The Sheriff, Simon Fairbanks

When Simon asked me if I could read his novel, I suspect he thought I would either A) say I would read it then never get around to it, or B) read it, send him a few thoughtful paragraphs and be done with it. Ha! Jokes on you Mr. Fairbanks! There’s nothing I love more than taking a red pen to the book of someone I know and then bombarding them with my “helpful” “constructive” “criticism.” (Seriously. Just ask my mother. No bond is too sacred to escape my frenetic enthusiasm for improvement.)  It’s especially satisfying when that person is also the first place winner of the collaborative novel competition, Ten to One, that I participated in over the last eighteen months.

Now, as an American, I have been brainwashed since infancy to settle for nothing less than completely crushing the competition; because I came in second behind Simon, reading The Sheriff could have provided just the balm my ego needed. It could have served as my moment of triumph – a chance to tear his writing apart and reveal my own superiority! It occurred to me, of course, as I was reading (and enjoying) his entire novel in one day, that if he turned out to be a terrible writer, that would be a real blow to the self-esteem…so it’s actually for the best that after I was finished, I was hoping he had a sequel planned. (He set it up for a sequel, and it’s cruel to set a reader up for a sequel and then not provide one Simon.)

As it happened, I did write him an email immediately upon finishing the book. Mainly, I needed to figure out why he’s so obsessed with clowns. (His character in Ten to One was a clown and the God-like figure in The Sheriff was a clown. Are they one and the same? Is there even such a thing as clowns (plural) or is there just the one clown with many faces? Does his fixation stem from a childhood obsession? Too many viewings of that episode of The Simpsons when Bart had that clown bed? Or possibly just one extremely traumatic viewing of Killer Clowns from Outer Space?) You’ll be shocked to hear that he was much more interested in my other thoughts about the book. I got zero answers to my clown inquiries. I’m sure that has has nothing to do with the fact that the clown in The Sheriff played a minor role in the story and everything to do with him belonging to a society of clowns with a strict code of secrecy. 

Personally, I find the idea of a clown with the power to turn the clouds into a refuge for tribes of magical beings fleeing the earth to be terrifying. Clowns are scary enough without fantastical powers, but I can’t argue with the results. I loved that all manner of creature could be living up above us and that, if discovered, would be part of an air-bound war between the people of earth and those flying high above. I also thought the payoff regarding the Sheriff and his deputy was ingenious, and I don’t use that word lightly (especially when it comes to my former nemesis). One of his reveals was so lovely it’s actually quite difficult for me not to spoil it. I won’t, of course. We’re very anti-spoiler here on the internet…

Essentially though, in this one book, he manages to in squeeze in clowns, misunderstood villains, comedic violence, less comedic violence that sneaks up and tears out a little piece of your heart, cheeky old folks, red headed brothers, and worthwhile spoilers. Since I will read just about anything with heroic red heads and back-talking geriatrics, I was well and truly taken. I am, however, first in line with a red pen to get my hands on a draft of the sequel. Sweet victory, I await!


For more about (my friend and very good sport) Simon Fairbanks, head over here.

Satan’s Short, Heide Goody and Iain Grant

Well, the wait is finally over, and I can say I came in second place in Ten to One! Thank you so much to everyone who supported me and sent votes my way on Facebook. I’m very happy I no longer have to beg votes from family, friends, and strangers, but that won’t keep me from pimping the book itself when it comes out in the fall! It’s a fun read, and I’m really proud of what we’ve put together…which doesn’t mean it doesn’t still need plenty of editing, but that’s okay. I actually enjoy the editing process. I mean, who doesn’t prefer to start with raw material rather than an empty page?!

At any rate, I needed a palate cleanser after last week, and I was finding it difficult to get into anything long. My mother was visiting from New Hampshire, my husband was sick, and my brain was still half in grieving mode from Young Widower. The rest of me was trying very hard not to think about that final round of voting for Ten to One. It turns out, not thinking about something requires nearly as much energy as thinking about it does! Funny how that works, isn’t it?

It seemed fortuitous, somehow, that in the midst of all that not thinking and not working (because between my mum’s visit and playing nurse, there was zero actual work happening), Goody and Grant’s collection of shorts about Clovenhoof was released on Amazon. It was a year ago, in March, that I sent off my audition packet to Grant, and only slightly less than a year ago that I decided I wanted to read his work before I got really excited about the possibility of being invited to join the project.

I read Clovenhoof in a Starbucks in London, and it killed me. I didn’t think its follow-up, Pigeonwings, could possibly hold a candle to it, and then I loved it just as much. Goody and Grant are just dynamite writers, and now that the contest element of Ten to One is over, I can rave about them without worrying about whether it’s a conflict of interest! Instead, I can just be thrilled that they decided to write a few more stories in this universe and then only charge me a dollar for the pleasure of reading them.

Honestly. It’s March – the one month a year that has neither the benefit of a three-day weekend to break up the monotony of the work week, nor the redeeming quality of long lazy summer days (unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case, August is your March, so save this series until you need it). This is the perfect time to curl up with unrelentingly funny books. They may not change the dreary weather or help you kick that inevitable St Patrick’s Day hangover (even if you don’t drink, I have to imagine corned beef and cabbage takes time to recover from), but they will bring much-needed light to this slow month. And hey! Since I’ve already read them all, I’m open to suggestions in the comments for other novels that might perk March up for me. Sure, I have a huge stack of books I should be reading, but none of them really screams “escape.” I’d be grateful to hear about your favorite winter break reads…

Bonus Monday post!

For the last ten months, I’ve been co-authoring a novel with nine other writers (seven from the UK, one from Brazil, and one from Washington, DC). The project is called Ten to One, and it has been an amazing experience to write a novel with this talented crew.


ten to one

The premise of the project is that, as a group, we produce ten chapters, each of us writing a section of each from the perspective of a single character. The catch is that after every chapter is written, we post the sections on Facebook, and the audience (and a panel of judges) vote. The character with the fewest votes (combined with the lowest judges score) is eliminated after each round (hence the name Ten to One!).

My character, Nell, is a young widow trying to escape her past who has recently moved to Skegness (a small, dingy seaside town in England) from Virginia to live with her aunt and waitress at a chip shop. She’s an amateur boxer and a former EMT who has gotten mixed up with murder and mayhem through the thugs running her gym (and an illegal fight club), and while her situation is getting messier, the lives of those around her, including her only real friends in town – a sword swallower and a dangerous mafia wannabe – are falling apart.

Unfortunately, the chapters are extremely difficult to read on Facebook (the spacing is all off and it’s not collated with the other writers’ sections, so if you’re interested in a better reading experience, check out the archives here. If, however, you would simply like to vote for me (and Nell), all you have to do is go HERE (or I might be reduced to truly humiliating levels of begging. Scroll to the bottom of the post and click LIKE to cast your vote. Don’t be fooled by the LIKE button on the top of the post – it’s connected to the Ten to One page instead of my specific post (I have no idea why – Facebook is a mystery to me).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking your vote doesn’t matter, or that others will vote so you don’t need to. Not true! There are over 11,000 of you hanging out at Books j’adore, and last round, I think I had 92 votes. The guy in first place had 164. Take a minute to ponder the arithmetic there, and then go vote. I promise it only take twenty seconds and would mean the world to me!

Besides, how can you say no to this face?

Nell, as envisioned by one of my ridiculously talented best friends, Jeannine
Nell, as envisioned by one of my ridiculously talented best friends, Jeannine

Pigeonwings, Heide Goody and Iain Grant

I spent about a week trying to decide whether it was ethical to write a review about a book written by Iain Grant, my editor for Ten to One, and Heide Goody, one of the judges for the project. Since I already published one for the first book (Clovenhoof) in the series back in March, it seemed worth exploring the reasons behind my hesitation and my ultimate decision to joyfully endorse Pigeonwings.

The reason for hesitating is pretty straightforward. I’m the middle of a writing a book that also has an element of competition. (If you’re new to this site and have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll throw you some context about Ten to One over here.) At the moment, we’re down to eight writers (out of the original ten), and the bar was raised impressively between Chapters 1 and 2. Do I want to be the last writer standing eight chapters from now? Of course. We all do.

This made the decision to write a glowing review even more difficult. I blame this difficulty entirely on the fact that I was not brought up to believe I should do whatever was necessary to win. My parents had deeply entrenched beliefs about the ethics of competition in all aspects of life. We were to be open-minded, compassionate, hard-working; if we didn’t win the day with those methods, then we weren’t meant to win it at all.

They stuck to those ideals, occasionally to their own professional detriment, and without a doubt, those lessons, taught almost entirely by example, stayed with me. They were harsh ones to learn too, since the disappointment of being passed over after putting forth an honest best effort is excruciating. I think what saved me from the heartbreak of the many (many) times I’ve learned that I am not the best or most valuable person in any given situation is that my parents didn’t tie self-worth to success; instead, I was brought up to believe two things: self-worth is connected to effort and intention – not results – and love is unconditional.

What it came down to ultimately was that I didn’t want to write a review of Pigeonwings only because it felt a little funny to promote the work of people in a position of power over me. On the other hand, I think I may have unintentionally just defined what most people consider a form of networking. I’ve never been very comfortable with networking or self-promotion (as far as I can tell, most introverts aren’t), but I understand the value of it.

What I understand even better, though, is the value of working with people who are good at what they do. I enjoy collaborating with writers who are talented, competent, and passionate. It’s easier to put aside concerns about conflict of interest when I consider how difficult it is to get a great book published, and how fortunate I am to be working with people who manage to do just that. It might make me a little uncomfortable to get out my pompoms and start cheering for this book, but to be honest, back in March, reading Clovenhoof  was what convinced me to fight for this job. Finding these authors and loving their work has given me to the opportunity to work on a book I adore, and if that doesn’t earn them a little well-deserved recognition for their own literary efforts, I don’t know what does.

I also loved Clovenhoof so much that when I went to Amazon last week to pick up the new novel and saw that I could borrow it for free with Prime, I didn’t. I paid for it (because yes, I do believe spending money on something signifies worth), and then I spent the next few days carving out little blocks of time around hosting two of my best friends to read it. (I discovered I could read fifteen percent in the fifty minutes it took me to go four miles on the cross trainer at my gym, which made me feel like a multi-tasking maven.) 

While Clovenhoof got me (and my apparently disruptive laughter) glared out of a London Starbucks on two separate occasions, Pigeonwings nudged me to wake up before my alarm just so I could squeeze in a chapter before the start of another day. Let me tell you about how only the promise of truly pleasurable reading could ever convince me to roll over before dawn…

Clovenhoof, who had been enlivening the quiz night at the Boldmere Oak by shouting out random wrong answers before he was kicked out by Lennox the barman, staggered home, turning each merry stumble of his hooves into a tap dance worthy of Gene Kelly. He tottered up the high street, not yet decided if he was going to indulge in a goodnight kebab, curry or pizza, and saw two shady looking figures outside Books ‘n’ Bobs.

“There’s nothing worth stealing in there,” he called out.

“It’s us,” said Ben.

And it was. Ben and Michael were sitting on folding garden chairs, wrapped in winter coats and blankets, Michael with a clipboard in his hands, Ben with a computer tablet in his.

“We’re doing a scientific study,” said Michael, a phrase that Clovenhoof typically understood to mean ‘spying on naked neighbours with a telescope’. As there were no neighbours, naked or otherwise, in sight, Clovenhoof was nonplussed.

“We’re recording local bus traffic,” said Ben, “and comparing it to relevant astrological data.”


“We log the bus and use its registration number to find its place and date of manufacture and draw up the corresponding horoscope.”

“You’re calculating the horoscopes of buses?” said Clovenhoof, who was quite sure he hadn’t drunk enough to be making this up himself. (loc 1489)


For more about Goody and Grant, head over here.

Bonus Tuesday post!

I try not to inundate you with non-book review news here at Books j’adore. I realize it can get tedious to be bombarded by requests to sponsor, share, and vote for people online, and I enjoy knowing that so many readers come here twice a week to get a book fix without having to look at ads or buy anything. I love writing for you, and I love hearing from literary nerds all over the world.

Ten To One Image squashedThat being said, I don’t get paid or compensated for this in any way. To make a living, I have a slew of  other writing gigs I mostly don’t talk about here (unless I’m under deadline and it affects how much I get to read). At the moment though, voting has just started for a collaborative novel I’ve been working on and it would mean so much to me if you would lend me (and the project) some (non-financial) support.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (Five points if you can guess that movie reference.) In February, I followed a lead for a project run by Iain Grant (co-author of a wonderful book I reviewed called Clovenhoof and editor at Pigeon Park Press). The idea for the novel, entitled Ten to One, was that the book would open with ten writers, each with his or her own character. After every chapter concluded, the text would be posted, voted on, and the character with the fewest votes would be written out in the following chapter.

The audition process that followed the acceptance of my resume was grueling, but also incredibly exhilarating. Of course, it didn’t help that my computer died halfway through the process and I was frantically writing scenes, character sketches, and story arcs on my phone, but even so, I was desperate to get in. I have never wanted a job so badly in my life, and when I found out I had secured one of the ten spots over Memorial Day weekend, I flipped out. Since then, the ten of us (seven writers in England, two in the US, and one in Brazil) have been shaping the first chapter (yes, we already have a much larger outline for the rest of the book, but it takes a remarkable amount of dialogue to come to a consensus about each step along the way) and writing our scenes for Chapter 1.

That first chapter is now up for voting (most easily through Facebook here, but I believe also through the newsletter, which you can sign up for here). It would be wonderful if you took the poll (and although I love the other writers on this project, I have to say) to vote for me. If you go to either of those links, you can, and hopefully will, read all the sections of the chapter. The book is going to be so much fun. Oh, and just a head’s up – it’s a little salty; a few characters, like mine, use rough language, and there is some violence, although nothing too graphic. If you read all the pieces and decide to vote for another character, I won’t hold it against you (much). I’m having a blast working with these guys, and I’m happy to report that every writer will continue to be a part of the editing team even after they’ve been voted off.

Here’s what I’ll say about it before I go back to writing about books for you. Ten to One is a job, but it also feels like an amazing class where my brain is constantly exploding with exciting new knowledge, and as a bonus, I get paid to do it. I desperately want to move on to the next round and continue being a part of this incredible experience. Your votes will help me do that and will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much for being a part of this crazy journey with me.

EDIT: If you want to vote for me, pick NELL in the polls (section 1.2). I realized that might be a piece of crucial information I left out there…