"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
The Night Porter - In The Vatican (Photo: Justin Scholes)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Popular Chickliterati Tracie "Twin Piques" Banister is...around the Cauldron

Sometime last year, the name Tracie Banister was mooted here on the Cauldron as a name to watch out for in the world of the chickliterati. I contacted her and asked if she fancied a chat and she willingly agreed, but for one reason or another, it's taken a year to happen. 

In the meantime, Tracie has rapidly gained a reputation on the circuit for effervescent, upbeat, feelgood chicklit. 

Coinciding with the release of her hot new novel, "Twin Piques", I managed to track her down somewhere deep in the balmy savannahs of the southern states of America (the second native of Atlanta we've interviewed in the past fortnight), and we chatted on the Wizphone accompanied by the chirping of native birds and crickets awaking from their slumbers. Here's what Tracie had to say.

Tell us about yourself, Tracie

Thanks so much for having me on The Wizard’s Cauldron today! My name is Tracie Banister, and I’m an author of three Chick Lit novels, along with being a blogger, TV addict, and dog lover. 

I live in the suburbs of Atlanta, with my two Cocker Spaniels (That number is about to increase as a puppy is being added to the mix next month!)

Do you sip chilled Mint Juleps on a veranda while contemplating your back garden?

LOL No, I’ve lived in Atlanta for almost 30 years and have never partaken of a Mint Julep, and unfortunately I do not have a garden in the back of my house. I do have lots of lovely azaleas and gardenias out front, though, and I have been known to say, “Fiddle-dee-dee,” on occasion.

William Faulkner - native of the South and considered
by the critics to be the most important American
novelist ever.

Tell us about your latest work?

 Twin Piques chronicles a critical few months in the lives of sisters Sloane and Willa Tobin. They’re identical twins, but polar opposites in every way. Sloane’s a hyper-intelligent, sharp-tongued forensic accountant who’s focused on getting a promotion at work while Willa is a sweet, kooky pet psychic who’s on a search for true love. 

How the two of them help (and sometimes hinder) each other from reaching their goals and finding happiness is the core of the story. There’s comedy, romance, cute guys, and even cuter dogs in Twin Piques!

Can you share an extract?

Of course! This is from a Willa/Sloane scene in Chapter  9, which is told from Willa’s POV:

     “Let’s get back to what’s bothering you. Are you sure it’s not a man? Because you could tell me, you know. If you were involved with someone . . .”     “I don’t have time to date right now. I’m totally focused on my career.” This is Sloane’s stock response to any inquiries about her love life.     “I didn’t say ‘date.’ Relationships between men and women don’t have to be labeled.Sometimes they just are . . .”     “Exhausting? Aggravating? A waste of time? Yeah, I’d agree with all that.”     “You wouldn’t feel that way if you found a guy you were simpatico with, someone as smart and ambitious as you, a professional type who values the finer things in life, like good clothes, a nice car–”
     “Maybe a BMW.” Sloane raises an eyebrow questioningly.     “Sure, why not? BMWs are good cars, aren’t they? They look really sleek and elegant and they cost a lot of money, so you’d have to be successful in order to afford one. Do you know anyone who drives a Beemer?”
     “Wow,” Sloane shakes her head in disbelief, “you are so bad at this. It’s like being interrogated by Strawberry Shortcake. Actually, she’d probably be more crafty about it than you. ‘Do you know anyone who drives a Beemer?’ Seriously?”     I guess I tipped my hand. Sloane’s right. I do stink at subterfuge. “I would have asked you outright, but you’re always so–”     “Gav is dead,” she vows while pouring herself some more lemonade. “I should have known when he ran into Josh outside last week that he was going to run straight to you and blab about it. He’s like some gossipy teenage girl.”
     Oh, shoot, now Gav’s going to get in trouble, which I promised him he wouldn’t. I need to bail this out ASAP.

What about your previous novels? Are there connecting themes? How would you describe your canon?

The tagline for my books is “Sexy, sophisticated, humorous fiction for women,” which I think sums up my brand pretty well. One will always find strong, intelligent heroines, romance, and witty dialogue in my stories. The humor was a little sharper in my first novel, Blame It on the Fame, as that was set in the backstabbing film industry. 

My second novel, In Need of Therapy, was a modern-day Latinized riff on Pride and Prejudice, so obviously there was plenty of comedy, family skirmishes, and romantic shenanigans in that one. 

If there’s a connecting theme in my work, it would be women discovering themselves and what their version of happiness is in regards to work, family, friends, and love.

I understand you write full time. Is that nerve wracking?

Only in the sense that I wish there were more hours in the day! I often lament that cloning myself isn’t a viable option as I need a Writing Tracie and a Promo Tracie. They’re both full-time jobs, and it’s not easy to find a balance.

Are you a blogger? Where can my readers find you and what will they find when they reach there?

I just recently opened my newly redesigned blog, Books by Banister:

I post fun pieces there about writing, my books, and my characters. I also feature other Chick Lit/Women’s Fic authors, and I have an entertainment column called “The Banister Buzz,” in which I talk about movies, television, theater, and celebrities.

What are your three favourite books, two favourite CDs and favourite DVD?

Three favorite books: Pride and Prejudice

The Great Gatsby

and Gone With the Wind

Two favorite CDs: “Songs About Jane” – Maroon 5 

and “Wicked” – Original Cast Recording.

Favorite DVD: The Princess Bride

 Who is your inspiration as an author?

The classic authors who inspire me are Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Georgette Heyer, and Shakespeare. The author who made me want to become a writer was Kathleen Woodiwiss. 

I discovered her in my late teens and fell in love with her strong female characters and the well-developed romances in her books. The modern-day authors who inspire me are Lauren Willig, Sophie Kinsella, Elizabeth Peters, Nora Roberts, and Janet Evanovich.


And what do fans of Tracie Banister have to look forward to in the coming year?

Well, I just released Twin Piques the first week of January, so I started the new year off right and hopefully there will be more to come from me in 2015! I have a couple projects cooking right now, an anthology with Jane Austen-centric shorts written by Chick Lit authors, and my 4th novel, which I don’t want to reveal too much about just yet. Suffice it to say that this novel will be set in New York City and involve a pair of antagonistic chefs.

Tracie, thank you for coming to join us around the Cauldron today and I wish you and your novels the very best of luck in the coming year.
Thank you so much, Wiz and the same to you.

Book Blurb

Forensic accountant Sloane Tobin and kooky pet psychic Willa may have the same face, but that’s the only thing these identical twins have in common.

How she can read the hearts and minds of animals has always been a mystery to Willa, and her rotten luck with men is equally baffling. Although she’s been looking for “The One” for what feels like forever (A teenage marriage to a French mime and dating a guy named Spider seemed like good ideas at the time!), optimistic Willa refuses to give up on love. When she meets Brody, the handsome rose expert hired to save her grandmother’s garden, she’s instantly smitten, but why does he keep sending her mixed signals? Does he return her feelings, or is their attraction all in her fanciful head?

Unlike her twin, Sloane has zero interest in romance. Her passion is her job, where she uses her gift for numbers to take down slimy embezzlers and asset-hiding spouses. When she’s assigned two high profile cases, Sloane feels confident the promotion she’s been angling for is within her grasp. But will her plan to climb the corporate ladder be thwarted by difficult clients, her co-worker-with-benefits, or – most surprisingly of all – her own sister? And how’s she supposed to stay focused on the drama at work when her childhood friend, Gav, moves in next door and the spark between them becomes impossible to ignore?

To get what they both want, can Willa and Sloane band together and rely on each other’s strengths? Or will their differences drive them apart once and for all?
Buy Twin Piques (US):

Amazon Global:  myBook.to/TwinPiques

 Social Networking Links

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Peach of a Romance from Kennedy Ryan...back around the Cauldron!

Welcome to the first Cauldron interview of 2015 and with us today is Kennedy Ryan, who is just about to release her third novel, the final part of a trilogy of romances - with a difference.

A good friend of mine and supporter of the Cauldron, not only does Kennedy write clever, intricate, eloquent romance, she is also a passionate supporter of kids with autism and other spectrum disorders. 

A resident of delightful Atlanta, Georgia (the land of Peaches; where it does snow, as you will see, and not everyone spends the weekend sipping mint juleps and reenacting battles from the Civil War), I caught up with Kennedy on the Wizphone just after she had completed yet another of her superwoman days, which, quite frankly, knacker me out just thinking about them. 

Here's what she had to say.

Original Interview With Kennedy Ryan

Hi, K. Tell my new readers about yourself.
Hi Wiz. Great to be back! I'm a wife and a mom, first and foremost. I write contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and published my debut novel through Grand Central/Forever Romance in June. In addition to writing, I also founded and run a foundation serving families living with Autism. Our son was diagnosed 11 years ago, and I’m really passionate about the ASD community.

Also, I’m addicted to Diet Coke.

Whereabouts in the US are you from? I live in Atlanta, Georgia! Also known fondly as Hotlanta. I’m not sure if we’re called that because of our weather or our famous strip clubs. Maybe a little of both…

Does it ever snow there? Do you have a sledge?
 It snows sometimes, but not often. Last year when it snowed, we infamously had people stranded on the interstates for hours, sleeping in their cars and out of gas because the snow paralyzed the city so badly. So we wouldn’t be what you’d call experts at it!  Hopefully we learned our lesson!

And I do not own a sleigh, but we have been known to flip a storage container lid and take to the hills when it snows.

I heard that big coats are difficult to find in the beautiful South and you have to travel to New York and such to buy them, in case of snow. Is that the case? No, that is not the case. We have heavy coats in department stores all over. Also, we do not all sit around sipping mint juleps or spend our weekends re-enacting Civil War battles. In case that was also a rumor! LOL

Noted Atlantean Scarlett O' Hara - the
original (and possibly unequalled) smacked-arse face.

Where else in the US would you like to live? I quite fancy Portland, Oregon
I would definitely choose New York. I love the energy of the city, the infinite cultural opportunities, and the pace. I could live there temporarily. My best friend moved there and lives right on the Hudson. What a view!

Tell us about your latest work?
My next book, releasing Feb 3, is the final instalment of my debut trilogy, The Bennett series. It’s called BE MINE FOREVER and follows the odd man out of the love triangle books 1 and 2 created. 

I love the hero, Cam, who is an artist. He suffered sexual abuse as a child, and it definitely affects him as an adult. This story digs into those effects and how he exorcises those demons…and of course finds love!

You work for a publisher. How did you get involved in that?
My story is somewhat unusual in that the first publisher I ever pitched to bought my book. I joined a local organization for romance writers, and for their conference, they flew in several agents and editors from New York and all over. We scheduled appointments to pitch our manuscripts. I had never pitched before, but I do quite a bit of public speaking, and pitching just felt really natural for me. I don’t remember being nervous, but excited and passionate about sharing my story with someone other than a cousin. LOL! 

I pitched to an agent, who requested the full manuscript. Maybe 20 minutes later I pitched to an editor from Grand Central, and she also requested a full. I signed with the agent a few months later, and the editor acquired my book in a 3-book deal not too long after that. I had only joined the organization a few months prior to the conference, and had only finished my book a few months before. It was a little bit of a blur! But one I’m very grateful for.

Is there a physics-defying infinite demand for e-romance? Or is the chocolate box full to bursting?
I see a huge demand for romance in general, obviously. Strictly from a sales perspective and a genre slice of the pie, romance is killing it. As far as the “e” part of your question, based on studies, more folks still prefer paper backs, though the groups and circles I spend the most time in, Kindle rules! I think self-publishing has obviously changed the landscape significantly. It feels like everyone and their grandmother is writing romance novels these days! The early success of some of the self-pubbers who really made a splash opened floodgates; empowered and encouraged folks who might have felt shut out of traditional publishing that they had a chance. Deserved a chance. 

The market feels a little saturated right now, and to me, it feels like I have to dig through a lot to find real gems. It’s good, though, because I think it pushes us as authors to write better stories, to be more strategic about reaching our audience. There are so many options, you better make yours the best it can be.  And overall, I think it has drawn us as romance writers closer, where it could foster a sense of competiton. I have a strong sense of community with all the writers I encounter. We are always looking for ways to help one another. It’s kind of awesome.

You are an active campaigner for Autism and Spectrum Disorders. What would you like your work to achieve?

The mission of my organization, Myles-A-Part, is to provide financial and emotional support for families living with Autism. We have 3 anchor programs. 

One focuses on preserving marriages in crisis for couples raising children on the spectrum. Marriage is tough enough. Doing it in the pressure cooker that is Autism – even harder. 

We sponsor a holiday program which assists single parents raising ASD kids at Christmas, and we have a scholarship program that assists with medical and therapy costs for families who have trouble affording services for their kids on the spectrum. 

I created this organization, to be frank, because of the incredibly challenging time my family experienced. My son was diagnosed on a Thursday and the next day my husband lost his job. We really spiralled financially, emotionally, relationally – in every way that could affect our little family unit. I said from the beginning if I can assist even one family experiencing any of the difficulties we did, then mission accomplished.

What do you tell your friends you do for a living?
More than they do! LOL! When I tell people all the things I juggle, their eyes cross and they need a nap. Between raising a special needs child and managing the insurance, therapies, waivers etc…that go with that, running a foundation and freelance writing, by the time I get around to saying, “Oh, and I write romance,” they’re just like…when do you sleep? My answer is that I don’t. Just kidding…kind of. LOL!

What a) CD are you listening to b) Book are you reading and c) TV show are you watching.
I have a Spotify playlist for my upcoming novel on repeat. Every time I have a moment, I listen to it. My hero has a love for the oldies like Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers. 

And those gritty, soulful oldies sit right alongside Florence + The Machine, Justin Timberlake, Ray LaMontagne, Kendrick Lamar - my favourite hip hop artist right now – and many more. It really reflects my rather eclectic listening habits, as well as the story. Music is a huge factor in my writing process. It’s a great list, if I do say so myself!

I am reading an ARC by one of my favourite writers, Claire Contreras, called Kaleidoscope Hearts. It is excellent!

 My shows are all on winter hiatus! I allow myself about 4 hours of TV a week. Some of these rotate off when another rotates on. Hubby and I just binge watched House of Cards on Netflix over the holidays. Can’t wait for that to come back! 

I watch SCANDAL, Vampire Diaries and VIKINGS. I recently started watching DVR-d episodes of Gotham and EMPIRE while my shows have been on winter hiatus. Both good layovers! And believe it or not, I just did a mini-marathon of vintage Sex and the City. Cannot believe that was 15 years ago and the clothes STILL rock! LOL!

What is the one major thing in your life that has changed since the last time we spoke?
I’ve written 2 more books! J I think the most major change is inside of me. It’s still happening actually. I DID blog a few weeks ago. It was entitled “Life Is But A Dream…Is A Load of Crap.” Basically confessing how I approached this opportunity to write on the initial all wrong. At least all wrong for me and what I believe the priorities of my life have to be. How I worked so hard and really got out of balance with my family and other aspects of my life because it seemed like this would all disappear if I didn’t work hard enough. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m not doing that anymore. I think, even though I still work a lot, (I’m a recovering and ever-relapsing workaholic) I’m resting and relishing more than I did the first…ahem…two times around the publishing block.

And what do fans of Kennedy Ryan have to look forward to in the coming year?

Gosh, good things I hope! I really see myself on a hybrid trajectory as a writer. So I do have a story my agent is pitching to traditional publishers, but I’m also writing a story that I plan to self-publish later this year, possibly early summer. I’m also writing a non-fiction book that is part memoir, part self-help, part inspirational mish mash, with my family’s autism journey as the backdrop. How’s that for categorization? Not sure I’ll have it finished and sold by the end of the year, but it will be a work in progress. Like me! J

Kennedy, thank you for coming round the Cauldron once more and allow me to wish you luck in the coming year with all your many activities

You are very welcome, Wiz.

CONNECT with Kennedy HERE!!



Next week on the Wizard's Cauldron:  - Tracie "Twin Piques" Banister

Every Interview EVER (109) on the Wizard's Cauldron. 
Is YOUR favourite Indie here?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Popular kidlit blogger, Nelson "Inkspokes" Suit is...Around The Cauldron!

Kidlit is as popular as it ever has been and this week, Nelson Suit, who is a big supporter and friend of the Cauldron joins me to discuss the state of Kidlit and also so his many readers learn a bit more about the man behind the 'spokes! A kidlit writer himself, I contacted him on the Wizphone as he scribbled away on his latest work - here's what he had to say.

Tell us a bit about you and Inkspokes, Nelson.

Thank you Mark for having Inkspokes and me at the Cauldron.  I’ve been a great admirer of your work here and so you can guess at my excitement for being invited in!

 Inkspokes is a website that showcases brilliant book illustrators, indie authors and creative folks in indie publishing. 

We have focused in particular on children’s literature, which may explain why there is such a big artistic presence (and a lot of cute, colourful and sometimes furry characters) at the site.

Corinna Holyoake

Oftentimes, children’s authors (and this can be from picture book authors to middle grade books) have a story idea but are not artists themselves. As an indie author, you cannot rely on a big publisher to source an illustrator for you. At the same time, there are a lot of very talented artists out there whose pure joy is to illustrate. So part of what we do at Inkspokes is to help build connections between indie authors and illustrators and provide a supportive place for that to happen.

Jill Cofsky

We also provide a forum for other indie publishing creatives – editors, book cover designers, voice actors (for your book trailer – check out Jill Cofsky who did a wonderful voiceover for the first chapter of one of my books!), crowdfunding folks – to make connections with authors as well – and a place to showcase quality indie work (in its own kidlit-centered way a bit like the Cauldron I suppose).

Right now we are having our Holiday Fair at Inkspokes – if you visit it, I think you will get a good glimpse of what Inkspokes is about. (Plus there is a weekly raffle drawing through December – to enter, just place a comment on the Holiday Fair page.)

As for me, I am an editor at Inkspokes and the author of the Tilley Pond Mouse adventure series for middle grade readers (ages 9 to 12). The series currently comprises of three books: Els Oot and the MapmakerEls Oot and the Baby Dragon and recently released Els Oot and the Lost City (published under my own imprint and all available on Amazon).

The books chronicle the adventures of Els the mouse as he journeys into the wilderness beyond Tilley Pond and discovers some unlikely friendships, danger and, most of all, wonder. The stories are in the tradition of classic animal stories such as Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows or George Seldon’s The Cricket in Time Square. They revolve around imaginative play and the wonder of wild spaces.

Wind In The Willows

Whereabouts in the US are you from?

We are at bit north of Boston (in the part of the U.S. we call New England), which for your U.K. and non-U.S. readers is about I would say a 5-hours drive north from New York City. New England (especially a bit further north) is popular with leaf-peepers in the fall. 

Japanese Maple

The trees around here turn the most brilliant oranges and yellows and reds and purples. We have a Japanese maple in our yard that when the leaves fall sends off a pool of red, like blood.

Why did you start Inkspokes? What are the goals?

We started it mainly to make connections.

For one, writing is a lonely endeavour mostly, as you might know Mark, and it’s nice to know there are others out there doing what you are doing and to send a few messages back and forth between typing on the computer.

More though, I think indie publishing despite its name requires really a bit of a team effort. You get to choose the team but, to do it well, I think indie authors need to engage others who may have the expertise that they do not. So you might need an illustrator, an editor, a proofreader, someone to help you think about or trade tips with you on marketing and sales. So we wanted to create a supportive place where those connections can be built.

Is it just you or do you work in a team? Who are your main allies?

In terms of the back-office editorial and formatting work and communications, it’s mostly me. My wife who is a former grade-school teacher and has experience in web design/administration helps me sometimes and gives me tips (or I guess frankly tells me what I have done wrong).

But you will see most of the good content is actually supplied by the absolutely astounding artists and authors and indie publishing creatives who take time to contribute to the site.

Could I send a shout-out to our Artists in Residence at Inkspokes for the fall? Yvonne Gartside, Corrina Holyoake and Jamie Stevens?

K. Lamb, the author of the Dani P. Mystery series, has been an indie author who has been a great support to us. And I am also thankful to Robin Hardy, author of the Chataine’s Guardian (among a myriad of other books), who not only has been supportive of the artists and authors appearing on Inkspokes (especially from her Facebook blog) but has been ever so encouraging about my own Els Oot books. And then, of course, Mark,  I have greatly appreciated your support of our work as well!

You are always welcome, Nelson. Do you think, like many academics, that the fact that children are no longer reading in the numbers they used to, is a genuine problem? Or will kids simply improve their literacy reading blogs, sport reports, celebrity sites on the internet?

I agree with you on what you said in your recent interview on your Brilliant Books project. I think reading (unlike other forms of narrative) provides a special place where a reader can build a story world the way he or she imagines it. It’s also a very private and personal world. To do this though, there needs to be books that facilitate that imaginative leap. That I think is the place for fiction and the place for brilliant books and some of the other avenues you note may not necessarily provide that.

K. Lamb

Why should children read fiction?

There was a period of time when I was younger when I didn’t want to read fiction. I read histories and books with a lot of facts in it. For what use is fiction? That was when I was a young adult.

I had forgotten that a great deal of who I am came out of being an avid reader of stories – from having absorbed old Biblical tales in Catholic school to reading series after series of fantasy and science fiction books in elementary and middle school.  

Not only do I owe my fluency with English (English is not my mother tongue) from reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Stephen Donaldson and Anne McCaffrey, but they also imparted to me values that I carry with me to this day – including a love for the imaginative arc that a story takes you on.

"Reading fiction allows for those moments of joy that material life often does not provide".

Also as human beings, the practice of fiction, to be able to view the world from the perspective of someone else, to suspend disbelief, is also an exercise in empathy and understanding perspectives other than our own.

Finally, for those of us who pursue a spiritual path or come from faith traditions, fiction and imagination seem to me to also be crucial elements of that journey. Fiction teaches us this: that what we see is not real but what might be invisible is. Fiction takes us down that corridor.

What would you do to get kids reading if you were the Secretary of State for Children?

Mark, I’d probably do something akin to what you are doing in Brilliant Books. Send authors, artists ordinary folks excited about books out to schools and libraries and places where kids gather with books of all kinds and let these ambassadors give books to kids and read to them and talk to them about their own enthusiasm for books.

The other thing I would do might be to provide more resources for teachers, parents, caregivers so that they can find books and learn how to read to kids, approach kids on reading in a way that would make reading fun. The resources might also provide tips on how best to navigate between books and all the other media outlets surrounding our kids today.

Give me two books that inspired you as a child?

Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

What would a guest at the Suit household enjoy for dinner?

We would try to cater to the guest, of course, but if the guest came in unannounced you might get what the kids eat – Mac and Cheese!

Stuffed crust or Italian flat bread pizza?

Hah. I like both. Most days, I would choose flat bread but on occasion I don’t mind indulging in a stuffed crust pizza.

What do followers of Inkspokes have to look forward to in 2015?

We are hoping to have the chance to showcase more authors on the site, creating more of a balance between illustrators and authors. Right now, we have an Artist in Residence program where an artist posts updates about his or her work on a more or less regular basis. We are hoping to develop something similar for indie authors who want to post more regularly on our site – as contributing authors or writers in residence.

Also, discoverability, as you know Mark, is a critical thing to understand and manage for any indie author, whether it is kidlit or otherwise, and so we want to facilitate more discussion about how indies can make their books discoverable. I also want to see how we can help facilitate that discoverability.

Finally, we’d like to post some articles that may appeal to readers beyond authors and those within the indie publishing field (although as you know some of the most avid readers are also authors). This might take the form of posting book introductions or reviews on books fitting a certain theme (for example, in connection with a particular holiday or season).

In the midst of it all, readers hopefully will make connections with authors and artists new and old.

Wishing you and your readers a joyful holiday season and a bit of adventure, friendship and wonder for the New Year!

Nelson, its been an absolute pleasure having you around the Cauldron and I wish you and the gang every success in 2015. Merry Christmas!

Follow Nelson on Twitter



Green Wizard: Do Children NEED to read books?