Meet Amna Boheim

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My guest today is  Amna Boheim, debut author of The Silent Children. I’m thrilled to have her on Reade and Write to answer some questions about her new book. Welcome, Amna!

Tell me about your new book.

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The Silent Children is a supernatural mystery set in Vienna, Austria, following Max Gissing in the aftermath of his estranged mother’s suicide. Shortly before her death, she had sent him a disturbing black and white photograph, with the words, you knew written on its reverse. When he returns to his old family home in Vienna, he starts to experience things which play on his mind. The photograph, too, continues to haunt him, pointing to a secret which he can’t ignore. As Max uncovers his mother’s long-buried past, he makes a horrifying discovery that will mark him for the rest of his life.

Who is the audience for the book?

It’s for anyone who loves a good mystery and the element of the supernatural, all set against the backdrop of Vienna, past and present.

Tell me about the setting of your book—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

The Silent Children is set predominantly in Vienna. I fell in love with the city shortly after I fell for my Better Half. Vienna has an impressive yet quietly restrained atmosphere. Behind the grand neo-classical façades, a dark undertone flows through the city. Perhaps it’s to do with the history of the place, the role it succumbed to before and during World War 2, and the role it played on the frontline of the Cold War. Vienna has a repressed air about it, too. I’ve visited the city a few times, although I went on a ‘field trip’ to explore the areas specific to the story I was writing.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

The Silent Children is my first novel, and as such, the process of writing it was a learning experience. Other than a story I wrote when I was thirteen years old (see below), I’ve never written a story – short or long form. Sorting out the plot, the characters, was like sorting out the wheat from the chaff and it took a long time and a lot of iterations before I was happy with it.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

At the time The Silent Children came out, I cautioned you should never moon over who should play the lead in your novel. In my case, I found that the times I imagined who should play the lead – Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddy Redymane – I never made any progress.

Have you written any other books?

When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a story called The Cloaked Figure of Archway Hall. I gave it to my older sister to read and she ripped it apart. I cried. Then I re-wrote it. She said it was, ‘a bit better.’ She’s very hard to please. My dad, however, kept hold of it. He thought it was amazing. Naturally, he is my number one fan.

Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

I have a small circle of people from my Faber Academy Writing a Novel class who read drafts of my novel. My Better Half is a brutal critic.

Do you write every day?

I try to, but my time is limited as I have three children under the age of five. At best, I try to write for a couple of hours, Monday through Friday. It’s a good day if I write more than 500 hundred words. And I don’t write at all during the holidays.

When you read a book, what authors do you like best? What genres do you like best?

I read a range of books – literary fiction, thrillers, mysteries. I love novels featuring flawed characters and stories that don’t necessarily end all happily ever after. I’m not sure why that is! I love anything by Ian McEwan, Agatha Christie, Vikram Seth, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Faulks, Simon Mawer, Tom Rob Smith, Henry James … and then I’ll read something by a particular author, but I won’t necessarily read anything else by that person. It depends on the story and whether the blurb on the back of the book captivates me.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

Tough question! New Zealand is on my bucket list. And if I’m being sentimental: anywhere I can hear my children’s laughter.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Just keep writing, enjoy it and don’t think about getting published. Just write the best story that you can and don’t give up.

What is your favorite movie and why?

The English Patient. I loved the book and the film was beautiful – the music, the cinematography. It’s one of the few films which captures the book and its characters. The same goes for Atonement by Ian McEwan. The novel is one of my all time favourites and the film was brilliant. I love stories that take place when the world was on the cusp of World War 2, and I enjoy plots where characters cross boundaries and challenge the status quo.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be confident in yourself, and don’t balk at the idea of giving up your day job to have a family; you can have many careers throughout your life.

Describe yourself in three words. 

I just asked my Better Half as I find this is one of the hardest questions to answer … this is what he said: determined, organized and … charming (of course, he had to say that …)

Where can readers connect with you?

Readers can find me on Facebook (facebook/akboheim), Twitter (@AmnaKBoheim), and on my website: http://akboheim.com which houses my blogs, poems, flash fiction as well as further information on The Silent Children.

 Where can readers find The Silent Children?

It’s available from most e-retailers, including:

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/The-Silent-Children-Amna-Boheim/dp/1784625167

Amazon (UK):

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Children-Amna-K-Boheim/dp/1784625167/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448665146&sr=1-8&keywords=the+silent+children

Kobo

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-silent-children

Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-silent-children/amna-k-boheim/9781784625160

WH Smith

http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/the-silent-children/9781784625160

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Amna K. Boheim worked in investment banking before turning her hand to writing. She has completed two Faber Academy writing courses, including the six-month Faber Academy Writing a Novel (online) course.  She authors a blog under the title, Djinn Mamu … & Other Strange Stories and posts snippets on life  and writing. The Silent Children – a supernatural mystery set in Vienna – is her debut novel.

I absolutely loved your responses to my questions, Amna. Thanks so much for the interview and congratulations on The Silent Children!

Until next week,

Amy

 

Book Recommendation: Rooftops of Tehran

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You probably knew this was coming, since I posted part of it accidentally over a week ago, but now I’ve written more than just the first two paragraphs.

What first drew me to the book Rooftops of Tehran was its cover and the beautiful title font. But once I started reading, I quickly realized the cover isn’t the only beautiful thing about the book.

Mahbod Seraji has written a haunting story about a small circle of friends living in Tehran in the mid-1970s. At the center of the circle is Pasha, a young man with lots of questions, ideas, and conflicting dreams. The story follows Pasha through a trying time in his life, a time which makes him question everything, including whether he wants to be part of his own future- the future planned for him by his parents and other family members.

Tehran in the 1970s is a turbulent place to be. Pasha and his best friend, Ahmed, spend much of the summer on the roof of Pasha’s house. Sleeping and spending time on the roof is a common practice in that city to escape the heat and dust and noise. They talk about books and neighbors and girls, but mostly girls. And in particular, two girls- Zari and Feheemeh. Feheemeh is the love of Ahmed’s life, but it’s Zari who has captured Pasha’s heart. Unfortunately, Zari has been betrothed since birth to another friend of Pasha.

It’s the relationship between Pasha and Zari, and their respective feelings for her betrothed, Doctor, that makes this story heartbreaking, shocking, and beautiful. One fateful night, Pasha unwittingly attracts the attention of the Shah’s secret police, leading to a series of events which will forever alter the course of Pasha’s life.

The suspense initially comes from the back-and-forth of the storytelling. Part of the tale is told in the present from a psychiatric hospital, part in the recent past in Pasha’s Tehran alley. From the hints given in the present, the reader knows something horrible has happened to Pasha. The present and the past come closer and closer together until they collide in an electrifying event that suddenly makes Pasha’s presence in the hospital achingly clear.

But the suspense builds from that moment and Pasha’s release from the hospital is not the end of the story. The reader continues to follow Pasha through his halting recovery, wondering what the future holds for someone as broken as he is.

I can’t say any more without giving away the ending, but I can highly recommend the book. I’m so glad I read it. I hope you’ll check it out, too.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. I’m working on my next newsletter, which should be out in a few weeks. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, click here to sign up. I’ll be doing a giveaway in the next newsletter to celebrate the upcoming release of my next novel, House of the Hanging Jade.

Meet Brenda Buchanan

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This morning I welcome Brenda Buchanan, author of the Joe Gale mysteries. She’s here to discuss her writing, but in particular, her new novel Truth Beat. Brenda was the moderator of a panel I was on last year at Malice Domestic. Her first book- Quick Pivot– had just been released. I’ve watched her writing career thrive in the past year (Truth Beat is her third novel!), and what makes her even more remarkable is that she practices law in addition to writing. Good to have you on Reade and Write, Brenda!

Tell me about your new book.

In Truth Beat, the town of Riverside, Maine is rocked by the sudden death of Father Patrick Doherty, a Catholic priest who was venerated by some and abhorred by others for very publicly criticizing his church’s defensive approach to the priest abuse scandal. A decade after Patrick made his stand, the payback-minded bishop put Patrick in charge of consolidating failing churches, which turned a good number of his fans into enemies.

When it becomes clear Patrick was murdered, newspaper reporter Joe Gale—who’s hanging on tight in the ever-shrinking newsroom at the Portland Daily Chronicle—sets about figuring out who killed him. Friends and parishioners tell Joe that Patrick was a selfless man. But a vocal gang of rabble-rousers claim he was corrupt, and on the eve of Patrick’s wake, the police imply the dead priest was knee deep in criminal activity prior to his death.

At the same time the murder story is heating up, a series of nighttime bombings rock the campus of the local high school. What first appeared to be extracurricular chem lab pranking turns destructive, putting the already jumpy town right on the edge. As Joe races to sort truth from rumor, his two big stories collide, putting him in mortal danger.

Truth Beat Cover

Who is the audience for the book?

Readers who like multi-layered mysteries that grapple with social concerns will like Truth Beat. It surfaces a number of contemporary issues and attempts to examine them from multiple perspectives. The characters are a diverse group of people in a close knit town who try to help each other with life’s challenges. It’s a fast moving story, and the characters are people you’d want as your friends.

Tell me about the setting of your book—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

All of the books are set in Maine, where I make my home. I have lived here for 35 years, in various parts of the state. People say Maine has a certain cachet, and I believe that’s true. A lot of fine crime writers live here and our beautiful state provides a lot of raw material—the rocky coast, miles of deep, dark woods, hardscrabble towns rich with secrets.

My Joe Gale books celebrate Maine in all of its intensity—wild weather, difficult economy, proud people. It’s not necessarily the Maine familiar to tourists. The imagined town of Riverside is a former mill town, like the one I grew up in. It is a clannish place populated by people with long-memories (for good and for bad.)  The real-life town of Machias—the setting for Cover Story, the second Joe Gale book—is five hours up the coast from Portland, near the Canadian border. It’s an isolated place, especially during a brutal winter like the one when that story takes place. I like to make setting as memorable as a character, and Maine offers endless possibilities for that.

The book also is set in the world of local journalism. Like Joe Gale, I worked as a newspaper reporter in Maine for a number of years. That experience provided a solid basis to write a reporter protagonist.  Of course, as everyone knows, technology has transformed the news business in recent years. I’m grateful to my current-day journalist friends for walking me through the details of how the internet and social media has changed newsroom practices. They also have shared first-hand accounts of how the downsizing of newspapers has affected them, which is an ongoing theme in the books.  Joe worries about his personal future, but what really drives him crazy is when important news goes uncovered because his newspaper has been forced to pull back from its historic turf.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

The challenge with Truth Beat was to create characters emblematic of people on all sides of a powerful community debate, in this case, the role of a downsized Catholic Church in town where it once held tremendous sway. Getting those characters right demanded that I examine my own experiences having grown up Catholic in a town much like Riverside, and my views about those who have remained members of the church. (I have not.) I was determined not to write caricatures, to find compassion and emotional common ground with people who have made choices different from my own.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

I love this question! Joe Gale would have the regular-guy looks of Jason Bateman. His romantic partner, Christie Pappas, is a dark-haired beauty, but grounded, so perhaps Katherine McPhee.

Russell Crowe would have a lot of fun with the role of Rufus Smathers, plumber-by-day, musical theater star by night. Geena Davis would be perfect as crusader Peggy McGillicuddy, who leads the fight against consolidating churches. And Father Patrick Doherty would be played by Paul Giamatti. That role would be almost a cameo, because Patrick is found dead right at the outset, but I’m sure the movie would involve some flashback scenes and I’m confident Paul would do them justice.

Tell me about your other books.

There are two other Joe Gale mysteries. In Quick Pivot, Joe is the driving force behind resolution of a 44-year-old murder, a case that was nearly forgotten until the victim’s body is found bricked behind a wall in a mill being converted to condominiums. In Cover Story Joe is covering a murder trial that goes off the rails when the evidence doesn’t match up with the accusations against a fisherman charged in the stabbing death of a social worker who was investigating allegations of child neglect.

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Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

I’m not in a formal writing group at this time. For many years I was part of a group of four who met regularly and it was an enormous help when I was getting my feet under me. Now I work one-on-one with a handful of other writers, critiquing each other’s work on an as-needed basis.

Do you write every day?

Absolutely, and it is the most important bit of advice I can give to any writer aspiring to publication. Writing is a skill and I believe you have to exercise your writing muscles day-in and day-out to keep them supple.

When you read a book, what authors do you like best? What genres do you like best?

I love crime fiction, partly because it’s what I write but also because it usually involves stories about the human condition. They also tend to have a beginning, middle and an end.  Something in my nature needs that kind of order.

I have so many favorite crime writers I could not possibly name them all but I can tell you some of what I have been reading lately. I’ve been on a big British/Scottish/Irish kick in the past year or so—Ann Cleeves, Val McDermid, Tana French, Peter May, Denise Mina.

I also love the work of Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny and my former law school classmate Julia Spencer-Fleming.  Chris Holm knocks me over with his talent. Vicki Lane captures Appalachia in a way few others can. B.A. Shapiro is an amazing writer.  Steve Ulfelder makes me laugh out loud with his inventive characters. Then there are the amazing Maine crime writers who I blog with at www.mainecrimewriters.com.  The entire MCW crew is amazing and I am honored to be among them.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

Ireland. I cannot believe I haven’t been there yet. A century ago my mother’s parents moved from County Kerry and County Mayo to the mill town in Massachusetts where I was raised. So a trip to Ireland is on my short list. It’s a pilgrimage for which I’m overdue.

Any other advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Write every day and don’t give up. Perseverance and determination count for so much in this business. I also think it is important to seek out opportunities to learn the craft. Few people can do this instinctively.

What is your favorite movie and why?

To Kill A Mockingbird, for its powerful themes and wonderful acting.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much. Things have a way of working out.

Describe yourself in three words.

Energetic. Optimistic. Fun-loving.

Where can readers connect with you?

Please come visit my website—http://www.brendabuchananwrites.com—where there’s a newsletter signup, or drop me an email at brenda@brendabuchananwrites.com.

Where can readers find your books?

The Joe Gale Mysteries are available in digital format only at this time. They are available through my publisher and all of the usual eBook retailers. Here are some helpful links: Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBook and Kobo.

I’m so happy you were able to join me on Reade and Write, Brenda. Thanks for visiting!

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. My publisher is hosting a Goodreads giveaway! Enter to win a copy of House of the Hanging Jade here!

Book Club Resources

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I’ve got book clubs on my mind this week. My first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, is being discussed at the inaugural meeting of a local book club during March and they’ve invited me to attend (woo hoo!). Once the meeting is over I think I’ll join the book club (because I already know I love their taste in books).

Recently I tried to join a pop-up book club which meets at a hotel about a half hour from my house. They meet for three months a year and this year the topic is Ernest Hemingway. They’re reading The Sun Also Rises by the man himself, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, and Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. Alas, the book club was full by the time I heard about it, so I’m on the wait list and it doesn’t look like they’re going to have any open slots for me. I’ll just have to make sure I join early next year.

You may remember a while back I mentioned I was writing book club questions for my new novel, House of the Hanging Jade (coming out in about three months!). They’ll be in the back of the book. I also composed lists of discussion questions for Secrets of Hallstead House and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, though those questions are not in the books– they’ll be going up on my website instead. While I was researching book clubs and discussion questions, I came across some useful and interesting websites. I thought I would share them with you in case you’re part of a book club and are looking for discussion ideas. They’re even good if you’re not in a book club and just want a way to dig deeper into a book you’re reading.

  1. The best site I found was for the Westfield Memorial Library in Westfield, NJ. It has an extensive list of discussion questions for fiction. You can find the list here: http://www.wmlnj.org/bookclubkits/generalquestionsfiction.asp.
  2. Another great site is https://multcolib.org/talk-it-book-groups-kids. It’s billed as a list for a kids’ book group, but I think the questions are great for anyone, adults or children.
  3. Here’s another: http://classiclit.about.com/od/bookclubs/a/aa_bcquestions.htm.
  4. This is a good one, though you have to scroll down to find the sample discussion questions: https://www.bookbrowse.com/bookclubs/advice/index.cfm/fuseaction/diy_guides.

I’ve also composed a list of a few good websites to find discussion questions for non-fiction books. You’ll note the first website is familiar–the Westfield Memorial Library again!

  1. http://www.wmlnj.org/bookclubkits/generalquestionsnonfiction.asp.
  2. http://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org/yourlibrary/specialcollections/bellinghamreads/Reading%20Guides/General%20NF%20Bio%20Discussion%20Questions.pdf.
  3. http://lagrangelibrary.org/lagrange/images/general%20questions.pdf (this list contains questions for both fiction and non-fiction).

Want to know my favorite place to look for discussion questions? Go right to the source–the author! If there isn’t a list of discussion questions at the end of a book, email the author or visit his or her website to ask if there are any questions he or she could suggest for your book club. Trust me, the author will love it!

Do you have any resources you’d like to share?

Until next week,

Amy