When You Laugh…

Whoever came up with the old adage laughter is the best medicine was on to something in my opinion because when you laugh darkness loses some of its power. I love to laugh and, much like Chandler in the TV series Friends, I’ve used it as a shield against many things throughout my life.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my long history of using humor as a protection of sorts is a time when I was about eight or nine years old. I was in fourth grade at the time and living in a tiny African island in the Atlantic called Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). As the name clearly suggests, the island was known for its salt mines and, unfortunately for the inhabitants at the time, for very little else; there were hardly any trees or other vegetation, nothing really grew on the island, it rained maybe once a year if we were lucky, and the only food resources came from the ocean. Not a bad thing for me since I discovered that I, the pickiest eater in the western world, absolutely adored lobster, a food product that abounded in the island.

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My dad worked for the national airline and, sort of like in the military, we moved around a lot. This time we were to spend a little over a year on this island where everyday luxuries were not quite a thing yet. For the first few months we lived in a tiny house without running water and no electricity but rich in giant flying roaches. Yes, that was quite an adventure.

My sense of humor came to my rescue when I became the target of hate in my school. There were two other white girls who hated me because I was not the daughter of a high-ranking officer in the army like they were, and I was hated by the other girls because–well, I was white. The simple act of going to school had become unbearable. I was bullied all the way to the building, during class by the most horrible teacher known to mankind, at recess, and then again on my way back home. All I wanted was to either be invisible or be seen for who I really was; just a girl who hated no one.

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My dad loved a Portuguese comedian called Raul Solnado and had all his records (yes, records. I’m ancient.) which he listened to every time he had a chance. I had grown up listening to those comedy skits and had them pretty well memorized. So one day at recess–not quite sure how or why–I began retelling all the jokes I had learned from listening to this comedian. Suddenly I had them. All the girls who had hated me because of the color of my skin were now my captive audience.

Things haven’t changed much for me when it comes to using humor to protect myself and those I love. Life turned hairy some years ago and if it wasn’t for my talent to find humor in pretty much everything, I’m sure I would have lost my mind a long time ago.

My love for the funny is well reflected in almost all my books, where I balance the sad and the serious with a touch of comedy. I’m sure not everyone thinks that is an actual good thing, but I do hope never to lose the power to see the kernel of the absurd in even the direst of situations.

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Syrian Brides-New Release

 

Syrian Brides

New Release

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Book Blurb:

Syrian Brides, published on November 3rd, is a collection of eleven short stories about the lives of women in Syria. The author manages to make the reader laugh while introducing a range of serious topics, such as domestic violence and the role of women in the Syrian society.

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Author’s Bio:

Anna Halabi was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. She emigrated to Europe in 1999 for her university studies. She currently lives with her family in Germany.
Syrian Brides is her debut as an author. The stories and characters in this collection were inspired by her personal experiences as well as her relatives, friends and TV Shows.

 

BUY

 

Further details:

·  Paperback: 136 pages

·  Publisher: Independently published (November 3, 2018)

·  Language: English

Location, Location, Location

I tend to locate my stories in imaginary places. In fact, it had never occurred to me to set one of my romances in a real place until I started hearing about all the small-town romances that were becoming so popular. The first time I used a setting that really existed was in my first M/M paranormal, Lavender Fields, which I set in Wiscasset, Maine—a town I vacationed in a few times. With Infinite Blue, I was determined to have it take place in a more local setting. That’s how my characters ended up in Old Town Manassas, just a few miles from where I live and a place I visit often.

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I was surprised how much fun it was to use real places or those inspired by the real ones. Restaurants, coffeeshops, even the train station are all very real.

A friend’s sister’s place of work became the model and the location for Cai’s graphic studio. I had visited the studio once so I had a good feel for the layout. It’s a small place over a well-known restaurant by the old-fashion train station.

The coffeeshop they both frequent is also a real hub of artistic activity in Manassas. So is the ice cream shop they mention, Jitterbug. Even the hospital was inspired by a real one, not in Manassas but close by.

The most fun I had was “researching” the Mexican Taqueria they all meet one evening. I knew about the place but had never eaten there. I had to check their menu online and I was glad to find out that I had described the place and the food accurately. When I finally ate there, I ordered the same thing my characters did in the book and had the delicious (and not Mexican) zepolle for the first time ever.

One of the most romantic scenes is set in the parking lot of the station which means that now every time I go there (and that’s where I normally park my car) I have visions of Cai and Shahin involved in a kiss.

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A Pinch of Reality

Rainbow Rowell mentioned in an interview that she fell in love with world building as she was writing the fictitious fanfiction pieces in her novel Fangirl. She had always been a reader of fantasy but never thought she’d be able to write it until she began creating those characters and their world. She fell in love with it and decided to write it into Carry On.

I identify with this “revelation” of sorts because something similar happened to me. I used to read lots of fantasy, and fairy tales and Grimm’s stories had been a staple of my childhood, but like Rowell I never thought I’d be able to write it. Until Desert Jewel.

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Paperback Cover

I had always wondered how fantasy writers were able to create whole worlds complete with their populations, flora, and fauna and keep them believable. I was surprised to find out that it was easier than I thought.

In Desert Jewel I used reality as the main ingredient behind its world and a lot of the creatures in it. The desert itself was inspired by the great Sahara with a tad of Kalahari Desert mixed in. The creatures Jaali had to face during his quest across the desert were also inspired by real creatures. I needed a bizarre looking animal and I found the amazing Armadillo Lizard, which was perfect for giving a shape to my Shetani.

Armadillo Lizard

At one point of the story Jaali has to face an army of bullet ants, tiny and fierce. As unbelievable as they sound, these ants are very real and have the reputation of having the most painful sting in the world.

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To create the world of Natale in Afrika I used my own knowledge of several African countries to create Milenda’s luxuriant world–modern and archaic at the same time.

I’m a linguist by training and I love using language in my stories. So I created a language for Desert Jewel. Since I’m not even remotely as talented as Tolkien, I used a real language (or a mixture of real languages) to create a made-up one. If you speak Swahili, chances are you will recognize some or part of the words used in Desert Jewel.

Moral of the story: you can create fantastic worlds that feel real as long as you use just a pinch of reality.

What makes you connect with the worlds in the books you read?

 

The next book in The Jewel Chronicles is coming soon. Find out what happens next.

Dream A Little Dream Of Me

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME

by Jolie St. Amant

Series: Chateau Rouge

Release Date: October 7, 2017

Publisher: Bienvenue Press

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Chateau Rouge is a reputedly haunted hotel. It hides secrets and stories within its walls, tales that lure guests from all over the world.

Yet there’s one story that has never been told. The story of a New Orleans bordello Madam who had to endure the pain of watching her true love die…twice.

Josey has been the owner of Chateau Rouge for the last two hundred years. She’s content with her routine existence, and has been for a long time…until Archer Grayson walks into her hotel.

He ignites a hunger in her which she hasn’t felt for over one hundred years, and this can only mean one thing…her love has returned to her.

But with his return comes the curse of their fate, and Josey refuses to survive a broken heart for a third time. Unless…what if this time is different? What if there’s a chance for them to change their destiny?

Could it be that their love finally has a different fate written in the cards?

Or is history bound to repeat itself?

Dream a little

Purchase Dream a Little Dream of Me:

Kindle: http://a.co/cw0ttji

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jolie St. Amant fell in love with all things New Orleans after reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Now, a frequent visitor to the Crescent City, she can often be found getting inspiration from ghost tours, or sipping café au lait at Café du Monde. Dream a Little Dream of Me is the first in the Chateau Rouge Series.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JolieStAmant/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JolieStAmant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Writer- A Journey of a Lifetime

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Or maybe just wiser. But I found myself philosophizing my path into becoming the writer I am today and what I hope to be in the future.

I have always loved writing. And I do mean always. I have been creating stories and characters since I first learned how to write. I think I was probably making up stories in my head even before I knew how to put them down on paper (I’m ancient. There were no computers back then).

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Many years ago (I won’t say how many but it was before the advent of the electronic mail) I decided to try the publication route. Until then I had written for fun, for myself. But I wanted to share my stories with the world, as terrifying as that was. So one day, when my oldest son was still a newborn, I wrote a novel, went to the library to check out a copy of the Writer’s Market, and began spending the little money we had on good quality paper, copying, and stamps. I still have the records from back then when the rejection letters came one after another, ripping my heart and my dreams to shreds.

I know now I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t. I realize in hindsight that my whole life has been a long practice run for what was ultimately that moment in time when I decided to submit something during a PitMad on Twitter and got published.

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My childhood years when my father took me and my sister on road trips around my country, visiting different places and learning new things were all research trips. Those years that our family lived in different places in Africa, learning new languages, new ways, news perspectives on life? Research. My days as an animateur at a Club Med-type resort were nothing else than groundwork for characters and plot twists. The earthquakes I lived through, the hurricane, the tornado scares…fodder for stories. Losing my dad, my grandmother’s many strokes, my c-section, yoga lessons, medieval re-enactment events, being bullied as a kid and as an adult, having a son with a mental illness…you get the point. Every step of my life is now a piece in a rather vast bank of ideas and resources for my writing. I feel blessed I had such a rich life so far (even though I always thought it was a boring life) and I pledge to use it in all my stories.

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Some people take years to finish one novel. Others take years to gather enough material to write many stories. Which type of writer are you?

P.S. -Here’s a poem I wrote a while back about the sounds of my life (I’m almost sure I have posted it before but I’m too lazy to go look for it) that sort of summarizes the sources of my inspiration. I’m no poet so I apologize in advance. I hope you enjoy it at least a little bit.

The Sounds of My Memories

How does a memory sound?

My memories sound like ocean waves breaking against the sand,

Christmas songs sang out of tune,

Hail Marys and Our Fathers whispered at night.

My memories sound like my father saying goodnight

Or the last time we said goodbye.

They sound like my mother’s voice calling us to the table,

Teaching us to be kind.

My grandfather doubting men ever walked on the moon

And my grandma reminiscing about her honeymoon.

The sound of the Chestnut Man yelling

Quentes e boas!” in the cold of the street.

The whistle of the Knife-Sharpening man,

Early in the morning, drawing us in.

An old pop song playing in the background,

The sound of pots and pans in the kitchen,

The national anthem playing on TV at midnight,

What’s up doc?” and “I tawt I taw a putty tat”.

My memories sound like jet planes

Landing and taking off,

Tighten your seat belts” and “Please, don’t smoke.”

My memories squeak like airport dollies

And old airplane rolling stairs.

They are thunder and wind of an African storm,

The roaring of the fast waters of the Congo River,

The incessant bartering of women at the market,

The pleads of the beggars in the streets,

The moaning of the sick and the lonely.

My memories whistle like the wind on Scottish muirs,

And growl like the Puffins at Dunnottar.

The crystalline sound of my baby son’s laughter

And the Scottish accent of my four-year old.

Carolers singing throughout the night,

A medieval tune played out of sight.

Whistle and “Captain Aboard”,

Crowds of Navy families crying goodbyes,

Or celebrating hellos.

The silence of a Pacific Mountain,

The peace of the Puget Sound.

My memories have so many sounds.

They whisper in my ears,

Quietly, soundlessly sometimes.

They yell at me,

Loud and piercing other times.

They are echoes of my past,

Little souvenirs of feelings, thoughts, impressions,

Tiny mosaics that made me strong enough to last.

 

 

A Constellation of Stars

I hung out with a constellation of stars this past weekend. Okay, maybe not exactly real stars (like in the heavenly bodies) but certainly with stars in their eyes. I speak of the fellow romance writers and all around amazing women I met during my stint at pretending to be a famous author at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Last year I came across (can’t even remember how) information about this yearly festival and that there was a chance–however slim–my books may be picked to be represented there. Nobody can blame me of being unenthusiastic. In fact I am at times stupidly optimistic. At the time I had one book published and one under contract and nobody knew who the hell I was (that part still holds true today, I’m afraid). But I had to try. I have missed so many good things in my life for being overly-cautious or just plain not confident enough, that I have decided in recent years to be brave even when it seems I’m just being impulsive. I went for it. The worst thing that could happen was none of my books would be picked and I would be out of four softcovers.

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I entered both the book I had out and the one that would be published before the deadline of November. As it turned out I sent copies of Desert Jewel after the deadline already. Imagine my surprise when not only was D.J. picked for the Festival but I was picked to be a speaker. A speaker! You know, talking in front of people I don’t know.

Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep the week leading to my panel. Especially after I received the questions the moderator, Her Awesomeness herself, Madeline Iva, who gave me an awful lot more credit than I probably deserved. Those questions were hard!

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I relaxed significantly after talking to my co-panelist, the fabulous Pintip Dunn and equally amazing Margaret Locke. Knowing that they had both dubbed it the Torture Panel because of the difficulty of the questions made me feel a whole lot better about it, strangely enough.

I could not have asked for a better moderator or co-panelists. What a fantastic group of women writers. I hope I didn’t sound too stupid because I definitely had a lot of fun.

Even though I didn’t sell one single copy of my book (kind of used to it) I had a proud moment when the winner of  a raffle picked the poster of the cover of my book over these other great books and told me she was going to try and convince her book club to read it. Score!

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All in all it was a great weekend. The other authors, the city of Charlottesville, the panels (who would have thought that listening to the male voices of audio romance books would be this exciting?), having two of my friends there to cheer me on…it was out of this world.

Note: If you’d like to hear (because you won’t be able to see us since it was recorded from a distance) our panel, Heroines of Destiny hop on to my Facebook page where I have posted it and some other pictures from the event.

Mjusi, the Flying Lizard

(Third part in the Character Problems series)

My second novel, Desert Jewel, was about Milenda, an African princess and her love, Jaali, a man from the Northern lands. I wanted to include Africa as a setting because—well, because I lived there for many years and I loved it. A children’s author I love, Nancy Farmer, set a lot of her middle grade stories in Africa and I always wanted to do the same. My Africa is half-real, half made-up.

But back to the characters. Even though Milenda and Jaali are from different ethnic groups, that is not what the story is about. The story is about two strong young people who against all odds meet and fall in love. Two people who want to change the world but don’t know how. Two young lovers who find themselves the center of something dangerous and much bigger than themselves.

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Both Milenda and Jaali were carved out of the idea that nothing is ever the way it seems and that everybody, no matter who they are, carry pain of one kind or another inside their hearts.

Milenda is privileged and sheltered and yet, she is not spoiled or blind to the injustices around her. She wants to change her society, she wants to make it better to all who suffer due to her world’s ways and beliefs.

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Jaali is poor and has suffered unimaginable pain as a slave. However, he is not bitter or angry at the world. He is forgiving and kind.  He loves with all his heart and soul. In the words of Sid, the sloth from “Ice Age”, Milenda and Jaali complete each other. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist!)

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But the one character who started it all is Milenda’s sidekick, Mjusi. Mjusi is not a human. He is a flying lizard, or a mini-dragon if you prefer. He doesn’t speak, but he plays an important part in the story. He is not just lonely Milenda’s only friend but also the one character that helps the story move forward, the comic relief when we need to laugh, the available shoulder when we need to cry.

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Which comes to show that often the sidekicks are as important as the main characters. Mjusi, like Marcy, will have his story—or at least more of his story—told in the near future. There may be a few surprises about his origins and I’m certain he will surprise me yet again!

Photo credits: Look by Schmiegel

The Big Blue

I’ve always loved blue. Even as a child and, while most girls professed their undying love for everything pink, I was crushing heavily on blue. All you have to do is walk inside my house to know it. No matter how much I try to break from it, my décor always end up focusing on all shades of blue. Even when I decided to buy charcoal sofas, the prints and accessories all heralded the most peaceful color of all. I seem to surround myself with the color blue even when I am not aware of it. Until recently I couldn’t explain why that was, but a few weeks ago while I was meditating in my yoga class I had an epiphany of sorts.

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I know now why blue is so important to me. When my yoga teacher told us to go to our “happy place” I immediately went to the beach of my childhood. Grant it, the beach of Paço de Arcos is not the most beautiful beach in the world or even the country. But it’s the beach where I spent an enormous amount of my time growing up. And that’s when it hit me. Every time I think of the beach I see it; the blue of the ocean and the blue of the sky. From the windows of my childhood apartment the blue of the ocean greeted me every morning and lulled me to sleep every night. The gulls and the swallows soared in the blue skies of my hometown and filled me with a sense of peace I crave for but find so hard to find as an adult.

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So when I wear a blue sweater or write with a blue pen in a bluish notebook I am simply… going home.

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Bathrooms and Thinking

Inspiration comes in many shapes and at the weirdest times. Yesterday as I sat in the rather hot room we have been using for the writing program I am participating in this summer, inspiration for this blog came from something someone said. In the middle of a “show-and-tell”, one of the guys (thank you “Ron”) said something that sparked the little flame of inspiration (and memories, as well).

“Ron” was explaining—after we all laughed at it—that the model of his “thinking space” had a bathroom because a lot of thinking goes on in there. Immediately that took me back to my childhood. Bathroom? Your memories of childhood connect to bathrooms? What kind of a childhood did you have? A very happy one, as a matter of fact. However, these small private spaces did provide me with a lot more than just a place to…well, you know what.

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This is NOT the bathroom I’m talking about!

When I was a kid, my parents, my sister, and I spent the weekends at my aunt’s (my namesake) house (if you want to know more about her just click here). The whole family met there. My grandma would cook these gigantic meals, and uncles, aunts and cousins all gathered around the table and around the house for the day. It was fun but, for an introvert like me, also often overwhelming.

If you are one of them, you know that introverts need their time alone, their quiet space where they can recharge the energy they just expended around all the commotion—no matter how much fun it was.

In my case, the only place I had to recharge was the bathroom. My aunt’s house was big by Portuguese standards but had only one bathroom. It was a rather large bathroom with a huge shower and a nice little space with a small table and chair.  When activity and noise got to be too much for me, I would retire to the bathroom, lower the toilet cover (I don’t know why I didn’t use the chair), sit and either read, talk to myself (don’t judge. I’m a writer), or just sit quietly.

This seemingly harmless activity didn’t always go too well with the rest of the family. After all I was occupying the only bathroom in the house and this was a family heavy on the female side. I recall loud banging on the door, name calling (from my cousins), threats (from the grown-ups) and even bribery (from my mom and grandma). Even as a child, I knew what my limits were and when I was sure I couldn’t push it any further, I would close my book, finish my soliloquy, and unlock the door to the flood of desperate humans dancing around on the other side.

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“Ron” was absolutely right.  Bathrooms ARE indeed thinking spaces for a lot of us. Even today some of my best ideas are born while loitering around the white and blue space of my quiet bathroom. How many of you use the “little girls/boys’ room” to do a lot of your thinking? What do you think makes them such great places to think?

And don’t worry; even though I talk to myself all the time, my imaginary “friends” have never once answered back 🙂