are you excited?   


Well, actually the book is non-fiction.  Creative non-fiction is such a new area of writing it is easy to assume fiction.


4. What was the inspiration behind the title of your book?  

My protagonists, though both Americans, met and fell in love in Rio de Janeiro.  The name is Portuguese for River of January.


5. What was your favorite part of the writing process?  
 
Great question.  Writing is such hard work that I'm not sure I've enjoyed myself until after the session is over.  I would think crafting words into something beautiful was gratifying.


6. You taught high school for decades (and were excellent at it, I might add), what was your favorite part about teaching? 

You, and the rest of the kids.

7. What advice would you give teachers just starting out in the profession?  


Become acquainted with students as more than desk dwellers. Maintain high learning standards, know your material, and be prepared to work hard.  Oh, and laugh a lot.

8. If you could play a game of checkers with any American president, which president would you choose?  

Lincoln, of course.  He would tell his famous stories and we'd have a good laugh.

9. When will your book be out and where can interested readers find a copy?  


The book should be available by April 1.  No joke.  The website, still under construction can be found at www.river-of-january.com 

I'll forward speaking dates on my Facebook page.  Keep your eyes open.

Don't forget to follow Gail Chumbley on Twitter!

  
This week "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" received yet another 5-star review! Andy Peloquin writes, "It's an absolutely hilarious read, and worth every penny." See the full review here.

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

Welcome one and all to yet another week spent in this circus we call life! I hope your weeks were all more like that of the ringmaster and less like that of the lion tamer!

Part of being an author is that I often have people send me their own books, manuscripts or ideas. I love it! I get to read a plethora works in so many different genres. However, there have been several that have been sent to me that I have had to send back and honestly say, "This could use a little more (or a dump truck load's worth) work."

I've now had a couple of different writers ask that I put together a list of overarching writing tips for those wanting to produce good material. So here you are, your very own list of how to be a better writer.

Excitement! Excitement! Excitement! Nothing.
1. The climax should not be the end of your book.

Yes, I realize that there is such a thing as a cliffhanger ending. However, if you read a book series that does cliffhanger endings you will notice that the end of the book has at least some sort of wind-down.

To have a book that is moving along and then suddenly jerks to a halt oftentimes leaves your readers feeling like a dog that decided to run off without realizing the length of its own leash.

2. Plese spell chalk,, and make sure your grammer is gooder! 

Was that sentence hard to read? You may laugh, but I cannot count the number of times I have received a "final manuscript," or even a book (oftentimes self-published), that I could barely make it through the first page due to all the errors.

I would also like to point out that just running the in-program spell-check is only good to a point. A fellow writer friend, Charissa Dufour, loves to talk about the danger of Commonly Confused Words (CCW's). Your spell-check program really cannot tell which witch is which, that's your responsibility.

You are not being sneaky stealing plot devices!
3. Do not steal major plot devices (or entire plots) from already published bestselling works.

Huh, you have an Australian wizard named "Barry Totter" who goes to a magical boarding school where he will inevitably face off against an evil, undead, wizard named "Voltebart."

No, I'm sure no one will ever try to compare your story to the most famous fictional wizard since Gandalf or Merlin. As long as your readers have literally been living in a shack in the middle of the woods somewhere for the last decade and a half, then I'm sure they will find your material new and exciting.

4. Dialogue should sound like actual people talking. 
 
It's the only explanation.

Have you ever watched one of those commercials where there are two women talking about dish-detergent like it is their life's greatest accomplishment that they found a brand that doesn't leave residue on their dishes? Do you wonder whether they had a frontal lobotomy or are just from a different planet as they gush about soap? I do.

Read your dialogue out loud to yourself. If it sounds like a scene from a 1980's action movie or a 1950's sitcom, rewrite it. If your characters sound stilted and stagey then no one will buy into your story, no matter how amazing your dish-detergent is.

5. Readers should be able to tell your characters apart.

No one was sad when they blew up.
In the same vein as making your dialogue sound like actual people, remember that no two people are exactly alike.  Readers need to believe that your characters could be real people with emotions, unique backgrounds and their own life experience.

If they all read like they could be part of the Borg, thinking alike, acting alike, all going for the same goal for the same reasons, then readers won't care when they die in a fiery explosion. Make your readers give a crap about your characters, don't make them all linguistic clones.

6. Do not marry yourself to your first draft.

Part of being a writer is having the humility to know that you're not going to get it right the first, second or maybe even the thirtieth time.  I do not care how brilliant you think a manuscript, chapter or line is at the time you write it. I have written tons of things that when I first penned them I thought, "I am going to be the next Tina Fey!" only to later read it and go, "Okay, so actually I'm more like Elmer Fudd."

Always be willing to edit, rewrite, get a second opinion or even scrap something.

7. Covers should not be designed using Clip-Art.

DO NOT USE THIS STUFF
 I really have nothing against people who decide to self-publish books. However, if you are going to self-publish a book, remember that your cover should not look like a Powerpoint slide that I made when I was fourth grade.

I know I am not a talented designer or an artist, which is why I will never attempt to design a book cover for myself. I cannot count the number of covers that I have seen (that I will not post here because I'm not that mean) that look like a terrible Word-Art and Photoshop mash-up. If your cover is unprofessional and could be replicated by a four year old with access to Paint, no one is going to take your book seriously, so just stop.

I'm sure that there are tons of other things I could talk about, but that's all she wrote for now. There will probably be a part two at some juncture.

If you have any writing questions or your own writing tips, please feel free to post them in the comments below!
 
I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the Amazon reader of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" who posted this five-star review:

"Miss Hawn's book is one of the best works I've ever had the privilege of reading. It is truly a testament to one of the most interesting people I've met and what life looks like through her eyes. I've recommended this book to some English teachers I know as it is engaging and written in a way that makes it difficult to put down or to smother one's laughter."

As always, feel free to find me on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bad Kitty

Hello all! I hope you are all having a fabulous week!

My boss and coworkers left our entire department in the hands of myself and one other person this week. The good news is that we managed to not burn down the building. The bad news is we may have a new spot on the carpet that may never come out (we might just put a couch over it... in the middle of the hallway).

Because it's Spokane, not Spocan't!
During the chaos of this past week, however, I got the awesome opportunity to be on Spokast! Blake, Russell and I talked about dinosaurs, football, homelessness, PEZ Dispensers and of course "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus!" It was downright magical. If you want to hear it for yourself just click here.

Speaking of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus," the book received another five star review on Amazon this week, "I learned quickly not to read this book in a quiet area. I laughed so much, and as I held it in, I started shaking and tearing up. I ended up leaving the office, where I was waiting for my son's test to be over. I hope Allison Hawn writes another book!"

Thank you! I love reading reviews like these, they make my little writer's heart do cartwheels, which is impressive since the rest of me can't do a cartwheel to save my soul.

This week I would like to introduce my readers to my two roommates. They tend to be a bit reclusive, are very concerned with their appearance and poop in a box. That's right, I have cats. Meet Voodoo (the black one) and Santeria (the every color one).

For the most part we cohabitate pretty peacefully. Voodoo spends most of her time being immobile, oftentimes to the point where I have to check to make sure she is still breathing. Santeria vacillates between peacefully staring out of the windows to running from room to room for no apparent reason and meowing at blank walls.

Lately, however, I've noticed that my fuzzy little companions have picked up some less than savory habits.

I have tried talking to them about it, but as of yet, I have not noticed any change in their behavior. They seem to hear me, but do not care.

It is out of desperation that I have instead decided to publicize their offenses in the hopes that this will get their attention and maybe they will stop their negative behaviors:






Now that their crimes have been brought to light, maybe we will see a change in their behavior... Who am I kidding? They're cats, they do what they want.

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!