• Books

    Sue Burke Dreams Up Super Intelligent Plant Life

    Interference, Sue Burke, Karen Hugg, www.karenhugg.com #giveaway #sci-fi #sciencefiction #books #novels #free #SueBurke

    Sue Burke has spent a lot of time around words. She’s worked as a reporter, editor, translator, and writer. A Clarion alum, she’s published over 30 short stories and now two science fiction novels. The first, Semiosis, focused on a group of people who leave Earth to colonize another planet. Her new novel, Interference, centers on a follow up team’s time on Pax where a clash of cultures ensues. In both novels, Burke brings plants to life as characters, which I, as a horticulturalist, found fascinating. Plants don’t have brains but someday they might! Here’s our interview.

    Your two books are both science fiction. Were you always interested in sci-fi novels or is this a relatively recent passion?

    The “golden age” to discover science fiction is usually considered to be 13 years old. That’s when I found it, and I devoured the science fiction section in my junior high school library—a well-curated selection, I later realized. (Thank you, librarians!) It’s been a love affair ever since.

    Inspiration In Her Own Home

    You’ve said you got the idea for your first novel Semiosis from your houseplants. Can you tell us more about that?

    Years ago, one day I discovered that one of my houseplants, a vine, had wrapped around another plant and killed it. Then it almost happened again with different plants. I began researching plant behavior and discovered they will ruthlessly kill each other to capture sunlight, among other complex and often aggressive behaviors toward each other and toward animals. I became intrigued. I also began supervising my plants very carefully. You can’t trust them.

    When I read Semiosis, I was delighted that the plants have their own sentience and interests. Because in real life they actually do! Plants don’t have brains like humans but they have enough awareness to reproduce, migrate, heal, communicate, defend themselves, etc. Did you do any research about that concept before writing the first novel?

    The research inspired the novel. The more I learned about plants, the more kinds of conflicts I saw—and conflicts are what drive stories. I began to wonder: What if plants, in addition to their awareness and abilities, were intelligent like humans? Science fiction gave me the tools to explore that idea.

    Are Plants People Too?

    You elegantly explain that sentience by briefly mentioning that Pax was a billion years older than Earth, thus implying the plants have had time to evolve into more sophisticated beings. Which might truly be happening somewhere else in the universe right now. Does that idea interest or excite you?

    Yes! The idea of alien life fuels science as well as science fiction. Astronomers are searching hard for other planets in the “habitable zone” around stars that might bear markers of life, such as oxygen in its atmosphere, which could indicate photosynthesis. What would those life forms be like? Science fiction writers are boldly going wherever their imaginations can travel to find out. As a science fiction fan (all authors are fans, as George R.R. Martin says), I love to travel with other writers, too, as they explore the wild, wonderful universe.

    I also like that Stevland is a bamboo. It allows for him to see far and wide and to highly function. And let’s face it, bamboos are really monsters of plant life. At least they are in the Pacific Northwest! (not to mention China) How did you come to choose bamboo?

    Research told me that plants are naturally impatient and aggressive, which helped me understand Stevland’s personality. A bamboo has those and many other characteristics that I needed for my protagonist, including size, beauty, and tenacity. My brother, who used to live on the West Coast, says the only way to get rid of bamboo in your yard is to move.

    Sue Burke Dreams Up Super Intelligent Plant Life, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/11/24/sue-burke/, #SueBurke, #Semiosis, #Interference, #sciencefiction #books #novels, #interview, #plants
    Author Sue Burke
    The Duology

    Semiosis focused on a group of colonists surviving the first few generations on an Earth-like planet. So, the chapters jump in time to the main characters of this new civilization’s history. Have you ever thought of writing more, maybe shorter, stories about the Pax people?

    I’ve posted a couple of short stories on the Semiosis website. I have plenty of other ideas, too. Ideas are the easy part. Turning ideas into stories is hard.

    The new novel, Interference, follows a group of Earthlings who come to Pax to check on the original colonists. An interesting clash of cultures ensues. What inspired you to explore this premise?

    Even before I started work on Semiosis, I wondered what people from Earth would think about the colony and the way it had adapted to its new environment. Our history here on Earth suggested that this contact would go badly. Soon I wanted to explore exactly what could go wrong.

    A Writing Journey

    For the writers out there, can you tell us about your publishing journey? How long did it take to write Semiosis? How long did it take to get it published?

    I began writing Semiosis in 2001. With generous help from the members of my local critique group, I finished in 2004 and began searching for agents and publishers. In 2008, I found a publisher. Then the Great Recession hit and the publisher delayed and finally dropped the book. In 2014 I began marketing the manuscript again and eventually found a great agent who found a new publisher. Semiosis appeared in stores in 2018. My advice for other writers, based on experience: Be tenacious and have faith in your dream, and be patient with the process and with yourself.

    Are you working on anything new? Or working on any projects you’re excited about?

    I’m working on a novel totally unrelated to the world of Pax (now in yet another rewrite), as well as a historical novel about a medieval Spanish queen. “In the Weeds,” a short story with an ecological theme, will appear in the SFFworld.com anthology Dying Earths in December. And I have lots of thoughts about what might happen next with the characters and worlds in Semiosis/Interference. I can’t imagine not writing.

    Where can people find more information about you? Are you doing any events we might like to know about?

    The novel Semiosis has a website, and I have a personal website . I’ll be at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, for several events in 2020, including “Attack of the Plant Nerds” on March 28th.

  • Books

    Lisa Barr Brings Energy and Sex to her New Novel

    Lisa Barr, Lisa Barr Brings Energy and Sex to her New Novel, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/08/06/lisa-barr/ #LisaBarr #TheUnbreakables #books #novels #Paris #France #Provence #LisaBarrInterview

    Lisa Barr is, in short, a pretty amazing author. She writes books packed with energetic intrigue and her productivity is off the charts. Starting her career as a reporter and editor for various periodicals, Lisa has transitioned to full-time fiction writer. Since then, she’s written a vivid historical fiction novel, Fugitive Colors, and now The Unbreakables, a women’s fiction novel packed with emotion and sex and art. It’s a novel for those who like stories about women breaking out onto their own and discovering the truth about who they really are. I chatted with Lisa about her work and life. Check out our conversation.

    You’ve had a long career as an editor and reporter. What made you decide to write fiction? 

    Actually, I’ve always written fiction. By day, I was a working journalist, by night I worked on my fiction – short stories and manuscripts. I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, Fugitive Colors, when I was on bedrest for nine months (yes, you read that right) with my eldest daughter. I have three daughters … talk about drama (hahaha) …. 

    Fugitive Colors is a wonderful portrait of young relationships in the art world against the backdrop of war. The novel is rich with imagination and ideas. How did it first come about?
    The Unbreakables, Lisa Barr Brings Energy and Sex to her New Novel, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/08/06/lisa-barr/ #LisaBarr #TheUnbreakables #books #novels #Paris #France #Provence #LisaBarrInterview

    I was 26 years old, serving as the managing editor of a women’s magazine in Chicago, and was sent on an assignment to cover the “Degenerate Art” Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Entering the museum, I literally stopped in my tracks — I had found my story. What I saw at that exhibit would later morph into the historical-fiction tale of Fugitive Colors. Even as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I never knew about the Nazis relentless mission to destroy the avant-garde — particularly painters. Hitler and his henchmen went after the German Expressionists with a vengeance never seen before. I am a writer not an artist – but I needed to understand what made someone both a murderoumadman and an artist. The story is a historical thriller; a fictional tale of three young artists and how the looming war destroys their lives, their art, and their friendship. The theme of this book and all of my work is: How far would you go for your passion? Answer: all the way

    The artistic life in Fugitive Colors is vivid and seems authentic. Are you yourself an artist of some kind? Did you research artists of that time? 

    I am not an artist, but I am a huge art lover, and I gravitate toward art in some form in all of my work. My characters – whether historical or contemporary – are artists. I connect to the artist’s temperament and passionate nature. I did a lot of research on art and technique in both books. I’m kind of a research junkie – it’s my journalist background that pushes me to insure authenticity. I researched Fugitive Colors for nearly four years before I allowed myself to write a single word.

    Your new book, The Unbreakables, is a pretty dramatic shift away from historical fiction. It’s contemporary and about a woman moving to Provence to rediscover herself. You wrote a beautiful portrait of that region. I love it too. Why do you think Provence is so alluring?

    Setting is like another character in my novel, with a personality of its own. The south of France is captivating. The air, the sea, the historic Medieval structures, the fragrance of lavender, the perfumeries … you can lose yourself there, and conversely, find yourself.  My protagonist Sophie Bloom needed to break away from Suburbia in order to really blossom. Her first stop was Paris, but ultimately, she discovers her true self amid the natural beauty of the countryside. And by the way, doing research in Provence, was NOT torture. I bathed in it, utilizing all five senses every step of the way. Only then, I could gift it to Sophie. 

    Chicago also often plays a smaller role in your books. As a native Chicagoan, I always smile at that. Do you see yourself fully setting a book there ever?

    I have traveled the world but I love Chicago – it’s home. It does play a smaller role in both my books (and the next one I’m working on too) … but it is usually a starting point, a home base, from which my main character launches into more exotic locations. 

    What are you working on now? Anything new that’s knocking about in your head?

    I’m working on a novel that is suspenseful but yes, filled with love, passion and art. It’s about a young female investigative journalist who uncovers a deep dark story in the art world (I know, I know – I can’t keep away).  This new manuscript taps into my journalist background, which has been fun for me to dig deep and go back there. As you can see, I’m a bit of genre jumper. My first novel was historical suspense and The Unbreakables is hardcore women’s fiction. But if I’m captivated by a story — especially if art and passion is involved — then I’m all IN.

    More Info on The Unbreakables

    “Artful, feminist, and emotionally gripping. The Unbreakables is a remarkable tribute to a woman’s strength in the face of heartbreak and adversity.”  — Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient

    “This exquisitely wrought novel will appeal to readers who believe in the redemption of new beginnings, and the necessity of  facing the past while making a deliberate effort to move forward.” — Publishers Weekly


    Enter to win a free paperback copy of The Unbreakables, here! The giveaway ends on August 31st, 2019.
  • Books

    Emily Carpenter Writes the Strong Woman

    Emily Carpenter, Emily Carpenter Writes the Strong Woman, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/08/emily-carpenter #EmilyCarpenter #author #books #novels #literarythrillers #fiction

    Emily Carpenter is the bestselling author of the suspense novels, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, The Weight of Lies, and Every Single Secret. She took the time to speak with me about her novels, what writers influenced her, and why she writes multi-dimensional protagonists. She also offered her advice for emerging writers and what she’s working on next. Check out our inspiring discussion!


    Your novels are full of suspense and family or marital intrigue. Were you drawn to those kinds of books as a reader? If so, do you have any favorites?

    Oh, absolutely. As a kid I was all over Nancy Drew and Lois Duncan’s books. As a teen I loved romance with suspense or intrigue. Also Agatha Christie. I’m a huge fan of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and the Bronte sisters. And of course, reading Gillian Flynn and Harlan Coben helped me pinpoint books I wanted to write myself.

    You expertly jump back and forth between locations, time periods, and/or narrators in your novels. What’s your writing process like? How do you keep track of the story? 

    For me, my process is (borrowing a phrase from Sara Paretsky) very untidy. It kind of drives me crazy because it’s unique from book to book, very organic and therefore really unpredictable. It scares me sometimes, because I take a leap of faith with each new book I start—believing that at some point, things are going to click and I’m going to really understand a character or figure out a great plot point. But I never have it all at the beginning when I start. I just have this incredibly strong hunch that this story has a lot of fascinating elements and it’s full of possibility. So my process is just to forge ahead and get it all down on the page and trust that it’s all going to work out if I keep hammering away at it.

    Your new book Until the Day I Die focuses on a mother-daughter relationship. Having a teen daughter with a well-formed personality myself, I was impressed by how realistic Shorie was, and how realistic their relationship was. It’s complex and not always perfect. Did you draw on real life experiences for that?

    Definitely. I mean, even though I’m older, the feelings of being a teenager are never that far away for me. I remember so much of the stuff I dealt with really vividly. Also I do have three kids, all boys, all very different, and we’ve totally had our clashes. They’re all very particular to who that kid is and how the two of us relate to each other. Girl or boy or anything in between—honestly, relationships are complicated.

    I think specifically, the beginning of the book where Erin is moving Shorie into her dorm room at college and their fighting was something I wanted to capture. The intensely emotionally-charged feeling. And how when it doesn’t go well—it doesn’t turn out to be this picture-perfect moment of a bittersweet, loving send-off—well, that is just crushing.

    Most of the protagonists in your books are strong-willed, smart, and a bit flawed. I love that. I think their multi-dimensional natures make them so interesting. What or who has been your inspiration for this approach?

    I find characters that are too sweet or compliant and passive to be really uninteresting. That said, I do happen to be writing a character now who’s basically dedicated her life to shielding and protecting her fragile mother, but she’s really incredibly bitter and resentful about it, and I consider that just below the surface, she’s basically this powder keg ready to blow up all over everybody. I just think that’s far more realistic, fun, and interesting to have those kind of people as protagonists. And, I don’t know, I happen to be extremely strong-willed, and sort of smart-ish, and very definitely flawed, so maybe I’m just writing characters I can relate to.

    All of your books contain a plot mystery that needs to be solved, which makes for fun and engaging reading, but when I read Until the Day I Die, the plot was so compelling and thrilling that I couldn’t help think that this particular novel would make a fantastic movie. Any plans?

    That one was super-fun to write because it was such an adventure as opposed to my other books which lean more toward the interior and the psychological. This one had running from bad guys and jumping off waterfalls and dodging scalding sulfur pits. The previous book I’d written, Every Single Secret, involved a lot of creeping around an old, decrepit mansion deep in the woods, so I loved having the contrast of the modern, technological aspect of the app, Jax, along with the physical action.

    What advice would you give to new writers? Any querying stories or publishing setbacks you’d like to share?

    I think there are two things for all new writers to keep in mind. Get better and keep trying. One doesn’t work without the other. Do whatever it takes to improve your writing: read great books, take classes, and seek out smart criticism. And then keep trying to get that agent or to sell your book. It’s a tricky thing to know when to keep pushing versus giving up on a particular book. I’ve got three in the drawer that, for different reasons, just didn’t work. But you have to follow your gut. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reworking and revising. Sometimes a book needs to be abandoned.

    What are you working on now? Any events or plans we can look forward to?

    I’m writing the follow-up to my debut Burying the Honeysuckle Girls. It’s called Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters and it follows Dove Jarrod, one of the characters from the original book. She was a tent evangelist in the 1930s and beyond, but she has a secret—several, in fact—that her granddaughter Eve is uncovering and having to face. In terms of events, I’m going to be talking to the Georgia Romance Writers group next weekend. I’ll be in conversation with Kimberly Belle at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Georgia at the end of June and up in New York and Pennsylvania in mid-July.

  • Paris & France,  Writing

    Deborah Lawrenson Knows How to Surprise and Delight

    Deborah Lawrenson is a versatile author who can write humor, mystery, historical fiction, and even espionage. She specializes in secrets, lacing her stories with clues and danger that keeps readers turning pages and asking questions. Her first novels dealt in satire, Hot Gossip, Idol Chatter, and The Moonbathers, before she tackled more serious subjects like World War II and familial relationships in The Art of Falling and 300 Days of Sun. The Lantern is a wonderful retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, only set in the south of France. Her latest, Death in Provence, takes readers on a fun mystery romp. It features a divorced woman who buys a dream house in the French countryside but ends up investigating a murder. We chatted about Deborah’s early writing work, the highs and lows of publishing, her house in Provence, and what it’s like to collaborate with a spouse.

    You started out as a journalist. Can you tell us how and why you transitioned from that to becoming a fiction writer?

    The journalism, fun and fascinating as it was, was always the means to an end for me. I started out wanting to write books but knew I would have to get some experience and make some contacts first. My first novel was a shameless plundering of my experiences working on Fleet Street’s most famous gossip column, which I knew had a built-in marketing angle. In retrospect it all looks ridiculously easy: I had an agent and a publishing deal very quickly. But of course, it didn’t feel like that in the four months of waiting, when I had no idea of the realities of publishing.

    You’ve also written satirical novels. I’d love to write humor but it seems difficult. Any thoughts on writing humor? 

    Editing is crucial. Write what makes you laugh – then be brutal with what you’ve written. Polish, polish and polish some more until it reads newly-minted and fresh. If you’re writing dialogue, make it snappy and above all, credible. The reader needs to “hear” the words pop off the page. Try to surprise and delight.

    The Art of Falling seems like it was your breakout novel, at least in the UK, and it took you years to research and write. Then, after some false starts, you finally self-published it. It was a huge success. How was that journey and do you recommend self-publishing as a way for writers to start out? 

    At the time, it seemed the worst thing that had happened in my career, when my literary agent didn’t like it. I had put everything I had into that novel, alongside being a fairly new mother. I thought big and found a new agent, one of London’s finest, but though she loved it, after a year she couldn’t get a deal for me. The question then was, did I give up or did I try harder, on my own?

    I tried harder. I had the novel professionally edited, and was heartened when the (very experienced) editor I chose said that she couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been taken up. I decided to self-publish, using a company that was producing good quality independent books, Troubador. They did all the work but allowed me to package The Art of Falling as published by a tiny new firm, Stamp. I commissioned my own expensive cover because I wanted the book to look like a mainstream-published literary novel.

    With 2000 copies printed, I set off to persuade bookshops to stock it. I had some luck, including some fiction buyers who loved it and became great supporters of the book, and after eight months Random House UK bought the rights and republished.

    Now, I think it was the best thing that could have happened, because I gained important insights into how the industry operates, from the marketing department to the shop shelves. I would recommend that route, with a big caveat: you have to be willing to work on the marketing every day, whether that’s speaking to bookshops (sadly there are ever fewer of the independents who were so crucial for me) or pushing for publicity.

    I love your book The Lantern. It’s a retelling of the novel Rebecca, which is one of my all-time favorites. Did you have ideas of retelling the story for a while or was it an impulse?

    Thank you, that’s lovely to hear! It was more of an impulse. I was re-reading Rebecca in Provence not long after we bought our property there. The renovations we wanted to do were daunting and the whole hamlet was in a pretty rundown state. Parts of it still seemed strange and eerie and redolent of other lives and events. The bright sunlight would flicker unnervingly through the trees just outside and make me jump. Was someone there, in the corner of my eye? I remember thinking how lucky I was that I was there with a husband I knew well. What would it have been like if I were embarking on it with a man who was keeping as many secrets as the house? That was the first glimmering of The Lantern.

    Can you tell us a bit about the house you own in Provence? It looks amazing. When did you fall in love with that region?
    Death in Provence by Serena Kent, An Interview with Deborah Lawrenson, https://karenhugg.com/2018/10/09/death-in-provence #mystery #novel #books #DeborahLawrenson #SerenaKent #Provence

    It’s a magical place, more than just a house. It’s a cluster of buildings dating from the seventeenth century, originally a farm with dependencies. A path up the hillside becomes a tiny narrow street through its heart, and in a building at the top of this “ruelle” we found the remains of an old oven. Our French friends have suggested this was used to make bread for the travellers who made the journey on foot from the town in the valley to the village on the hilltop above. There are also three enormous trees at the entrance, which in Provençal folklore signify hospitality.

    I first fell in love with the region when I went on holiday with my university boyfriend to his father’s house in a nearby village. Neither of us had the slightest idea that we would end up married and with our very own slice of paradise Provence-style.

    Your latest book, under the pen name Serena Kent, is a fun mystery set in Provence. You collaborated with your husband on it. What was that experience like? Is he a writer too?

    He’s more a musician and composer than a writer, though he has scripted stage shows. It all started off as a joke. I love reading detective fiction in the summer when we’re in Provence. One evening, we were drinking rosé and discussing what we’d like to do with the garden. Soon we were soon fantasising about cypress trees, new stone terracing and planting schemes involving lavender and olives, and I suggested trying to write a cozy mystery to pay for it.

    Writing together was mainly a good experience, though not always. I enjoyed having someone else to chat through the plot with, though we often clashed over details. We’re each convinced that we’re right, most of the time! I am also a hundred times better on detail than he is, and naturally feel compelled to point this out at fraught moments. We have never argued so much as we did during the final edits of Death in Provence, but luckily we also laugh a lot and now think it’s hilarious the way we had to go through that learning curve.

    What’s in the future for you? Will you be doing any readings in Europe or even America in the next few months? Do you have an idea for your next project?  

    We have a few events in prospect in England, and would love to come over to the USA to support publication in February. As for the future, we’re writing the sequel – Death in Avignon – and hoping that these two books will go well enough for our publishers to commission some more Penelope Kite mysteries.