Ask The Author: M.K. Williams

Author M.K. Williams joins The Bandwagon to talk about her writing process.

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MK Williams is an Indiana-born, Philadelphia-raised, Florida-transplant working and living beneath the sunny, and often rainy, skies of Tampa. Williams’ writing influences include a lifetime of watching suspenseful mysteries and action movies and reading Stephen King, Ian McEwan and J.K. Rowling.

What inspired you to start writing? 

I’ve always enjoyed writing, some people like to paint or draw, I have always liked to write. I find that I genuinely enjoy the creative process of writing and I think I would keep on writing even if I didn’t keep publishing my work. I have always liked to read and my mom was always encouraging to me to write. I dedicated my most recent book to her, she definitely inspired me to pursue honing my craft.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process? 

I wish someone had asked me about my goals sooner. My husband was actually the one to ask me to define my goals. Did I want to be an international bestseller? Did I want to just have my book published? That actually helped me to define my goals and what success would look like for me. If someone had asked me sooner I may have been able to get to where I am now years ago.

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Tell us more about your book.

My latest book is a collection of short stories called The Games You Cannot Win. I love writing in all of its various lengths and forms and short stories are where I started out before I wrote my first novel. The four stories in this collection all follow a different character as they feel trapped in their career, trapped in their goals and what society expects, trapped in a scandal, or trapped in the past. In each one they feel that they are part of a game that someone else is playing with them, or on them, that they can’t get out of. Each story delves into the characters and tackles some serious issues in our society today.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t plan that writing will replace your day-job. When you write with the mindset that you are going to make a million dollars and quit the job you don’t like, you write from a very different place. Write because you enjoy it, that joy will come through in your words and will lead to your success.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. It is a non-fiction book on marketing in the 18th and 19th centuries and how advertisers are constantly finding new ways to steal our attention. I am reading this as research for my next book.

You can buy The Games You Cannot Win on Amazon, Nook, and iBooks. Visit Williams’ website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

#GirlCrush: the feminist subscription box for all your beauty needs

#GirlCrush is the new subscription box that focuses on girl bosses, sending out a monthly box to subscribers that contain beauty products, clothing, jewellery, and many more fabulous items. The company also donates 10% sales to a chosen charity. I signed up to receive the first box, and I was not disappointed.

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Each box is despatched on the 14th of every month, and usually arrives within a few days. I was so excited to come home from work last Friday to see mine sitting on the side. I ripped it open to find multiple luxury beauty products (including a lovely red nail polish that I tried immediately!), a pair of yoga pants, and a candle.

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Sadly, the yoga pants were a tad too small for me, so I sent them to my sister, who definitely needs reminding that she is gorgeous. This box is the perfect pick-me-up. You can personalise it, and discover new brands by female entrepreneurs. Body-positive, feminist, women-centred, it’s everything you could want in a monthly subscription box.

I spoke to director Sienna Rose about this amazing new box.

What inspired you to start the #GirlCrush box? 

I think that usually someone thinks of an idea first and then they think of an appropriate name for it, but for me it was the other way round. I’ve always loved the Girl Crush hashtag as I love the idea of being supportive of other women, instead of viewing each other as competition, so I tried to think of a concept that would embody that.

I’ve always been passionate about business and I love to listen to podcasts of women with great start up stories, so I wanted to provide a service that would help these women promote their products in a way that would highlight what they’ve created.

The #GirlCrush box gives them the chance to do so. Our members can crush on their products, and girl crush on the women behind them via the interview series we run alongside the launch of each box. I love the fact that I know any woman who subscribes to this box isn’t just doing so to receive the beautiful products inside, but also because they believe in our overall ethos of women supporting women

As the company grows I want it to turn into more of a community to celebrate women and their achievements, so I can’t wait for everything we have coming up over the next few months.

What can subscribers expect each month?

For just £20 a month our subscribers can expect at least 8 different luxury quality products created by women owned brands. The box includes beauty, lifestyle products such as stationery, tech and home accessories, and clothing or jewellery.  Whenever we can, we’ll personalise it according to your personal preferences, such as your favourite colour.

The value of our box is up to £150. You can either subscribe on a monthly basis, treat yourself to a one off box, or gift one of our boxes to the main Girl Crush in your life.

What made you choose Women’s Aid as your first charity?

I chose Women’s Aid as the first charity to donate to, as I myself have been through abuse, both as a child and then domestically during my adult life, and so it was really important to me to give back to an organisation that helps us to grow from victims to survivors. As #GirlCrush progresses I’m looking forward to being able to get more involved and give back in an even bigger way.

Tell us more about your background. 

I’ve worked for myself for the past 9 years within the creative digital space, doing a variety of things including website design and influencer outreach. Prior to that I worked in corporate sales. I’m not sure what it’s like now, but 9 years ago it was definitely a male dominated area, so I would often find myself being the only woman in an office filled with men, who would mostly ignore and side eye the 19 year old petite girl consistently smashing her sales targets. This definitely gave me the self motivation to create a business for myself, where I could always be comfortable and have fun doing whatever I wanted, and I’m proud to say I’ve been continuously able to do so. #GirlCrush is already becoming the most fulfilling part of my entrepreneurial journey so far.

Which Girl Bosses are you crushing on right now?

I’m obsessed with beautiful stationery, so I’m really inspired by Kristina Karlsson (the creator of Kikki K) and Erin Condren. I love wrestling so I’ve always loved Stephanie McMahon (WWE), but overall I’m able to draw inspiration from all the Girl Bosses I discover on a daily basis through work and listening to podcasts such as Goal Digger by Jenna Kutcher, or watching Youtube or reading a blog. I particularly crush on Mimi Ikonn and Alex Beadon, they’re both amazing women. I love visiting markets in my local area and being able to see Girl Bosses selling beautiful and unique creations that they made with their own hands. I believe there’s always an opportunity to learn and be inspired by fellow women, because each of us is a Girl Boss in one way or another.

You can sign up to #GirlCrush here, or follow them on Instagram, @hashtaggirlcrush

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I review The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve.

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot’s Wife (an Oprah’s Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath–based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine’s history.

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort.

The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

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Wow. The Stars Are Fire is an absolute gem of a book. It’s the perfect historical fiction – pick an event, and tell me about the people who lived through it. The concept – the fire that destroyed part of Maine in 1947 – is terrifying,

Grace is an amazing woman. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, Grace is bored, frustrated, restrained. Shreve approaches marital rape with the attitude of the time, but also with a modern perspective. Grace’s husband, Gene, views sex as his right, and cares nothing for how Grace feels. Their third child is conceived through what Grace comes to think of as “that terrible night”, but what readers of today would, rightly, identify as rape.

But then, the fire. Grace grabs her two children, both infants, and, together with her neighbour Rosie, runs down to the beach. Somehow, somehow, she manages to keep her children safe. I wonder if this part of the story is based on a true account, if some woman laid face-down on the beach, legs in the water, a wet blanket covering her and her children, waiting for help to arrive. I’m inclined to believe it. The bravery of women, the strength of mothers, is unimaginable.

Gene, along with other men who were helping fight the flames, disappears. Grace, homeless, injured, stays with friends while she heals, gets back on her feet. She remembers that Gene’s mother had left her house to him, and that Gene had intended to move the family into it. A huge house, belonging to them, is standing empty. So she, her children, and her mother, move into it. But the house is not quite as empty as Grace believed. There’s a squatter, a young musician, with whom Grace becomes friends, and then more.

Grace’s story is sad, heartbreaking. With the disappearance of her husband, the fallout of the disaster, she becomes independent. She gets a job at a local doctor’s office, she gets a car, she provides for her family. She is happy. But worse is still to come.

This is absolutely a feminist story. It’s about a woman who, having never been able to stretch her wings, suddenly finds herself free of her cage, and takes flight as if she was born to it. It’s about the restrictions of society, of marriage, and how women are the ones who suffered, who still suffer. The Stars Are Fire is a breathtakingly beautiful story. I strongly recommend this one.

The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay

From the author of Bone By Bone, I review The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay.

Zoe and Ollie Morley tried for years to have a baby and couldn’t. They turned to adoption and their dreams came true when they were approved to adopt a little girl from birth. They named her Evie.

Seven years later, the family has moved to Yorkshire and grown in number: a wonderful surprise in the form of baby Ben. As a working mum it’s not easy for Zoe, but life is good.

But then Evie begins to receive letters and gifts.

The sender claims to be her birth father.

He has been looking for his daughter.

And now he is coming to take her back…

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Unable to have children of their own, Zoe and Ollie adopted Evie (love this name!) from birth. They love her as if she was their own, but, a few years later, Zoe becomes pregnant with Ben. It doesn’t make a difference to them, but Evie appears to be affected by the presence of her brother. She starts receiving gifts from her Real Daddy, left in places only Evie will find them. And then, Evie goes missing.

Who was sending Evie these notes and gifts – is it really her biological father? Do they want to hurt her? Where have they taken her? Full of twists, The Stolen Child is a thrilling, atmospheric story.

Kay drip-feeds information to her readers, keeping them hooked until the very end. Kay is an incredible writer, and I’ve enjoyed both of her books. I look forward to her next work of fiction.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel

I review Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel.

Five stories – five lives

Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

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Just like my own collection, Weltanschauung, Leuschel splits Manipulated Lives into five short stories: The Narcissist, Tess and Tattoos, The Spell, Runaway Girl, and My Perfect Child. Each story is incredibly crafted to entice and cling on to the reader.

My favourite story was Runaway Girl. It shows that anyone is capable of manipulating you. In the story, Holly has been desperately saving money in order to embark on an adventure, to get away from her overcrowded house, with her overworked and underpaid parents. She finally has what she feels is enough to get her started, but things soon start to go downhill. A boy from school, Luke, starts taking an interest in her, and their relationship quickly becomes abusive.

I loved how Leuschel managed to pull so many strings together, to tell a complex, poignant story. All of the stories in this collection were interesting, well-written, and somewhat concerning. Leuschel shows that anyone is capable of manipulation.

Ask The Author: Niki Meadows

Author Niki Meadows chats to The Bandwagon about her writing process. Niki has also chosen The Bandwagon to reveal the title of her new book!

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1) What inspired you to start writing?

Well, I thought it was fun to keep a diary as a kid and journal as a teen that I kept up into adulthood. I tried my hand at short stories and fiction over the years but it never went anywhere. I’d get started and it would fizzle out. I loved to read fiction but I wasn’t very good at writing it. I just assumed writing wasn’t for me to share. I couldn’t let go of my love affair with writing and decided to try blogging. The first time around I didn’t know what I wanted out of my blog and set it to the side. The second time, I was able to better identify what my blog would be about and that felt like a more natural fit for me. I really enjoyed engaging with others and saw that my posts sharing my life in a way others could learn from and be encouraged felt right. I’d long abandoned the idea of writing a book until I was inspired to write something I’d never considered: non-fiction.

2) Tell us more about your book.

The book breaks down the process I used to conquer a 17-year battle with depression. At the time it was less of a “process” and more of me just doing whatever I could to climb out of the bottomless pit I’d been in for so long. I’ve been on this journey for four years and realized that looking back I was able to identify key steps I took consistently to overcome depression. I was Divinely inspired to write the book and saw signs of confirmation all around me encouraging me to go through with this book. The biggest encouragement was sharing the idea of the book to people I would meet just through natural conversation and them being so interested in wanting it to use for themselves. It got to the point I was so fueled by the possibility of helping someone that I couldn’t imagine not putting this out there. I ended up combining my personal experience with my life coaching skills to write the book in a way that challenges the reader in a positive way, sparks inspiration, and elicits action on behalf of the reader.

3) Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wrestled back and forth with this as many first-time authors do. In the end, it felt like a better route for many ways. I decided to start with an e-Book first because I knew I would stall the process longer than necessary getting caught up on unnecessary things had I gone the print route. Self-publishing felt more personal to me, I’m all about connection and this was a way to have the book really embody who I am and what my message is about. The final aspect came down to cost. I was able to do most of the process myself, which made the investment a matter of time not money. I was able to lean on my network from my inner circle to my blogging community for the things I wasn’t able to do on my own. This has been such an amazing experience that I’ll cherish and I’m so grateful for everyone that supported me along the way!

4) Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Stay true to who you are. In a world of information overload, it’s easy to be swayed and try avenues you think will lead to success because they worked for others. I think you have more of the answers than you think, and you should listen to your gut. I’m all about research and information but ultimately I pursue what feels right and encourage others to do the same. There is no right way, just the way that feels right to you.

5) What are you currently reading?

I’m actually reading a few different books at once. My grandpa always did that when I was growing up and I never understood how he could. I’m not able to do that with fiction because I typically stick to one genre and end up mixing the details up. Non-fiction makes it easier to do so. I’ve got Sacred Contracts (Caroline Myss), The Gift of Dyslexia (Ronald D. Davis), and Adventures of the Soul (James Van Praagh) on my Kindle app that I’m reading. In print, I’m reading Abundance Now (Lisa Nichols & Janet Switzer), The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown), and The Book of Chakras (Ambika Wauters).

6) Who are your feminist heroines?

My mom is one of my biggest heroines. She’s done an amazing job of teaching me to be the person I am through her own example. Oprah is what I consider a student teacher of life, a giver, and an inspiration as a female entrepreneur and woman. Ellen DeGeneres is also on my list. Her transparency, courage, and kindness are traits I admire. Queen Rania of Jordan for the amazing job she does bringing social issues to the table. I also admire women to promote and encourage self-acceptance.

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Niki’s book, Wage War On Your Mind & Fight For Your Life, will be published in April. Make sure you grab a copy!

Ask The Author: Ruth Francisco

Author and fierce feminist Ruth Francisco chats to The Bandwagon about Catfish Pearl, and her writing process.

rf_5544_2Ruth Francisco worked in the film industry for 15 years before selling her first novel “Confessions of a Deathmaiden” to Warner Books in 2003, followed by “Good Morning, Darkness,” which was selected by Publishers’ Weekly as one of the ten best mysteries of 2004,  and “The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.” She now has ten novels, including the best-seller “Amsterdam 2012,” published as an ebook. She is a frequent contributor to The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and currently lives in Florida.

What inspired you to start writing?

I started this venture into pirate lore when I was on a panel of Florida authors in Tallahassee. One of the other writers was explaining some peculiar local jargon, such as “square mullet” (marijuana smuggled in bales) and “catfish pearls” (a calcification of calcium carbonate behind the gills of a sail catfish). When I heard “catfish pearl,” I sat straight up, sparks shooting out of my head. “Catfish Pearl! That’s the name of a female pirate!”

Sometimes a character chisels at your brain and won’t let you rest until you write her story.

I started to research local history during the golden age of pirates. I live near one of the first Spanish Missions in Florida, and came across an amazing story. The Apalachee Indians who lived at Mission San Luis, invited the local Deputy Governor and his family to a fiesta at a neighboring mission. During the church service, the Apalachee trapped the Spanish inside and slaughtered them. The unborn child of the Deputy Governor’s pregnant daughter was cut from its mother’s womb. There is no record of what happened to that baby. Seemed to me the perfect beginnings for my heroine Catfish Pearl.

From there, research, and the indomitable spirit that emerged from merely the name Catfish Pearl, led the way.

Tell us more about your book.catfishpearlcover4

From a feminist perspective, female pirates seem like the first feminists. Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Grace O’Malley, Cheng I Sao, Rachel Wall. In reality, some were never pirates at all, merely scofflaws who fell in with pirates. But in mythology, they are feminist heroes, leaders of men, planning dangerous exploits, controlling ruffians and rogues and their own destinies. The common thread among all of these women, both in reality and in mythology, is that they did what they had to in order to survive. They refused to be victims.

I wanted to write a book about survival, how a scrappy, clever girl makes the best of every situation, lives through kidnappings and slavery, physical abuse, loss of family, loss of identity, and emerges stronger and smarter, capable of forging her own empire. It is this element of survival that makes the mythology of the female pirate queen so alluring, even to modern readers.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

I knew nothing when I started, which, at the time (pre-electronic books), was probably a good thing. I would never have had the courage to even find an agent. Now, things are very different. The old route of writing a few short stories, submitting them to magazines, then writing a book, finding an agent through queries and writer’s conferences, relying on the agent to sell your book, is long gone. Now, even agented authors with a string of traditionally published books have a hard time getting published with a publishing house. So what do I suggest?

  • Write a blog about something you feel passionately about and develop a following. Participate in other blogs.  Use social media to promote your blog.  (I used to suggest writers keep a diary; blog writing also makes you write every day, but gives you an audience.)
  • Before you embark on a novel, take a serious look at the marketplace, and see if you can find a home in Romance, Science Fiction, Horror, or Mysteries, genres that are easier to break into.  Imagine your book as part of a series.  The trick here is to be absolutely unique and fresh, but at the same time fit into the genres.
  • See if you can write comedy, satire, or parody.  Humor breaks all the rules.  If you can make people laugh, doors will fly open for you.  Wit and comedy spread through social media like nothing else (for example, Saturday Night Live’s Trump parodies).  You may doubt your comic gifts, but try it, read it, study it.  It will make you a published author.
  • Self-publish on Amazon, but first make your book as good as possible. Edited, a good cover, a good blurb.  Then self-promote.  Use Twitter and Facebook and other social media, participate in blogs, help other writers.
  • Agents?  Are they necessary?  Perhaps not, but keep yourself open to one.  Bear in mind, agents and publishers will only be interested if they see something they know will be a best seller.  Originality, brilliant writing, great story–nothing matters unless they see a big market for it.  Don’t approach them unless you can honestly see your book as a huge seller.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Set aside time to write every day.  Be disciplined.  Don’t check your emails before you sit down to write.  Be curious and aware.  Listen to the way people actually talk.  Read your work out loud.  Read newspapers and nonfiction for fresh ideas.  Just today there was a story on AOL about the wives of dictators around the world.  How fascinating!  What they must put up with.  The compromises and sacrifices.  How do they live with themselves?  Why do they stay?  Could make a fascinating book.  Every day the news will give you ideas.  Keep a list.  See if one ignites.

Also, I can’t impress enough about trying to write comedy and satire. In this political climate, there is a huge (yuge!) market for it. We need brilliant feminist comic voices.

What are you currently reading?

I read mostly non-fiction in my leisure. Since I’m currently obsessed with pirates, I’m reading “A Pirate of Exquisite Mind” about William Dampier, a 17th century explorer/buccaneer. I believe the more you know, the more convincing you are as a writer. Take for example how incredibly knowledgeable George R.R. Martin is about medieval history, and how it brings a brilliance to his writing the transcends the genre.

Who are your feminist heroines?

Elizabeth I of England, both in fiction and reality. To whip a country into shape, dominate and control a completely misogynistic society, politically out-maneuvering them all. Talk about survivors! She demonstrates what current feminists are grappling with. What sacrifices do women have to make in order to compete in a world not only still dominated by men, but configured on traditionally male power structures? Elizabeth gave up any hope for love or family. Can we have it all? Really? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Catfish Pearl | Amazon UK | Goodreads