Book Two of the ‘Jade & Sage Thriller Series’ by Joanna Vander Vlugt
Oscar, a man in his 70s who needs dialysis three times a week, is bargaining with Edith, longtime friend and retired nurse, who is about to give him a lethal dose of fentanyl. He had a long, rich life, and waiting for a transplant will only prolong his misery.
It’s better in this way, he convinces Edith.
She accepts, she has to, but she can’t stop feeling guilty.
The scene moves to Jade, a lawyer who successfully defended her ex-husband from a murder charge (in Book One, available here), only to find him brutally murdered six months before the beginning of our story. She is now struggling with bad dreams, her Vicodin addiction, her mental health and a counsellor that stopped her therapy sessions to get a better job, on the verge of her recovery. She lives with her new boyfriend, Osmond, an undercover policeman waiting for a new assignment. When he finally receives it, it’ not good news: he has to leave soon for Montreal, where the new assignment will take the best part of a year, if not longer. There isn’t much Jade can do, if not breaking up with him on the spot, ride her motorbike, and drive to her office, where she will bury herself in her job.
Sage, Jade’s sister, texts her she is coming over with a box of their deceased mother’s art, who was a painter in her 20s, but, for reasons unknown to the two sisters, stopped abruptly. Her work is still notable, and Sage insists that Jade should have a memento of their mother too.
In a flashback, the one of several happening during the narration, we discover that Edith and Genie were best friends at university and Genie knew Oscar too. Their connection was so strong that Edith was jealous of her.
Back to the present, Jade receives a phone call from Sergeant Stone. Charles, her father, is dead: cocaine overdose. It’s a double shock for the sisters. It’s already tragic enough to lose a parent, but losing him in such usual circumstances, is even more devastating. Since when did their father make use of drugs? Once the police are done at his place, the two sisters are allowed inside, and they are asked to point out anything missing or misplaced. They find pictures of Valentina Vane, another lawyer, who more than once rivalled Jade in court. They had no idea she was Charles’s lady friend.
Before his death, Charles was looking up newspaper articles from the 90s about unsolved murder cases that authorities believed to be drug-related. He also had articles about Oscar. Did he know him? The girls also notice that his cell phone and laptop are nowhere to be found, only the chargers, and, in the bin, there are pictures of Valentina and Charles. Was there trouble in paradise?
The police leave the scene and the girls remain to have another look. They have to break the news to Dr Vlasic, the kind, retired neighbour. It turns out that he has the laptop, he explains Charles gave it to him and that he was going to pick it up the day following the night he died. He also reports that Valentina and Charles had broken up, and the night before she’d showed up with two men to collect her stuff, but nothing had actually been removed.
In another flashback we see Jade as a child, visiting Oscar with her mom. Not long after Adam Malone arrives; he’s Archie’s son, Oscar’s best friend, his number two and a drug dealer too, a detail about Oscar that was already lingering in the air but that is finally out in the open.
The two kids are playing in Oscar’s garden, when a man kidnaps Jade. All the adults come out of the house and Genie shouts to Oscar ‘Go get our girl’. He does, Jade is safe, but that’s the last time Adam sees her. He finds her again 25 years later thanks to social media. We find him in his house with Oscar’s two bodyguards. Oscar has just passed away and Adam has a delivery for Jade. In the envelope he gives her, there are five thumbnails and two keys. Jade doesn’t even have the time to put the pieces together when another phone call disrupts her life: Charles’s old house, the one now belonging to her and her sister, is on fire. Not long after this event, Valentina sets up a meeting with Jade. A series of coincidences? Jade doesn’t believe in coincidences.
While listening to the recordings that Oscar left her on the thumbnails Adam delivered, Jade finds out that yes, Oscar and Genie had an intense and passionate love story, but that’s not the only thing unravelling from the recordings Jade listens to in this action-packed thriller, told with a superb narrative voice.
The story is fast, but never leaves the reader behind, wondering who is who and what just happened. Every event is clearly detailed and skilfully intertwined with the others, the use of flashbacks is fantastic, it gives Vander Vlugt the possibility to tell entire chunks of the story avoiding long, expositional paragraphs while continuously pushing the narration forward, feeding the reader new information, but never enough to have a clear look at the bigger picture. The main characters, Jade and her sister Sage, are fresh, vibrant, realistic and very relatable. The touch of supernatural that Vander Vlugt adds from the middle onwards is simply genius – Jade is capable of seeing and communicating with her defunct mother, who has a big favour to ask her. But will Jade accommodate her quest?
Written by Molly Fernandes and illustrated by botanical artist Marlene Lozano, ‘Owen’s Afternoon Tea‘ captures the mysticism of bird science and celebrates science and the written word.
WHAT’S YOUR BOOK ABOUT?
‘Owen’s Afternoon Tea’ is a rhyming picture book with enormous appeal. Owen is an ornithologist on his ultimate quest to discover the largest of the eagles- the Harpy Eagle. His misadventure takes him on a journey to the most remote habitats where he observes a wide array of beautiful birds. Written by Molly Fernandes and illustrated by Botanical artist Marlene Lozano, this story captures the mysticism of bird science and celebrates science and the written word.
WHAT ARE YOU BOOK USP?
Combining rhyme and beautiful illustrations, Owen’s Afternoon Tea is captivating audiences young and old. Featuring the most majestic birds in their natural habitats, the story is a whimsical one that combines humour with science.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOURSELF?
Molly Fernandes is part nomad, part immigrant and part Western Australian. She grew up in 1970s Perth, after spending the first two years of her life in war torn Beirut. The daughter of parents that drifted, she gathered stories as she grew. These tales began to unfold on the shorelines of Cosy Corner and Emu Point where she spent her summers as a young girl. She gained a deep respect and appreciation for the power of the written word from a young age, as she visited many remote places and began exploring story writing. Spending time in the Kimberley, Southwestern Australia, the most isolated city in the world, and traveling the globe has given her a unique fascination with people and places, resilience, challenge and struggle. She began her apprenticeship reading Enid Blyton, Kenneth Grahame and Ernest Hemingway. Her passion for writing and art inspired her to become a primary school teacher. She has published two books; Owen’s Afternoon Tea and The Call of the Boodier.
Book Three of the ‘Phineas Mann Series’ by Mark Anthony Powers
It is our pleasure to introduce you to one of our favourite self-published authors and his latest literary endeavour. Mark drew from his own 40-years’ career in medicine to create his successful, beautifully written medical thriller The Phineas Mann series (three books in the series so far).
It’s 2024, a good few years after the terrible hurricane that hit New Orleans and the life of a young Phineas Mann. He’s now a mature man, with his wife Iris still by his side, their two kids now grown up and with families of their own.It would only be right for him to retire and spend the rest of his life the way he wants, but it’s not time yet. We soon find out that he’s working on a research project: phase three trial of a new, promising asthma drug is about to start very soon.
But life is unpredictable and full of irony, and when the FBI knocks at your door, that’s a call you need to answer. Special Agents Meyers and Richter (a caricature of the more famous MIB agents) ring Phineas and Iris’s bell and, despite the initial confusion of the couple, they let them in. After a creepy and quite nonsensical string of questions – about their jobs, their children, their citizenship, where their incomes come from – the two Special Agents leave the Manns house, not before asking Phineas if he’s ready to serve his country.
In the meanwhile, Marie Porter, the daughter of Angela Porter (a nurse who poisoned several patients in Book Two and almost got Phineas convicted for the murders), is back in Durham after 26 years. Her early years weren’t carefree and full of joy, all the contrary: Marie and her mother moved frequently from town to town, school to school, group of friends to group of friends, while her mother took private nursing positions. Sometimes they had enough to rent a small flat, other times they lived in with the patient, crammed in one room, but all her mother’s patients were frail enough to die not long after she took the job, and the whole moving shenanigans started again. Her best time was in Chinook, Montana, where they lived for three years. At that point, when Angela moved to a new city, Marie moved to college. She graduated at the medical school of the University of Washington and after her beginning as an internist and the challenging years of Covid, she landed a 9 to 5 job in the pharmaceutical industry. She is actually supervising phase three of a trial of a new, promising asthma drug (what are the chances?!).
The reason why the FBI came to visit Phineas and his wife to ask for his cooperation will become clear later in the story, when the US President will develop a severe case of “alpha gal syndrome”, a medical condition meaning that the patient is allergic to mammalian meat: if ingested, the patient will develop a bad urticaria. The reason of the disease is to be found in a particular species of tick that is moving North on the planet due to global warming, provoking life-threatening allergic reactions.
Even if the America of the book is set in the future and the President (or POTUS as he is known) is an imaginary, unnamed figure, he is still very recognisable and gives a very hard time to all those not aligned with his extreme Right agenda, making Phineas life (he’s a Democratic through and through) very difficult.
There are many references to voters’ rights, the environment and the infamous public/private healthcare system. Once again, Powers makes use of his outstanding medical skills, explained to the non-medical reader with simple and clear words. A situation that seems worrying but controllable turns into a life-or-death deadlock, keeping readers on their toes until the last pages, when Phineas is faced with a very difficult decision.
In our opinion, the book offers food for thought around today’s political and environmental problems and anxieties. We did appreciate the “twist” brought about by Marie, Angela’s daughter, even if, at times, we found that the themes portrayed were probably described in too much detail, with the narration almost shifting to non-fiction.
All in all, however, the book was a great, enjoyable read – as it is always the case with Mark’s books. We love in fact the crafty way Powers has to imbue his characters of notions and teaching moments, still keeping them what they are, i.e. book characters. The appropriate conclusion to such an emotional and action-driven rollercoaster trilogy.
Having interviewed Mark in the past (read more here), we cannot wait to find out what he’s going to write about next: is the protagonist going to be a doctor?! Or perhaps a new subject entirely… ‘write about what you know’ is a formula that does not work for everybody after all. Well, it is highly likely his next book will keep us glued to the page regardless, just like this one.
Fiction and real life intertwine in this conversation with author Chrissy Smith, as she tells us more about her book ‘The Pilgrims Rest’
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with St Albans, in Hertfordshire. For those who aren’t, though, here’s a few facts: the city is in the commuter belt of London, prices are slightly cheaper than the capital and it’s well connected, making living there a good compromise. But at the very beginning of its existence, St Albans was Verulamium, a Roman city, the second largest after Londinium. Once the Roman empire fell and consequently disintegrated, the city became part of the Anglo-Saxon reign and its name derives from St Albans Abbey, which is believed to be the resting place of Saint Alban.
There are many layers to the city – Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Tudors, Victorian – but what interests us are the more recent years, the ones right after the end of WWII because this is where our story begins.
Have you ever wondered whether Holywell Hill is really haunted? There have been quite a few sightings during the years. And do any of you happen to remember a popular restaurant called The Pilgrims Rest at number 1 Holywell Hill? No? So let me tell you a bit more about it.
The Pilgrims Rest was run by my family from the 1950s to the 1970s and I lived above the restaurant for most of my young life. I have to say it was quite an unusual upbringing. My grandparents, Reg and Win Hayes, former publicans, bought The Pilgrims Rest and worked there with my parents, Derrick and Julie, and also my aunt and uncle, Reggie and Sheila. They worked every day, there was no such thing as the weekend off, and our living quarters were upstairs on the first and second floor. There were twelve of us, but we were sharing two whole floors, so it was quite spacious. There were three bedrooms on the top, almost in the rafters, where my parents slept, and for a short while my uncle, aunt and their children lived on that floor as well but they moved out sooner than us. So I took one of the bedrooms with one of my sisters while my parents slept in another with my younger brother and my other sister. And then there was Alf, a strange lodger of sorts, who slept in the third bedroom opposite the spooky attic. He was an elusive character and I would define him a strange anomaly. I never really knew who he was or why he was there. I knew he was not a member of our family, but he seemed to do odd jobs for my nana, sweeping, shopping or the occasional repair. He didn’t say much and used to shuffle around the place with his head bowed low. I only found out many years later, when I was writing the book, that he had been taken in by my grandmother when they’d lived in Dartford after having been in some kind of institution there for many years and she’d given him a home.
At the far end of the first floor there was a large room which we called the ‘Big Room’, the photo shows me standing next to the old fireplace on our last day there; it was a huge sitting room with a twin-bedded room adjacent to it, accessible via huge double doors hidden behind heavy brocade curtains. Along the corridor there was a long row of rooms that we called ‘the flat’ and at the far end was a bathroom with a large flap door which could be lifted; beneath it were wooden steps leading down to the scullery.
When all the customers had gone home and the place was quiet, I would explore the 16thcentury building now hosting our restaurant, which had many secret nooks and crannies, a spooky attic on the top floor and an old cellar underground where I discovered the blocked off tunnel, believed to link to the city’s Norman cathedral. Apparently, monks used it centuries before to make and store their wine for the liturgy. There was a lot of talk and rumours amongst staff of ghostly apparitions.
Stories surrounding the tunnel were the trigger for my imagination.
I started the book about nine years ago when my mother and I went back to visit Number 1 Holywell Hill which had been bought by Wesley Barrell, a furniture showroom, and I started doing my research there and then, asking if there had been any more ghostly sightings by the staff, which there had! There have been many ghostly apparitions reported in the area in the past.
My novel is based on reality and is a memoir and homage to those who lived and worked at The Pilgrims Rest. Fictitious events have been intermingled with religious and historical truths and legends relating to the town of St Albans which have been passed down through the ages.
I have so many happy memories of the restaurant, most of which I have tried to include in the book. But one of my favourites is my grandad sitting at the large kitchen table, handing out money from the till’s takings to all the Saturday staff, including me. We all had to wait our turn, queuing up before him, while he sat at the head of the table like a magnanimous benefactor. I felt as though I ought to curtsey before him when I reached the front of the queue to receive my hard-earned wages of £3.00 for washing up on a Saturday afternoon, always the busiest day – no dishwashers then!
The book itself is a family affair through and through: my husband David was the first to read the final draft and helped to lay out the artwork for the cover with illustrations by our daughter Hayley, while Andrew and Daniel, our sons, showed their support all along.
St Albans is an amazing city, and I was truly blessed to have been brought up there. The Abbey was a very special place and I would often pop in to enjoy its ambience if I was bored or perhaps if it was quiet at the restaurant. I would often take my younger brother and sisters out on a jaunt down to the lake at Verulamium to keep them out of the way of the busy kitchen. One of those jaunts features in my book when the lake was frozen and my sister fell through the ice, but in the book Alf suddenly appears to save the day. Shame he wasn’t there when it really happened!
The town itself was always bustling with many visitors who’d come to see the Abbey and Roman ruins at Verulamium and also to visit the ancient pubs, shops and the busy market which consisted of stalls running all the way from the Market Place, past the Town Hall and all along St Peter’s Street, and also have a peek at the secret alleyways along Chequer Street that I always loved dearly.
I have many photos of the family at the restaurant, some are very old, taken on our last day at the restaurant and others show the place as it is today, taken over by a bookshop called Books on the Hill.
The latest novel by Mack Little – shortlisted for the Hawthorne Prize 2022
There’s a time, a place and a girl: May 19th, 1649, St Dismas Plantation, Barbados. Geraldine Dinny, a very young slave has to defend herself from her master’s advances, she runs away and now she fears for the worst.
Getting away from her master’s – hence her own – house, she faces a fork in the road: one leads to ma and pa and the comfort of her family, the other to a ship ready to set sail. She opts for the ship. Suddenly, while she is fleeing, a pair of hands grab her in the dark. Her fears are soon dissipated when she hears her twin brother Jimmie’s voice, commanding the stranger to release her and introduces him as Leixiang, Lei, a friend who will help them.
Cockpits, Jamaica, same day.
Ami – Dinny and Jimmie’s cousin – lies awake in her bed, incapable of falling asleep. She can feel change coming soon. She knows Dinny is on her way there, her brother and grandfather are on the way to the port to pick her up. She is not worried about her cousin, though, there is something else nagging her. She finally falls asleep and she sees the ghost of a white woman standing in the doorframe of her room.
‘Beyond the stony shores and the roiling seas lies his destiny. His providence is greatness. Despair will be his destruction and the death of his soul’. This is what the woman says to her.
She is talking about a boy that Ami sees in this dream that is not really a dream. It’s a domestic scene: the woman is pottering around in her kitchen, a man and two boys sit around the table, eating. The person the woman is referring to is Pascal, Pax, her son. The man, Jean-Pierre, is the lady’s husband, and him, Pax and Ivan, Pax’s brother, are having a theological discussion, when they hear a loud bang on the door. On the other side there are two soldiers, and Jean-Pierre asks Ivan to take his brother and mother to Father Dominique. But his wife stays behind. Jean-Pierre is the brother of the Duke Renault Durfort, a member of the king’s council. He too could have status and prestige, if it wasn’t for his heretic religious views. The two soldiers are there to ruffle his feathers, but Jean-Pierre knows better and does not engage. When one of the two asks what they are having for dinner and he’s presented with a simple stew, he demands to have some meat in it, and Jean-Pierre obliges. While Jean-Pierre is out to buy meat as requested, one of the soldiers slaps Marie-Claire so hard that she falls, hits her head and dies. At this point Ami wakes up screaming.
Meanwhile, in France, Ivan and Pax go back home to find their mother dead. Pax grabs a butcher’s knife and kills one of the soldiers. Ivan grabs his brother and they flee. They go to Philippe, Ivan’s friend, to figure out a plan to leave all together.
It turns out that Ivan and Philippe are lovers, so for them running away was already an option. Unfortunately, they are robbed but they manage to escape. On the run and with no money, their only choice is to sign a contract with a brokerage agent. In the office, beside the agent there is also a blond, fascinating man that catches Ivan’s eye and Philippe notices it. When they are back to their room they have an argument that is soothed by a roll in bed and it all seems sorted when someone knocks on the door. It’s the man from earlier. His name is Captain Ford and he bought their contact. They board on a ship that sails towards the Caribbean, finally safe, but not long after their departure Philippe falls from the riggers he was tending and dies instantly. It’s a shock for Ivan who’s not sure if it was an accident, if Captain Ford is involved or if Philippe jumped.
The two ships eventually cross each other’s path, and so do their crews, in a whirl of revelations, deaths, prisoners, chases and separations that will not end until the very last page.
‘Daughter of Hades’ tells the fascinating and often painful history of the Caribbeans through the life experience of characters that might have actually lived it. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a time when young people were forced to work as slaves and tried to escape in search of a better life. Too often, though, we tend to forget about it, and that’s why this story is still relevant today.
But ‘Daughter of Hades’ is much more than a lesson in Caribbean history and the impact slavery has on its characters. At its core, it is a fight for survival and revenge captured in its purest state, and a historical romance showing that people can find love even in the strangest of places, or the strangest of situations. There are times when the story gets lots because of the too many characters, but it’s a brilliant read that flows easily nonetheless, full of plot twists, some happy, some not so much, imaginative characters and historical accuracy. A great read if you are a fan of historical fiction.
IntroducingChrissy’s latest novel, ‘The caretaker’, a mix of real-life events and local history.
LET’S START WITH THE BLURB…
Len Shulman hates the students in his care and why wouldn’t he? So joyful and carefree, they have no idea how harsh life can be. Luke is the worst of the lot in Len’s opinion, providing a convenient conduit for Len’s loathing. Len’s own youth was lost, his mother and sister killed in front of him, his world scarred by a grim past that even in mid-seventies England he can’t seem to forget. When Luke breaks the rules by bringing his new girlfriend back to the house Len seethes with a potent anger and jealousy but also a burgeoning lust for the nubile Joanna. Len’s wife Nancy is a nag, barren and bitter, she compounds Len’s misery. But Len harbours a secret, a discovery he made during the dire days before liberation. At the far corner of the grounds, an ancient statue provides sanctuary for Len and beneath the eagle’s wings he waits for a sign to guide him. As a powder keg of emotions begins to brew will Len find redemption or will tragedy triumph, only the eagle knows?
WHAT MAKES YOUR BOOK STAND OUT?
My new novel ‘The Caretaker’ shines a light on a true-life injustice with an unlikely hero at its heart. The inspiration for the book was twofold: firstly, my husband, David, spent his student years in a strange old mansion house on the outskirts of St Albans, and secondly, I met a holocaust survivor once who visited the Parish Council office in Thaxted where I worked.
CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF?
My name is Chrissy Smith, and I live in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, UK but I have strong links to St Albans where I was born and brought up and my two novels are based in that fine city during the mid-seventies and my youth.
I am a married mother of three and recently retired as a medical secretary, just before Covid struck in fact, so my retirement has been a little strange to say the least, but I will always be thankful for the time I had to write, which I love! The ability to escape to another world, to meet people in that world every day and be involved in their growth and development is really satisfying and to be honest I am always sad to leave the characters behind when the book is finished.
My working life has been in a secretarial vein gaining qualifications at St Albans College of Further Education and I have been able to adapt the role to many different areas – publishing, government, NHS, construction, sales, marketing etc. I worked in publishing for a while as secretary to the Sales Director (Paperback Division) at Granada Publishing, in St Albans, which is long gone now, but it gave me a good grasp of how the industry works (or rather how it did then!). I also worked for a short while at Psychic News adjacent to the Arthur Findlay College in Stansted (College of Spiritualism and Psychic Science), and that experience definitely influenced me!
In this exclusive interview, author and publisher Joslin Fitzgerald tells us more about her background, her beginnings as a writer, the bumps in the road and her exciting future plans.
Who is Mary Joslin, also known as an author by the name of Joslin Fitzgerald, and how and why did she start writing?
Mary Joslin is a normal lady, who has lived an exciting, yet extreme and, at times, abnormal life! Saying that, let me tell you a bit more. At a very young age – I was only 23 – after giving birth to my first son I was abruptly transplanted from my safe life in the United States. My husband needed to find a well-paying job that would support our family, but being both so young we also wanted fun and adventure and be able to travel the world like movie stars. So, we moved overseas with our two-month-old son, landing in Saudi Arabia, in a city near the Persian Gulf. This was a very difficult and scary life-changing decision for me: I was a terrified first-time mother with a tiny baby, who did not know what she was doing. I had no idea how to raise a child on my own, hence my family would have come in handy, but my husband said that he was moving with or without me, putting me in between a rock and a hard place. Yes, I needed help, but at the same time I didn’t want to raise my son without his father, so I chose what was best at the moment and went to Saudi Arabia, deciding I was going to figure it out by myself.
I was completely horrified and overwhelmed by the condition of abandonment I was welcomed by. Other than my father, nobody in my family had ever been on an airplane. It is hard to explain it to today’s people, and harder still for them to understand, but keep in mind in the early 70’s nobody ever flew anywhere unless you were employed overseas. Or you were a music or a film idol. Or you were rich. Having the amazing and rare opportunity to be an international traveller, even though I was either rich or famous, somehow helped me easing into my decision to move. I didn’t even know where Saudi Arabia was located on the map, let alone what to expect from it! And when my husband made big promises of expensive trips, diamonds, even gold, and one-of-a-kind magical adventure, I was game. But it was a poor decision, that not only changed everything but also ruined my marriage. It was only after we landed that I found out he had been lying to me about everything, including where we would be living. We were supposed to be stationed in the American camp, but when we arrived, there was no in-camp houses available and we lived in this building that couldhave hosted up to 50 people, but only saw us. Not only there were no Americans around us, but there also were no people at all, except for this guard at the door, armed with a machine gun, that was supposed to be there to keep me safe, but that only made me feel threatened and vulnerable.
We lived in a 600 square foot apartment (55 square metres), with no electricity except for the one produced by a small generator, that was hardly enough to run a barely functioning A/C unit, no operating toilet (I had to bury our poo, pee and vomit outside in the sand) a bed, a crib, a sofa, a chair, and three coffins… Yes, I said coffins. On our arrival the company my husband worked for measured, prepared, and gave us our wooden coffins, just in case things would go south. Since I didn’t have a table, I used the two smaller ones to serve food on, and the big one as my son’s playpen. I cooked on a makeshift gas stove and oven, while my son played with rats that he called cats. I poured poison on my hands to make sure the food we ate was safe, and the bugs on it were dead. I literally watched the Clorox eat my skin that peeled off my bones as I bled.
The only car we had access to was the one my husband used to go to work. Once the driver picked him up and drove away to his office inside the American camp with proper working A/C units, I was stuck there. Not that it made any difference, since women weren’t allowed to drive anyway, or even take the bus to go to town. Women were not allowed to do anything that was not approved by their law, be them local or foreigner: I, too, had to wear a black abaya and niqab every day… but thankfully not at night. Just like any woman there, I had to walk everywhere I went, but with no sidewalks available, I had to push the stroller through the sand, which was not easy. I ended up carrying the baby in one arm and the stroller in the other. I shopped at souks, where I bought things I did not know what they were, and bought them from a very short, agitated men who did not like emancipated, free-willed, un-accompanied [by a man member of the family] women, all this while speaking a strange language who I could not understand. It’s funny how this was supposed to be a one-week arrangement, but it turned into two years of my life.
Eventually, things got better. After such a long time, I was ready to pack my stuff and go back to the States, when we finally got some good news: we were moving into the American camp. It was only slightly better, since the only communication I was allowed with my family were sporadic letters that were all blacked out, since news and information were censored. But, on the other hand, during those 7 years we travelled around the world three times and visited 35 countries. You need to know that in Saudi Arabia there is this rule for which, if you stay for longer than 11 months in a year, you will be considered a resident. We were kind of forced to take vacations, but I am not complaining about it: we went back and forth to the States so I would not go insane, and it was also a necessity. Inside the camp we had American groceries and everything food related but we didn’t have any kind of department store meaning everything we purchased had to be purchased on our trips back home. We would literally buy a year’s worth of clothes and toys for the kids, and I bought Christmas presents in July, and 4 to 5 sizes of the same clothes because all of those things went in boat shipments took up to months to be received.
To entertain myself I even started buying gold. Yes, gold. It was cheaper than wine! With alcohol forbidden in the country, any bootleg spirit was very expensive, if you could put your hands on it at all. It was a way for me to survive and keep my fears and my disintegrating marriage at bay, and it was a way for my husband to pay me off and keep me there. Slowly but surely, my husband changed from Dr Jeckyll to Mr Hide in front of my eyes. He still loved me, but he would not touch me, he became more and more unhappy with who he was, hiding secrets from me: some had to do with drugs, other with lies. I was living alone, away from my family, with a man who was more like my angry brother than my comforting lover. I am not proud of it, but I have been contemplating the idea of suicide a few times.
At the same time, though, I was also having fun, somehow, and I accumulated enough one-of-a-kind amazing stories to write 15 novels of my Circle’s Legacy series. Years later I felt the urge and the need to document all my incredible overseas experiences in a fictional yet nonfictional way, including the sufferance of going through a difficult and abusive marriage, that after 15 years of struggles, ended badly in a devastating lawsuit, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce. Unable to keep my secrets hidden anymore, I started writing. And ten years later, after I had written one million words (it was verified on my computer’s word count) and all those sentences turned into 15 novels, I went looking for a publisher.
On our first phone interview, you told me about being a published author with a good-sized company that, at a certain point, pulled out your books, and the ones of many other authors, from distribution, with no warning or explanation. What went through your mind? And in that moment how did this make you feel as an author and as a person?
During my writing career, which has spanned for over 25 years, I worked with two major publishing houses, but, for different reasons, both publishers ran into legal difficulties. After closing their doors without warning, taking 350,000 novels out of distribution and affecting over 2,000 authors, my writing stopped, and I was left completely devastated. Let me clarify one thing for people who are not in the publishing industry: if a publisher goes out of business, that publishing house will immediately and automatically take all books that they have under contract out of distribution, meaning your books will no longer be selling anywhere and you will not be able to sell them yourself. Plus, you will not be given your books’ files back. It’s like you never wrote them in the first place because it’s like your books no longer exist. Unless you want to start over with a new publisher, or try to self-publish with new illustrations, a new cover and new layout, your book is as good as dead. The last big publisher was also sued for stealing royalties from its authors. They took three of my novels, and seven of my children’s books out with them. It was a catastrophe. I felt like I would ever be able to start over again. However, that was not the case the first time: just one week after the first publisher went out of business, I was immediately picked up by another big publishing house, which bought the rights for my books, but five years later, the second publisher went out of business. The last book in the series ends with the death of a character’s marriage, leaving her devastated. With the publisher closing down I felt like the character died twice. It was heart-breaking, even more because I had no way to stop it or reverse it. And that’s when I decided I could never trust publishers again. That gave me liberation and led to me starting my own publishing company.
You decided to take things into your hands, using your skills and your experience. What is the ethos of this?
I wanted to make sure that my books were never taken out of distribution again. I joined forces with my production team, which was the same team I had been working with a week before the company closed. Clearly, they all have been fired without any warning, meaning we all were out of business, too in shocked to process what happened, and in need to find a new way to start over again soon. We came together to pick up the pieces: since we already knew each other, and I trusted them – they had already worked on seven of my books – within a matter of weeks we were back on track.
At this point I needed a publisher, but, given my experiences, I wasn’t trusting any of them. Starting my own publishing company was a challenging but at the same time easy decision to make. It was far more complex to make the company work and be my own publisher. But I was surrounded by an extremely talented group of artists, illustrators, book cover designers, layout specialist supervisors, and my dear project manager, who were not only my crew, but also people I still consider my family, and together we created the Circles Legacy Publishing LTD, which is still in business 10 years later. The beginning was rough, as it is in any new business, but I managed to give birth to 18 of my own books.
We offer the same services the same as traditional publishing, but what we do differently is that we don’t put authors under contract. And we will not take royalties from them. I will not set up accounts for them and I will not have any access to their bank account or to their financial information. I will invoice them for my services and work, half of the cost up front and the other half when the book is finished. But at that finished point, instead of controlling their book, they will have the final product, the full control of it and they will pay me for my services just once. I will also instruct the authors on how to get the book into distribution with Ingram Sparks, but they will be the one doing the job, and any revenue they make from any sale will go directly to them. Plus, they will have to get their own copyright certification with the Library of Congress.
How are you different from other publishers?
Until now, I haven’t been a traditional publisher for anybody other than myself. I have recently published what could possibly be my last children’s book (but we’ll see!), and because of this I started to help other emerging authors. I have decided to offer my publishing services, my expertise, and my team to provide high quality book covers, design work, and layouts, while I give guidance. I have decided to be a different kind of publisher, I don’t want to be in the position of taking their books out of distribution and, in this way, take their characters away from them. I want to help authors to put their books out of their computers and in the open for everyone to see and read. I will make sure that the books are ready to be printed in high resolution format, I will show the authors how to publish their own books, and how to put them into distribution themselves, while owning all the rights to every part of the book. They will be taking control of their own work and their future because I will hand over their print ready files. Basically, the authors will be their own publisher.
Let’s talk about your books, why children’s books rather than, for example, young adult or romance? Where do you take inspiration from? Do you have children yourself or are you in close contact with children (for example nieces and nephews)?
I didn’t start writing children’s books. I began writing novels. Now I have 15 novels under copyright and ready to go, including the three novels that are still stranded, and out of distribution because of the publishing company closing down. With them, those three novels were never released, but I am happy to announce that they will be back out for distribution by next year.
After I finished writing over 1 million words, that turned into my 15 novels, I looked around and decided that I did not want to stop writing. Wanting to do something different, I started writing children’s books. It was an easy transition for me because I have always loved teaching children! I have two children of my own, 2 stepchildren, 2 grandchildren, and as my kids were growing up, to help financially I opened a day care and preschool in my house. And I have always worked with children through churches and in Mothers’ Day out programs [they are programs that offer parents some ‘me-time’ to take care of personal business while offering the children the opportunity to learn and socialise with peers]. I’ve always been around children quite a lot. Writing children’s books just seemed to be the normal progression for me. I combined life lessons from my childhood, as well as valuable insights from my children’s escapades, magic and child innocence, trying to make the world a better place one child and one adult at a time. Five of these children’s books have been turned into Animated Merry Movies by a Motion Picture Company, and they are getting a lot of interest and attention from Hollywood producers.
Tell us more about them: how did you go from the books to the animation, how much control do you have over the process, what stage of production are you at, who are you working with, the release date?
Well, that’s a great merry question! The Merry Movies are 30-minute films that have been made by a Professional Motion Picture company from 5 of my bestselling children’s books. The Merry Movies are not videos or cartoons, but 30 minute long, high definition, high quality films with sounds, music, 3D element and pictures of the whole book, narrated by a retired professional actress, making this fairy tale magical world come alive right in front of your eyes.
They will solely be available through my Author company and at my joslinfun.com website. The Merry Movies are for every child! Recently, through my Patreon host site they are also available world-wide. You now can stream thyem on all your devices, including your TV.
How did the Merry Movies get started?
Well, that’s another good question that stems from my books being into a wide distribution. My books caught the attention of a motion picture company, and 2 years ago they approached me with the idea to turn some of them into animated movies. The company told me that they mostly produced audiobooks, but because of the original storylines, the bright signature colours, and all the sweet things inside (literally: the books are full of candies, ice creams, doughnuts…) they wanted to turn 5 of them into movies. I have been closely collaborating with them during the whole process.
Sadly, though, there will not be any more Merry Movies, because, due to unforeseen circumstances, the company is no longer in business. So, I am not expecting to put out anymore Merry Movies. But, again, who knows!
You mentioned that you are mentoring two college seniors in an internship, and that you are all starting a new kind of marketing and advertising company. Can you please tell us more about that?
Every creator, every author, every artist knows it’s hard to market anything if you don’t have ‘the big money’ behind you. And since it seems like every social media site has shut down our advertising attempts unless they are getting a cut from it, I started to think out of the box: how I could tell other authors about my publishing company while getting out the information on the publishing services I am offering? And I asked myself: how can authors and creators help each other succeed and market their products, all the while offering peers feedback? That’s how I had the idea for my new company. Thanks to my experience, both as a writer and as publisher, I asked and obtained to be tutoring at three Universities internship programs. At the moment I am helping two college seniors as we start the Arising Writers Company: while helping to start this business, both students are learning about promotion, marketing, advertising, communication, and business. This is a self-marketing company which aims to create a free platform where other authors, musicians, singers, bands, and songwriters can showcase their work in their own way and in their own words. In our dedicated and safe space, the Arising Writers Blog, the writers can tell us in their own words about their books, and the songwriters can tell us about their own songs. On top of that, they can sell on our site if they want. We decided to turn the comments off to avoid sterile criticisms and unjustified attacks: we are here to help writers thrive, not stop doing what they are already doing with a lot of effort and sacrifices. It is our hope, as we support them in our community, that they will support us and tell their friends and family about others’ book too.
Brace yourselves and dive into this masterfully written (apocalyptic) thriller by Tosca Lee
Alaskan exterior, June. A pig farmer calls his sow, Jill, but she doesn’t show up. He finds it unusual and walks deep into the forest to look for her. Eventually he finds a carcass, possibly a caribou, that has been badly bitten by a pig. Jill is nearby with a fresh litter of piglets. The farmer brushes the episode off thinking what they say about pigs is true: they eat everything. Two days later he finds her with her belly torn open and her piglets savaged around her.
The scene changes. We are no longer in Alaska, but in a mysterious compound that that appears to be some sort of prison. It is, in a way. A girl, whose name is Wynter, is escorted by two Guardians. Is she going to die? The whole set up looks like an execution is about to take place. Wynter keeps walking with nothing more than a plastic bag in her hands, no one around her talks, and she is having a million thoughts a minute, the most recurrent being ‘I am about to go to Hell.” Her sister Jaclyn and her niece Truly are standing not far, silent, eyes casted. Wynter wants to say something meaningful to Truly before whatever fate is expecting her, but the little girl runs away and she instinctively tries to get her. The efforts to kick her out of the compound are doubled and when she crosses the gates, desperation gets her. But there is a car waiting for her in the distance. Maybe it’s not all lost.
Suddenly, a step back in time. Wynter is 22 when she’s expelled from the compound, but the story goes back to the day she entered the compound for the first time. She was 9 and her sister Jacklyn was 12. Their mother, Sylvia, brought them there to escape from an abusive husband. Julie, her mother’s best friend, tried to convince her to find another solution and offered her help and shelter, but Julie refused, certain of what she was doing. They are going to leave at New Earth, an enclave in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, where they will find peace and freedom. When they arrive, they are settled in what will later be known as the guests’ house: all new arrivals are placed there when they enter the community. They are separated from all the negative things they brought with them from the outside (clothes, technology, wealth), given a strict set of rules to follow and accept a new lifestyle, made of prayer, blind faith in their leader and communal spirit. These are the ‘only’ things that Magnus, the New Prophet and spiritual leader of the cult asks his family. The inhabitants of New Earth are God’s chosen few, the only ones that will be saved when the world ends. And the world will end soon, Magnus insists. That’s why they must be prepared and extra careful with what they do, eat, think, believe.
After a trial period, Sylvia and her daughters are asked to stay. They are relocated from the guests’ house and separated. Jaclyn goes to the young women’s dormitory and Wynter to the girls’ one. Mom is moved to a barrow for single women that everyone calls the Factory and which the two girls aren’t allowed to visit. When their mother become sick, they are told only so they can pray and repent, because their mother’s illness is due to the negativity that still exists in their life. Sylvia dies of cancer anyway, and not because of the negativity in their life, but because she didn’t receive the necessary treatments.
During her permanence there, Wynter meets new people that want to enter the New Earth compound, and one of them is Shae. When Shae and her father arrive, Wynter is the one that welcomes them. She likes this new girl, they are the same age and she is magnetic. Shae is the typical rebellious teenager: five studs in each ear, smokes weed, her hair is half shaved half long, the ensemble giving her a feral look. There is something in Shae that Wynter feeds of. They listen to music together on Shae’s phone and look at pictures of her boyfriend and the ocean. It’s their secret, and for Wynter it’s very important, as she finally feels she belongs somewhere. It doesn’t matter what she does and how hard she tries, because she is never enough for New Earth. It takes her far longer than others to actually be allowed to go out the compound to work. As a matter of fact, the New Earth community is a corporation whose purpose is to save and trade ancient seeds and avoid their extinction. Some of the members are allowed to go to the nearby city to sell these seeds and other homemade products. But they need to be worthy, faithful and their outing has to be approved by the Elders and Magnus. After Shae and her father are asked to stay, she repents and confesses all the forbidden things she did with Wynter. Suddenly Wynter loses Shae, the little privilege she had and she has to spend a lot of time isolated, thinking about her sins. What she doesn’t see is that Shae is not a sudden convert, but she is only waiting for the right opportunity to escape. And she does. Shae is quickly assigned to outside work; one day she gets the petty cash from the sales and runs away.
Not long after Kestral, Magnum’s wife, dies. It’s a shock, especially because Kestral is the first person Wynter and her family met when they arrived and became a motherly figure when Sylvia passed away. Magnus, though, can’t stay unmarried. Soon his weeding with Jaclyn is announced. And so is Wynter’s wedding. With Shae’s dad. It’s another shocking news to absorb, but somehow Wynter manages to escape her fate, while Jaclyn becomes Magnus’s new wife and gives him a daughter.
Five years after these events, Wynter is eventually expelled for good.
In the car waiting for her outside is Julie, her mom’s best friend in a previous life. Behind the wheel there is Lauren, Julie’s stepdaughter. She remarried with Ken, Lauren’s father, when Lauren was one, but Wynter has no memory of that.
The outside world is a strange place, and Wynter must get used to a whole lot of new things, like the Internet, smartphones, driving, no rules to follow. She starts seeing a therapist too, and she finds out that New Earth International is on the radar of different watchdogs for being a cult, and that Kestral is not actually dead.
Back to the crazy pigs at the beginning of the story. Their farmer died and so did two of his friends. There’s a mysterious dementia-like disease spreading. A researcher finds out that the farmer liked to fry eggs and brains after a slaughter and when he examines the samples, he knows he’s onto something big. But after two days all his samples are gone.
The disease is spreading rapidly and it seems like people are virally going crazy. But it won’t be until the end that we find out about the link between the spreading dementia and New Earth, in an explosive end.
What’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that, at a certain point within the story Ken, Julie’s husband, instructs his wife to get extra supplies of food and petrol, use masks and gloves when she leaves the house, wash her hands regularly and disinfect everything. The book is dated 2018, something I had to check several times. The fact that it depicts very vividly what we’ve gone through over the past couple of years simply gave me goosebumps.
Besides the incredible closeness to what happened in real life, this book is a concentrate of fast-paced action, ups and downs and witty dialogues. The theme of being part of a cult and subsequently escaping is discussed with simplicity and lack of judgment, while the rest of the story – when Wynter is out of the compound and does her bit to help save the world – is worthy of the greatest horror masters.
The line between is highly imaginative, with a captivating, fresh prose and a catchy two-part structure. One plot line starts in the present (When Wynter is thrown out of the compound) and moves forward, while the other starts in the past and moves back and forth. It never misses a beat, though, and each time the reader is provided with new bits of information that help put together the bigger picture, just like a puzzle. Tosca Lee is simply magistral in never losing a thread. A 5/5 book that’s difficult to put down.
To find out more about Tosca Lee’s work, visit her website toscalee.com
Welcome to part two of our interview with Canadian author Jorah Kai. In this instalment, Jorah discusses his latest book, the solarpunk fantasy novel ‘Amos the Amazing’, his future creative plans and gives valuable advice to those approaching publishing for the first time.
At the end of 2022, you released your book ‘Amos the Amazing’, a “solarpunk fantasy novel”. Could you tell us a bit more about this genre?
Solarpunk is an imaginative literary and art movement that speculates on what it would look like if we solved current and future pressing problems such as social inequality due to late-stage capitalism, the climate crisis, global warming, and a lot of other social issues to reshape our society and world into something a lot more like what you saw on Star Trek. I live in a cyberpunk supercity in Asia of 34 million people. It sounds cool and looks great at night, but I want to highlight more than that – actually, it’s inspiring to live in a place that is both the world’s biggest polluter and the world’s biggest provider of solar power. To watch coal power plants transition to wind, water, and solar power, to see Chongqing become a sponge city… like it’s all very exciting for me. Solar punk envisions a world where we have overcome these social and environmental problems using technology, shifting to green energies and away from fossil fuels. Often, it involves a political shift somewhere between socialism and radical anarchism. Still, I’ve even wondered if AI would do a better job than what we’ve got going on now anyway. However we get there, we need to break through the log jam of big industry lobbyism, corruption, and resistance to new energy solutions and create a world where we live in high technology and harmony with nature. Say what you will about them – and I have some tough words for billionaires and how they manage to become real-life dragons, but Jeff Bezos does want to create Earth into a park and offload polluting industries into space, and Elon Musk did really move the needle on electric cars. In China now, there are so many electric vehicles, millions of charging stations, and even hydrogen buses that create water instead of CO2 when you drive them. So it feels very exciting to be in this country now. I hope this book and other solar punk books can inspire young readers to go into the sciences (and magick) and help change the world, recreate it into something amazing, high vibration, full of imagination and potential. We could be so much more than we are, and we have the tools to reach it.
What was your source of inspiration for the story, and what would you like readers to take away from reading it?
Amos was a great mix of many things, it is a love letter to the hundreds of fantasy novels I read as a child, and something I wanted to do for many years: mix science fiction and fantasy, using frames, to create a deeply layered experience. There is a LOT of world-building to unpack in sequels, which I think will be fun. I also choose Chongqing as the setting because it’s a wonderful and surprising city that many English speakers have probably never even word of. I used to take some students from the city to help teach rural village primary school students English on an annual spring trip before the pandemic, and it was quite an experience to watch the city kids adapt to rural life in China. That was part of it, as well. I love the opportunity to create a story that is both western and eastern, and my translator, Dr. Fei Gao, who has been a wonderful source of encouragement and support all along, has been really positive about the work as a cross-cultural achievement that, according to her, is quite interesting to Sinologists and experts in English-Chinese cross-cultural studies, which is, again, really interesting.
As part of my writing process for this book, I was asked to do a reading in Tongliang village, China, for a group of university students from Hong Kong, Macao, and Chongqing and sign some of my past books for them. I decided to write a chapter of Amos from a draft I had done up and read it at the event as ‘part of my next book.’ The response I got was incredibly encouraging, and Dr. Gao, who I met at that event, offered to facilitate a beta reading project with me: she said if I had a book to workshop by September 1, we could teach it to her cross-cultural and literary studies students. So that was, like, mid-June, and I went off for my summer break and wrote the book. By August 31, I had a draft of it, and then we began an intense 15-week course, where I scrambled to get each section polished in time for the students to read and comment on it. It was super intense and very interesting. It’s been exciting to be a writer in a foreign country these past few years. As much as I love my native Canada, I can’t imagine having the same opportunities there as I’ve been lucky enough to have here.
What would they like to take from it? I don’t want to spoil that, but I hope it inspires them to read more, believe in magick, and maybe help this world become a little more solarpunk. If I can inspire some clever kids to go into STEM fields and help invent the technologies I dream up and make our world a better place, that’s amazing. Also, with all this war machine saber rattling, I’d like my readers to know my experience. China has been a great place for me to live and work. It’s a lovely place to live. The food is juicy and delicious, and the cost of living is affordable. I think a lot of western leaders and media need an adversary to point at so people don’t ask them the hard questions about why inflation, addiction, and the environment are so out of control or why lobbying makes it legal for big corps to bribe leaders to do bad things instead of responsible ones. Still, if my books can shed some light on the beauty of other cultures and the wonders of China, too, maybe a few people will open their eyes and turn the conversation back to making their own country better rather than trying to bomb ones that are just doing their best and to be honest, the amount of work I’ve seen happen to encourage clean energy, electric and hydrogen cars, etc. in China is amazing. If the West doesn’t get its act together and step it up, China might just save the whole world by itself.
In the end, I moved to China by chance, but also, it’s very interesting to be in this ancient culture and also a very powerful nation, and have, what I hope, is a positive effect as a cross-cultural ambassador. Also, if you love Chinese food, you’ll never have as authentic Chinese food as if you come to China. It’s the real deal.
Any other interesting writing projects in the pipeline?
I’m almost done proofing the Amos the Amazing audiobook, read by award-winning voice actor Christian Neale and that’s super exciting. The way he brings the characters to life is incredibly entertaining, and it was really cool working with him to realize this project. I’m also working on rewriting a novel I wrote (drafted) about four years ago, and I think it’s time to get it out and done. I hope to get it translated into other languages and also write it as a screenplay when it’s done – it’s very cinematic and, I think, has commercial appeal. I’m working on a few experimental forms as well that are exciting because they’re ambitious and strange and feel like very new territory. After centuries of writers saying all stories have been told, we have some really new territory to break bread with, and that’s thrilling. I am going to write a book about the history of Solarpunk, but at the moment, I’m weighing out making it a nonfiction book or a fictionalized novel – I actually have drafts for both, and both have pros and cons. I believe it deserves a nonfiction treatment, but the audience for fiction is much bigger, and I want to reach as many people as possible, so I am leaning towards a cyberpunk-style adventure with possible solarpunk futurism, inspiring people to create a future worth living in. My Chinese publisher wants me to write many more Amos stories, so I will return to that world after a little break and a few other books because I want to be a better, more cohesive, and clearer writer when I return to it. As my protagonists age, I think the demands for a more mature voice will push me to take it to higher heights, but it’s another great challenge I’m also looking forward to.
As a very experienced writer, what advice would you give to aspiring authors approaching publishing (or self-publishing) for the first time?
I get a little surprised to hear myself described that way, but I’ll take it. I guess if you do anything for long enough, it’s inevitable. Whether you choose to go down the route of traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing, it’s a lot more work in social media, marketing, and promoting than you probably realized. The great thing about traditional publishers is you just give them the book, and they guide you the rest of the way. The problem is they may say no for a long time before one says yes, and they may require a lot of sacrifices or compromises you might not want to make. For self-publishing, it’s the converse, you dictate the timing, the material, and absolute creative control, but it’s also on you to get your cover done to a standard that someone might find appealing, recruit your team of beta readers and editors, and decide what quality of book is enough for your purposes and your audience. I’ve done both, and they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Working with my friend Garrett to create More Publishing as a micro ‘boutique’ imprint that primarily is focused on amplifying English voices and telling stories of China which is relevant to our daily lives here (I’m in Chongqing, he’s in Chengdu, about an hour away by high-speed rail). By publishing Amos in English first, I was able to get it to a level I think is about as good as it is going to get now, meaning that the Chinese translator and the traditional publishing house in China are getting a better Chinese product in the end, and I get to share it in my native language this year instead of in 5 years or so, so we were all happy about that. I’ll give you some advice that works for me, the students I’ve taught over the last decade, and advice we’d give to prospective writers hoping More Publishing might want to publish their novel; I think, in general, it’s reasonable advice for any writer.
First, dream it, and then work like you want your dream to come true. You have to make space for your dream to grow and then wake up every day and work like you believe your dream will happen. Inspiration and perspiration. Two, plan and outline. Take your book and break it into bite-sized chunks. One day, write a logline; the next, give me a paragraph showing 3 act structure. Break it into chapters the next day and tell me the beats you want each chapter to hit, then wake up and give me 2000 words for Chapter 1 before lunch. If you can’t write a scene in artistic and literary glory, give me the bullet points of what happens, and know you’ll get back to it to fill it in later.
When you’ve got that glorious first draft, that’s great, but the job is only beginning. Be ready to work on those lines and scenes 70 times if that is what it takes to get it right, and find beta readers who can give honest feedback and fill in your gaps. Want to write an action scene but never held a gun? Just do your best and then find someone with that experience to help you get the weight right later. Rewrite and revise until you’re ready (or have) to let it go. I had to let Amos go in 2022 because the translator and publisher were hungry for it. I could have written it for 3 more years, and it would have been a better English book, but I had to take the chance that I did when I did it, and we’re still cleaning up typos here and there, but the editors did a great job and I think it’s a lovely story. I want the next one to be 1000% better, so I’ll keep pushing myself harder to learn and grow. Lastly, if you write for everyone, you’re writing for no one, so consider your audience. Picture someone and tell the story as you want them to hear it.
In the end, what I learned from my diaries/nonfiction trilogy, The Invisible War, and replicated with Amos and other books going forward, is the difference between a hobby writer with a draft on their shelf and a published writer with thousands of copies sold is a mindset. As Stephen Pressfield so eloquently says, if you want to go pro, you’ve got to act pro. It’s about not giving up when you get to the end but pushing on harder than you’ve ever pushed before. They call them book babies for a reason and it is labor – but it’s a labor of love. Treat it like it matters and needs to be born for the world, and you’ll get it done.
The first one is the hardest. You’re proving to yourself and to the world that you are a writer and you have at least one good book in you. It gets easier after that. You have a roadmap, you’ve done it before, and you just have to do it again. Don’t worry about being a genius, don’t worry about anything, just do your best, show up to the desk and write and welcome the muses when they come. If you write a bum book, maybe you just had a bum muse. Write another one. They’ll get better, and so will you.
If I could leave you with one final idea, it’s the duality of this: Writing is Magic. You are sharing your mind and yourself with the world, and if you do it well, people who aren’t even alive yet will spend time with you in close communion years after you’re dead. But writing isn’t magic. It’s a job, and it’s hard work. And you may dream of being a writer, but until you show up at your desk every day and make the time to get your books done and meet your muses halfway, you are robbing yourself and the world of your potential. So get to it, and show us what you’ve got.
Thanks so much for your time! Really appreciate speaking with you and hope your readers get something out of this.
With warm regards and twinkly toes, as we spin purposely about on a beautiful blue ball through the endless vast emptiness for what seems like an awfully long time,
Editor’s Note from Alex: During our numerous online conversations and throughout the interview, Jorah shared meaningful insight on the challenges he faced growing up and the sense of ennui he felt numerous times in his life. I believe these are feelings we can all relate to as human beings, and having struggled with mental health myself, I’d like to share links to two UK charities very close to my heart, in the hope they might help if you too feel overwhelmed.
Mosaic LGBT + Young Person Trust | A charity aiming to support, educate and inspire young LGBT+ persons and those around them by providing accessible activities, programmes and services (including counselling) to empower community members, provide essential resources, advocate for young LGBT+ rights, and embrace, promote and endorse the diversity of young persons.
Mind UK | A charity fighting mental health, ‘for support for respect, for you’. Mind operates in England and Wales, supporting minds and making mental health an everyday priority. It offers help through information, advice and local services and brings together a network of individuals and communities – people who care about mental health to make a difference.
Extra-ordinary lives do not come by every day. When Jorah got in touch at the beginning of the year, his was “just another query”. However, here at Not for Vanity we have the very bad habit to always look beneath the surface. Fascinated by what we discovered, this feature was born.
In this two-part interview, Canadian author Jorah Kai talks about his life and his work as a writer. As the story unfolds, he tells us how ‘the gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson of the ’90s dance music scene took a job at Chinese Harvard and traded a couple hours a day lecturing to international students for the time and space to sit and think, work on my hobbies, decompress from the stress of decades of touring, and eventually get to work writing the books I wanted to write’. We hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we did.
Hi Jorah, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Having looked at your bio on your website, it seems to me you’ve already lived a thousand lives… Can you introduce yourself to our audience? Who is Jorah Kai?
Hi Alex, nice to meet you. First off, thanks so much for asking me to do this interview. Writing is often a lonely grind, and the gratification of sharing your work is delayed immeasurably compared to music or visual arts. Whenever someone wants to know about a writer’s work, an angel gets their wings. Please call me Kai if you like; most of my friends do, and I must say, you’ve asked me a question that’s got me utterly stumped, which has only happened a couple of times in my life. I must have stared at this question for a week before I blinked, but I will do my best to answer so profound a question as who I am; please forgive me if I do it poorly.
As the caterpillar said to Alice, “Who are you?” I’ve spent my life trying to figure that question out. As a young lad, I wanted to be a writer, and somebody told me to write what I knew. Knowing I knew very little, I set out to experience everything I could … 1000 lifetimes indeed. I’ve had every odd job under the sun. I became something of a social chameleon. As a child, I spent a year at a tough urban primary school, telling jokes to older boys and girls who had me in the hospital several times with pencils and other sharp objects shoved in places where you shouldn’t put pencils. I was funny, I swear. The next September, my mom’s friend encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. I entered a prestigious Hebrew private school (I wasn’t Jewish, which makes it all the more absurd) across the street called Hillel academy. I remember they gave me a new name in the cloakroom before they pushed me out on stage into the grade 1 class: Noah Ross, named after the man who built a boat to save humanity. No pressure.
I think I’ve spent a lifetime trying to live up to that name, which had nothing to do with me (years later, when I was hosting events and building warm artistic communities and arks in cold concrete jungles, the theme haunted me). Then they introduced me, and I tried to learn a whole new alphabet. I think I had a mental breakdown about three months in, a total identity crisis, and returned to the tough urban school for the rest of the year. I remember the highlight of Hebrew private school was the tuna fish sandwiches, and they would cut the crusts off, which should surprise no one with even a rudimentary knowledge of their practices. No, I was not Jewish, but it was a primer in playacting. I returned to the tough school and told a joke in class that got a pencil so far up my nose I think my brain was bleeding. A supply teacher told my parents that I would probably thrive better if I could get transferred to the school up the hill, and surprisingly, that worked out. My new best friends were the son of a government minister and the stepson of the president of South Africa – and this was a year before he stepped down to support Nelson Mandela. On a trip to old Quebec City, I gave that boy a bag of gummy bears that impressed him so much that through the butterfly effect, I wonder how much weight those candies had on the history of that country and the legacy of apartheid. Regardless, I had seen three very different worlds and imagined different futures, all before I was six years old.
As a teenager, I got into role-playing games with much older kids and then into electronic music – back then, it was called the ‘rave’ scene. That community was really wild for its beauty and tragedy, and diversity. I met orks, goblins, fairies, movie stars, poets, and gangsters. Tom Greene tried to steal my girlfriend once, and the entire dancefloor of a club I was DJing at, live on MTV and then Drew Barrymore danced with me under the pale moonlight, and Harrison Ford gave my date his best rascally grin, but we laughed and ran away and danced in the dark until dawn. For a Canadian boy from a small town, it was a lot to take, but it was just life. It happened.
Who am I? In the end, I’m anyone, I’m everyone, I’m no one. I would like to say I’m noble because I’m made of stars, and I’m humble because I’m made of earth. I guess I’m just a guy with many stories, from many different places, over the years.
Was that a dodge? I didn’t mean it to be. I’ll try to be more specific. I’ve been a gamer nerd, a goth teenager, and a hip-hop DJ in a rising group, making records and breaking bridges as we went. In an incarnation that lasted for decades, I was a touring music producer and DJ for a bass music group that headlined major festivals and played multiple Olympics for leaders of the world and millions on TV. I DJ’d for the Queen of England, at least legally, and fire breathed for 10,000 people with eyes like saucers and shut down Toronto’s Dundas Square with a pirate renegade float during the art night Nuit Blanche dressed as pirates with my childhood friend (bass music superstar) ill.Gates, and then we did it like ten more years in a row – with the help of friends that do events like ‘world’s largest light sword battle’ and got sued by Disney and ‘world’s largest pillow fight’ – at a time when it felt safe for Alec Baldwin to rage tweet at you that you were ruining New York. Oh, we were summer children. I ran a studio with ill.Gates, and he’d go hang with Bill Gates at Sundance and come back, and we’d have ringtones to make to sell to the big guy, and when he passed on some of the pretty ones, we wrote fart tones and silence for big bucks. One night Gates and I were hanging out with Bassnectar (when that was still cool) and Skrillex at Shambhala, and this guy in a Squirrlex costume stalked us – he claimed to be after Sonny’s nuts. One day I visited a friend to play chess and drink tea, and a dozen gang bangers showed up to rob him. Wrong place, right time, but I got the leader in a small room (there was a debate as to who was trapped in there with whom), found two claw hammers in a drawer, and used a combination of intense eye contact, logic, and philosophy to make a compelling case for them to leave right away and never come back. Or the time I accidentally dated a gangster who got kidnapped by movie stars and escaped from an evil billionaire on an island fortress surrounded by sharks. Because that’s a real risk if you stay out too late.
I shake my head, thinking about these things. None of them sound real, but they happened, and a lot more, and that was really interesting, at least until it wasn’t. Life was sensorily thrilling for the most part. So much so that I suffered bouts of depression when I wasn’t on stage rocking a million-dollar sound system because if that was normal, then anything else was dreadfully boring. Luckily, I found mindfulness, stoic philosophy, and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy- not the one you get from the dominatrix). The journey led me to some near-death experiences in some extremely inhospitable surroundings. One day I was a 15-year-old kid in grade 9 math, and then I went dancing and never came home. Suddenly I was a plucky teen DJ that had to face down thugs and gangsters in Brooklyn, NYC, to get my gas money home to Canada. I was a freelance event runner that had to face off with biker gangs and organized crime that tried to profit off my hobby of making dance spaces magical. All before I was 18 years old. In the heart of the black rock desert, I embraced a dream to become a detective, focusing on existential mysteries. I tried being a clown, doing stand-up comedy, and hosting burlesque and Weimar-era-themed cabaret events. It was a lot, and I met many interesting people from all walks of life and listened to their stories.
When I felt I’d discovered all I could in the Western world, I went East and started over with a new life in the secret cyberpunk megacity of Asia- Chongqing, China. And I’ve found new things to learn, experience and write about. Oscar Wilde said, ‘there is no such thing as good and evil people, just charming and tedious ones.’ My life in China has been full of surprises that I could never have imagined, and it continues to astound me utterly on a regular basis. I live in a near-constant state of agitated confusion. Creatively, it’s very helpful. For the past decade, I’ve been a professor in residence, newspaperman, editor, and professional writer. I became a ‘COVID guru’ and got to hang out with Jeanne-Claude Van Damme as we tried to rebuild society together, and came very close to recording an anthem for staying home with Justin Bieber, but in the end, it didn’t click. My life is extremely bizarre and has become increasingly absurd, but I have succeeded in knowing a few things, and most of it has not been boring.
You are originally from Canada, but you’ve now been living in China for years. Tell us a bit more about your life as an ex-pat and moving to a new country: was it a total cultural shock or love at first sight?
I think it was both. Let me set a scene: I left Toronto in 2014. Within 24 hours, I graduated from a teaching program, said goodbye to my family, and moved a van of some belongings out of my apartment (and into storage with my family), hosted a huge circus and burlesque event that 1000 artists, friends and creatives showed up at and we danced until dawn. I came home and realized that I’d left my fancy designer bathrobe and pair of handmade boots – gifts from a good friend – on the back of my door, shoved them into my suitcase, left the key under the mat and became, legally homeless, and hopped in a cab to catch a flight to Beijing. My suitcase was overweight, so I had to wear a handmade pair of gold lame boots and a fluffy blue bathrobe, wearing Elvis glasses while I drank mimosas all the way to Beijing (I was that guy). We landed 12 hours later, and I washed my face, and was driven to a welcome feast where my host tried to drink me under the table in traditional Chinese greeting culture. When that finished, our team, a group of Canadian teachers, was shuttled to a KTV hall to experience Beijing by night until about 5 am, where we were dropped back at our hotels and told to get a good hour or two of sleep before we spent the day walking the Great Wall of China. I ended up wearing some sort of Song Dynasty armor cosplay and made a lot of friends that day. That was just the speed of China, it took the chaos of my life in Toronto and just amplified it, and it was a mile a minute. Every meal was a ludicrous feast, and every day was a tour of an ancient wonder, and I was gobsmacked and in love with it but utterly confused and didn’t understand a thing.
Nearly a decade later, I’d say I managed to get a better sleep schedule figured out, mainly thanks to my wife, whom I met in Chongqing. Xiaolin is my rock and my compass, and my love. But we are absolutely different in many incredible ways. My friends were shocked to hear I finally got married. They never thought I’d find ‘the one.’ I dated poets and artists, designers and models, CEOs and actresses, teachers and gangsters, wrestlers, suicide girls, dancers, and dominatrixes, but when I moved to China, I knew she was the one. Xiaolin – or my Shaolin – has the comedic genius of Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), the profound wisdom of Yoda, and the sex appeal of a mid-90’s Tia Carerre to my Mike Myers’ Wayne’s world. Can you say Shwiiing?
I’ve learned so much about myself and the world in a decade overseas, but I am still generally confused about nearly everything. I’ve learned to let go. Let go of the need to control my life, let go of fear and anxiety, and just be happy with the day I have and try to make it a good one. I’ve finally built a quieter life here in China, amongst the chaos, and it’s let me publish seven books since 2020, and I have a few more drafts that I’d like to see published in the next year or two as well if life is kind and I am lucky.
Sometimes I wonder about my decision to leave Canada, even the western world, and end up literally about as far as a human can go without coming back to the other side or leaving the planet, on a mountain in southwest China, in the world’s biggest municipality of 35 million, in a secret cyberpunk supercity, rainy, foggy, or, usually swelteringly hot.
Then I read pieces about the struggles of paying the bills in the west and remember why the opportunity had seemed so exciting. In a world of gig economies, it was a full-time job with benefits and time off to write. A chance at a fresh start to live my dream of writing piles of books without distractions. It was a free house, on campus, at a time when housing was getting harder to obtain. A decade later, it looks like none of those problems back home have improved, but my life in China has grown immeasurably. An artist who struggled to pay rent has become a landlord (I rent a place to a single tenant, but that counts, doesn’t it?). We’ve got a new writing retreat by the ocean paid off with lots of hard work and savings (a formerly very foreign concept to me), I’m excited to spend time writing new books while my wife paints by the sea. It sounds like the dream I had at 12, writing with my toes in the sand, laptop chugging away, books happening.
Sometimes, if you listen, your brain will propose radical solutions to what feels like insurmountable problems. How far will you go?
Not for Vanity focuses primarily on English and American audiences, so we are curious… What’s the public’s approach to books and reading in China? Any interesting facts you could share?
The Chinese love to read, but the market for English books is quite small by comparison with Chinese novels. My Chinese is not great, but my works have been translated, which has been really interesting. I mean I live in a city that is the population of Canada. Making it big in a country of 1.4 billion people is a whole other level of success, and so far it’s going pretty well. It’s been incredibly supportive to work here. I sort of lucked into one good situation after another. My latest novel, Amos the Amazing, is a fantasy book through and through but also a solarpunk fantasy novel, and it’s due to come out this year with a huge Chinese publisher that did incredible things with Cixin Liu’s ‘Three-Body Problem,’ so, fingers crossed, it could become quite successful here. Local media heard about it and I just wrapped filming of a pilot TV show where I explore solarpunk stuff around China and check out ancient culture and I have no idea what’s going to happen with that but it will surely help promote the book. I plan to write more in this world and would love to see it adapted to film. I think there’s a great market in China for local content. They love western books and movies too, so sort of doing a hybrid, a ‘Chinese Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland’ kind of thing that shows off and explores China, and combines Western and Eastern myths and legends, magic and fantasy, science fiction and the dreams of a solarpunk green energy revolution, well, it’s all quite exciting. It takes the edge of my existential ennui. It’s always good to have hope.
In May 2020 you published your first book ‘Kai’s Diary: A Canadian’s COVID-19 Days in Chongqing’. What made you decide to put pen to paper and tell your story? How did it feel to be the unwilling pioneer of a new “Covid Life” nobody knew how to handle back then?
It was terrifying. As a poet, I took the pandemic extremely seriously, almost comically so. I washed my hands and masked like it was performance art, like the way Jim Carrey did Andy Kaufman. And it was mostly scary that after spending 30 years studying creative writing and taking classes and drafting outlines, I might die with a few binders of unpublished books and never know if I had the stuff to really make a mark as a storyteller. That was my ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro (Hemingway)’ moment, where he lies around dreaming of all the travels he never wrote, of all the novels he had in his belly that he was saving for later but would never live to write. It put a fire under my butt, and I got to writing whatever stories I could… first, a diary about the very scary and new situation I encountered, plus vignettes and dreams and a bit of what felt like ‘time traveling.’
There was a lot of scientific speculation and then as my ‘diary’ unfolded over the 3 years, became much more philosophical. I published the first 60 days with a huge Chinese traditional publisher, in English and Chinese, and it became a nonfiction bestseller here, won some awards and was voted a ‘top novel in China for 2020’ by some publishing agencies. I was astounded. Here, I had heard there wasn’t ‘free speech’ in China. Still, here I was, publishing an internationally syndicated column in Canadian and Chinese news, sharing my gripes and griefs and shower thoughts, data, fears and projections. I was winning awards from Journalist Associations and accolades from the local government and the foreign affairs office for my ‘good work during a crisis.’ It was quite encouraging, and I got to writing my fantasy novel and decided to keep the fire burning, to see how many books I could get done in this short lifelike dream that has been gifted to me, one day at a time.
‘Kai’s Diary’ was hugely successful and published both in English and Chinese: what happened next?
As the pandemic spread, I curated blogs from friends around the world to continue this journey as a book, Year of the Rat. Rats are funny, in Asia they’re seen as clever and smart, in the west they’re dirty and plague carriers. This curious Yin and Yang really interested me, as so many things do when you have one foot on each side of the world and exist in a totally alien culture that becomes more ‘normal’ to you than the country you came from. The year 2020 hit very differently worldwide, and it was very interesting to document all the different responses, thoughts, fears and ideas, for posterity. That book is about 800 pages, quite a tome. While my friends and family were in their own lockdowns in Canada and the US, Europe and Africa, I became a published author, was doing regular media appearances, and even met my childhood hero, martial arts movie star Jeanne-Claude Van Damme at a COVID recovery event – and included some of his thoughts in Year of the Rat. It was all very surreal. By 2021-2022, as the Chinese COVID-0 plan meant months of ongoing lockdowns whenever cases became outbreaks in my city, I kept writing (essays, a media column, my fantasy novel, other drafts, and these philosophical books), and the third book in that trilogy, what I call the Invisible War trilogy, Aye of the Tiger, is almost absurd, a little Albert Camus, in my own way, but it was all me walking myself through a tough conversation. I read this great James Baldwin quote about what a shame it is that most of humanity does all it can to ignore the only simple truth of life: that we will all die. So I asked, what does it mean to realize we might soon die? Does it hit differently when your dreams are not yet realized versus when your bucket list is complete? Over the course of the three years, I went from being unpublished to having seven books out, in multiple languages, a couple of which became best sellers in their own niche genres. I had won awards, was a regular on TV and guest at some pretty heavy conventions hanging out with former presidents and movie stars. These diaries – well I don’t expect them, as a new trilogy to become a best seller for a decade, unless Amos becomes the new Game of Thrones and even then. The others I just put out I think for posterity. I don’t imagine many people want to read about COVID yet. Still, in 5 or 10 years, it might be a welcome look back at a special, very strange time in our lives. For me, it was a transformative period, where I looked death in the face and realized, if I’m going to die soon, I’m going to do my best to realize my dreams, to write, to travel again, to help others, to make amends and conquer fears and make peace with myself and my family. I haven’t been back to Canada in five years, and I’m not sure when I will see them again, but my dad has every one of my books on his shelf, and it means something to me that I can leave behind that legacy, no matter what the future holds. In the end, every one of us dies, but as Shakespeare cleverly wrote in Sonnet 18, his most famous love poem: ‘But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st; Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.’ Writing is a kind of magic, like a twinning of souls. The fact that we can pick up books and sit with dead writers of many ages, and feel their ideas come to life again in our minds truly is magic. And if I work hard enough, I’ll write something that will sit next to their books on the shelf of a boy or girl that I can hopefully inspire, just as their books inspired me.