The Laptev Virus is a Winner!

Created by Digital Micrograph, Gatan Inc.

Created by Digital Micrograph, Gatan Inc.

I’m thrilled to announce that The Laptev Virus is a winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Award! It sold a thousand copies in the first 3 months of publication and is still going strong!

Please help me spread the news by recommending The Laptev Virus  to your friends, family and colleagues. And don’t forget that it makes a terrific gift for grads, dads and teachers and anyone who likes scifi/suspense novels.

Here’s what readers are saying:

5/5 star rating by Steven Ramirez, Author and Screenwriter in LA:

The Laptev Virus is a great read. For me, this is a solid sci-fi story rooted in actual science. As an author, I like to come up with some pretty bizarre situations myself. And usually I find myself making everything up—taking care to at least make the premise believable so as not to lose the reader. But it’s refreshing to read a story written by a scientist. This author not only has a wonderful imagination, but she has the scientific chops to back up what she’s selling. And trust me, when it comes to megaviruses, it ain’t pretty, folks.
Michael Crichton, an author who was also a physician and had a wicked imagination, was great at combining real-world science with entertaining fiction. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed “The Andromeda Strain” so much—both the book and the movie. To me, the key to any memorable story is that it must be plausible. And like Crichton’s work, “The Laptev Virus” challenges the reader. There’s a lot of technical jargon in the book, but it serves a purpose. As an example, I am now terrified of cats!
So if you like sci-fi backed by solid research, then I can heartily recommend this book.”

5/5 stars rating by Ipland

Kudos and thanks to the author for writing a medical thriller that is chock full of fascinating medical information! Engrossing storyline that kept me turning pages and only reluctantly putting the book down occasionally when real life needed my attention. I especially appreciated that no one was trying to kill the main character and that she wasn’t having a distracting clandestine affair with her nemesis, as has happened in most of the medical thrillers I’ve read lately. The concept of the Laptev Virus is a wonderfully frightening basis for a chilling story – a must read!

And a very short but heartfelt one from Heidi Johnson, also a 5/5 star rating:

“good book”

You can read many more reviews and/or order your own copy (paperback or Kindle version) on Amazon

Share Button

Laptev is Live!

Created by Digital Micrograph, Gatan Inc.(I mean the book, not the virus!)

In case you’ve missed it, THE LAPTEV VIRUS is now available in two different formats: Kindle (99 cents) and paperback. In my last blogpost I gave you a sneak peek of the first chapter and I hope you’re ready to read the rest now.

When you finish, I would love to have a discussion with you about your impressions. I’ve been fascinated by the reactions of my readers so far. While everyone seems taken by the ending, it’s interesting to see what people think about the rest of the book.  How would you have reacted under those circumstances? What parts were your favorite?  Please share your thoughts with me by commenting on this blog, on my FB page and on the Amazon review page.

Also, if you wouldn’t mind recommending my book to your friends and colleagues, I would very much appreciate it. Cheers!

Share Button


Created by Digital Micrograph, Gatan Inc.

The cover for my latest novel

The Laptev Virus, my latest novel, will be coming out very shortly and I thought I would provide you with a tantalizing view of the first part of the book. If you like it, please stay tuned to my Facebook page. The book will be available in both Kindle and paperback formats. Please feel free to leave comments. Enjoy! (This preview is copyrighted by Christy Esmahan, 2015)


On March 3, 2014, Geoffrey Mohan from the Los Angeles Times reported:

A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra, sparking concern that increased mining and oil drilling in rapidly warming northern latitudes could disturb dormant microbial life that could one day prove harmful to man.

The latest find, described online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to belong to a new family of [giant viruses] that infect only amoeba. But its revival in a laboratory stands as “a proof of principle that we could eventually resurrect active infectious viruses from different periods,” said the study’s lead author, microbiologist Professor Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University in France.

“We know that those non-dangerous viruses are alive there, which is probably telling us that the dangerous kind that may infect humans and animals – that we think were eradicated from the surface of earth – are actually still present and [could be] eventually viable, in the [frozen] ground,” Claverie said.

With global warming making northern reaches more accessible, the chance of disturbing dormant human pathogens is increased, the researchers concluded.

Average surface temperatures in the area that contained the virus have increased more steeply than in more temperate latitudes, the researchers noted.

“People will go there; they will settle there, and they will start mining and drilling,” Claverie said. “Human activities are going to perturb layers that have been dormant for 3 million years and may contain viruses.”

[…] Claverie’s laboratory was behind the discovery in Chile, more than a decade ago, of the first giant DNA virus, dubbed [Megavirus chilensis]. They next identified a far larger virus of an entirely different family in 2011, dubbing it Pandoravirus salinus, in homage to the mythical Pandora’s box that first unleashed evil on the world.

This time, they used an amoeba common to soil and water as bait to draw out a virus from a Siberian permafrost core that had been dated to 30,000 years ago.

The finding described on Monday looked like another Pandora, but it was 50 percent larger.


“Your problem, Max, is that you take too many chances,” said Brian.

Max grunted and turned his lips down in a scowl.

“Betting a week’s wages when you only had a straight,” said Ted, chuckling. “Max, Max, we gotta teach you to hold back, think a bit, not just go for it with no fear!”

Max gave Ted a dirty look and set his jaw in grim determination, as if their little game was a very serious affair, one that his companions could never understand. “No guts, no glory,” he said.

“Well now, how about another round?” asked Brian, his tone chipper and light.

Brian and Max were bunk mates. This was the first time that either of them had lived in the Arctic. Where Max was large, broad of shoulder and belly, Brian was short, slight of build and he always wore a cap, even indoors. Over the weeks the two men had developed a friendship as Brian enjoyed listening to Max’s hunting stories and was good at explaining things about their work in a way that Max could easily understand.

Just then Evan walked in and everyone’s demeanor changed. “We need to get going,” he announced.

“Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, do you think the weather will hold?” said Ted. Max didn’t like Ted very much as he thought that he was too full of himself, always bragging about all his experience. Asking this kind of question was just another way of showing off.

“I do,” said Evan, looking at his watch. “I think we’ve got a good four hours. Let’s suit up and get in the bird. I want to take off in the next fifteen minutes if possible.”

Max was already in his boots and warm jumpsuit, though he was wearing only a thermal shirt underneath. He reached for his thick pullover sweater, and then donned his heavy overcoat. It was bright red and had several thick bands of light-reflective material sewn into it. He didn’t zip it up yet—there would be time to do that while they were in the air. As Brian and Ted re-appeared, also suited up, Max grabbed his shotgun and the case of tranquilizer darts.

Soon all four were airborne, headed for the site where they would be taking yet another ice core sample. “There’s a storm on the way, but I’m confident we’ve got a few hours,” Evan repeated to the crew in a loud voice, speaking over the sound of the helicopter blades chopping through the frigid air. He was both the pilot and the team leader. “Riesig-Alaska identified another part of Laptev Bay, near the shore, and they want a few samples from the permafrost before they decide if they will want to poke any further holes.”

Before he got this job, Max had no idea how complicated oil exploration was. He had grown up in Texas, but somehow he had never thought much about what went on before gasoline magically showed up at the local gas station, all ready to be pumped into his big black pick-up truck. After being hired by Riesigoil, however, he had undergone some training and was learning a lot from the geoscientists with whom he lived for weeks at a time in a barracks up in the Arctic. They used sound wave equipment to explore the layers under the ground, took samples, and sent all of the information to the larger base in Alaska. Riesigoil geologists then employed 3D visualization techniques to identify areas that might harbor oil and natural gas underneath. Once potentially promising areas were identified, exploratory wells were dug, and later, if all went well, they would dig a bigger well. But even then, Max’s colleagues had explained, even after all the testing and modeling, the chances of hitting a good source of oil were still only about 1 in 5. It was a long, expensive pursuit, and one that took years before any profits could be made.

Max learned these things more out of idle curiosity than anything else. Unlike most of the people in his barracks, Max had not been recruited because of his years of schooling and experience, but rather because of his hunting skills. Growing up on a ranch in the Texas hill country, Max had gone hunting from the time he was quite young, maybe six or seven years old, and it was what he loved to do most in the world. His father had also been a big hunter, as had his uncle, and he had fond memories of the long road trips they would take down to South Texas, whenever they could snag a week or two of vacation, to hunt for turkeys, feral hogs (his uncle’s favorite) and deer. On the night stand by his bunk Max kept a small framed photograph that his father had taken of him with his boot propped on the hind quarters of the first buck he had ever shot, its full crown almost larger than he was. The rush of adrenaline he had felt when he first spotted the buck in his binoculars had made his hands tremble. On previous occasions, trembling hands had led to missed shots and his quarry, thus alerted, had fled. But this time he had managed to calm himself down, and his shot had been true. After that, there had been no stopping him.

Max’s friends from high school had teased him, saying that he would never get a good-paying job by pursuing his hobby. He had worked as a truck driver for a few years, but he tired of the road and longed for time off so he could get a chance to go hunting. Then one day he had seen an ad in the newspaper for an experienced hunter, and he had applied online that very evening, attaching dozens of photos of large prey that he had felled. It was the only way he could think of to impress the people who might otherwise frown at his meager work experience.

The job meant that he would have to live way up north in the Arctic for a few months of the year, but he would make enough money during that time that he could afford to take the rest of the year off and spend lots of time hunting. So far, to his dismay, being a bear hazer at Riesigoil had been much more boring than he had expected. Protecting the workers from polar bears had sounded like a lot of fun, but it had turned out to be more like just babysitting the workers while he held a toy shotgun in his hands. Still, whenever he got too frustrated by the tediousness of the endless expanse of ice, he reminded himself of the months of hunting that lay ahead, and that would generally cheer him.

“The machinery’s already set up there? Everything’s ready to go?” asked Brian, his voice cracking as he strained to be heard over the loud stuttering of the helicopter. He was referring to the drilling equipment they would need to use to be able to remove the ice core samples. Sometimes they were required to spend extra time setting up all of the equipment, but often it was another team that identified the area and prepared it for their team.

Since they wanted samples from depths greater than 30 meters, they would need to use specialized drills that hung on cables. The drills could be electromechanical, or electrothermal, Brian had explained to Max earlier that week. Thus Max now knew that, in Brian’s opinion, electrothermal drills were not as consistent and were to be avoided if possible.

“You bet,” said Evan, consulting his instruments. “They have it all set for us. We should be able to get in and out in about two hours.”

As they gained altitude, Max, who was sitting by a window, looked out and saw gray everywhere: the sky above, the ice below, and everything in between. The entire landscape, as far as the eye could see, was varying shades of unbroken gray. He was certain that whatever other faults it might have, Texas never had this much gray.

The ride was a short one, and within fifteen minutes, the four men had reached the site where the drilling equipment stood waiting for them. Evan put the helicopter down and soon they were outside, feeling the cold wind biting their exposed faces. Max walked over with Brian, who was wearing a bright red knit cap, and watched him as he inspected the long, cylindrical drill bit which was connected to a slender cable that would soon suspend the drill shaft as it made its way down into the hole. On the end of the drill bit Brian showed Max the four carbide teeth that would cut into the ice, shaving layer after layer as it penetrated downward.

“See these two barrels there?” Brian asked.

Max peered in and saw an inner one and an outer one.

“That motor you see there,” Brian said, indicating with his gloved finger, “is attached to the inner one and that’s what makes it rotate.”

Max peered at the inside of the barrel of the inner core and saw the threads which spiraled up and around the inside. “What are them stringy things there for?” he asked.

“Those are called ‘threads’ and they serve to remove the ice chips that get freed by the carbide teeth, you see. That helps to keep the chips from getting in the way of the tip of the drill,” explained Brian.

Max sauntered back toward the metallic bird, his shotgun slung carelessly over his shoulder and saw Evan cast another uneasy glance toward the west where an even darker patch of gray sky now loomed.

“Let’s try to finish this one quickly and get back out of here,” Evan said, his shoulders held stiffly against the wind which was beginning to pick up. The three men got busy with the equipment and began the procedure of extracting the ice core sample while Max loaded his shotgun and calmly began scanning the horizon.

“Aren’t you going to use binoculars?” asked Ted. In his late forties, Ted was the oldest of the bunch, and already graying at the temples. In Max’s opinion, besides being a know-it-all, Ted worried too much, especially about things which were none of his business.

“Nah,” said Max, not deigning to glance in Ted’s direction. “We ain’t seen a single one of them in all the times I’ve been out here. Don’t see why one of ’em would show up now.”

Ted and Evan exchanged uneasy looks, but neither said anything. Max was the one with the shotgun. Besides, they needed to concentrate on the task at hand.

As they worked, Max paced around the men, walking slowly in a circle and scanning the horizon. There was nothing but gray on all sides. Occasionally he would stop and watch the men for a while. The noisy drill was steadily spewing up tiny bits and chunks of shredded ice which formed a growing mound that would have been quite nice for snow cones. The drill shaft had disappeared fairly soon after drilling had begun, and now just the cable could be seen, snaking over and into the ever deepening hole. After a few minutes Max would begin pacing again, stopping every now and then to look at the storm and gauge its progression. Gusts of wind were increasing in frequency, but the menacing dark clouds looked like they would indeed not make their appearance until later in the afternoon.

After about an hour, Brian signaled that the drill had reached the location from which they wanted to extract the core sample, and they began the reverse drilling operations to bring it up to the surface. The first few times Max had seen an ice-core being extracted, he had been quite interested. They had removed the long pole-like structure, thinner than his wrist, and wrapped it carefully and quickly, hermetically sealing it in one single chunk for later analysis. Once it was sealed in plastic, they would pack it in Styrofoam and packing bubbles to protect it. This was the most precarious part of the entire operation. The sample needed to remain intact in order for the lab techs back at the barracks to be able to analyze it properly. It was a delicate operation, but the men made it seem fairly easy. Max wasn’t fooled, though. Hunting had taught him that it took many months of practice before things looked easy.

The men worked for another fifty minutes to bring the sample up. As the drill bore finally re-appeared, everyone, including Max, watched in fascination. They lowered the shaft slightly and began to gently eject the sample from the inner casing of the drill. First the tip, then very slowly, the rest of the crystalline core sample began to gently slide out as the men waited, plastic bag and Styrofoam at the ready. The roar came at the worst possible moment, just as the last part of the ice-core sample had emerged into the air.

Max’s heart raced as he cocked his shotgun and whirled toward the sound. He sighted his prey and immediately took aim, but he didn’t pull the trigger yet. He had hoped and dreamed of just such a moment for so many weeks. Now his pent-up adrenaline raced through his veins. He took a deep breath, steadying himself.

The bear stopped advancing and reared up on its hind legs. It was an enormous beast, all the more fearsome as it towered over them, its keen black eyes now more than twelve feet above the ice. Slowly swiveling its head, the bear surveyed the group, as if pondering which one of the men it should attack first. Honing in on Brian, clearly the smallest of the crew members, it flared its nostrils and opened its large mouth in a rumbling growl, revealing four long incisors, each capable of inflicting mortal wounds.

Max followed the bear’s gaze and saw Brian, who had been reaching for the fragile ice core sample to wrap it in the plastic bag, flinch violently at the sound of the menacing growl, and then completely lose his balance.

All of the Arctic workers had undergone long hours of safety training in case of bear attacks, which had included pictures of bears. But, from experience, Max knew there simply was no substitute for having the live, hulking animal, right there.

Trying to recover his balance, Brian staggered forward, flailing wildly with his arms. Both Evan and Ted tried to catch Brian as he tottered, but their thick suits and the slippery ice made them clumsy. Before they could catch him, Brian slammed into the ice core sample which had been hanging perilously on the edge of the drill shaft. The plug of ice broke free and clattered to the ground unceremoniously, fracturing and sending splinters of ice, like tiny darts, into the exposed faces of the men.

“What are you waiting for? Shoot it!” Ted yelled at Max.

Max, however, paused for another moment. It was one of the greatest moments of his life and he was relishing the inimitable experience. The bear got back down on all four legs and began loping toward the men. Max’s entire body tingled as he tracked it. Then, in one swift motion, he pulled the trigger and shot several times, sending four quivering darts into the flesh of the white bear. He felt a momentary pang of regret that he was not using real bullets, but he would still have a good story to tell his peers when he got back to Texas.

As he watched the big animal topple clumsily down onto the ice, the skin on the back of Max’s neck pricked up, a hunter’s sixth sense, and he whirled in time to see a second bear bounding toward the group of men. It was about forty five degrees to the right of the one that was still struggling, shaking its head as if bewildered.

“Get down,” Max barked at his companions, taking a few quick steps to position himself between the bear and the other men. He cocked his shotgun, more thrilled than afraid, and ignoring the frightened howls of his companions, he fired three times. The injections hit the big animal squarely on the shoulder, side and hip. The bear’s pace did not seem to slow. Max stood his ground, firing several more well-placed shots. He knew that the amount of tranquilizer in each dart was more than enough to kill a man, and that their combined force would soon immobilize the bear.

The colossal mass of white fur, saber claws and sharp teeth swerved and slipped as it finally went down, then skidded, reaching out its large paw to swipe at Max. The claws of the giant animal rasped against Max’s leg and tore at his suit, even as the bear’s eyes rolled skyward and its head struck the ice with a large thump. Thirty feet away, the first bear also lay unconscious.

Max quickly scanned the horizon, turning his head carefully to his left in a full circle to ascertain that were no other surprises lurking. All was clear.

He bent over and casually inspected his pants. They were torn in several places, but no further harm had been done. Then he turned and registered that his companions were cursing, and that the ice core sample lay shattered in six or seven large chunks.

“Let’s take it anyway,” shouted Evan. The winds were beginning to blow even harder, and white crystals, pieces of shattered core as well as blowing snow, covered all of the men, dusting their hair, faces and bright coats. With gloved hands and hunched backs they scooped up the lopsided cylindrical chunks of ice and placed them in the bag. They did not bother with the Styrofoam or packing bubbles as there was no longer any need to take precautions not to break it.

“Let’s get out of here,” yelled Evan and soon they had mounted the helicopter and were on their way back to the camp.

“What the hell happened?” demanded Ted as soon as they were in the air. The storm was definitely closer now, and everyone was obviously nervous to get back to the shelter of their barracks as soon as possible.

“What?” said Max, vexed that none of them, not even Brian, had thanked him for saving their lives. And now here was Ted interrogating him. Well, he certainly wasn’t going to let some old dude tell him how he should have handled the situation. He was the only one who had kept his cool in the face of danger instead of panicking like sissies.

Ted rolled his eyes. “The bears, man, what the hell was that about?”

Max shrugged. It was clear that Ted was just being a nervous worrywart again. Perhaps that was why he had so much gray hair even though he wasn’t fifty years old yet.

The adrenaline from Max’s encounter with the polar bears had dissipated quickly. That was the trouble with hunting. It used to be that a good kill would create a euphoria that would last for the rest of the day. Now he got about ten minutes of that high feeling, and soon he was completely back to normal. He wondered if it was because he had been hunting for so long, or if it was an age thing, yet one more trick his older body had learned to play on him. Or perhaps it was because, deep down, he knew he had not actually killed the bears, only immobilized them temporarily.

“Why did you take so long to shoot them?” snapped Ted, his jaw flexing.

Max gave him a dirty look. “I didn’t take that long. Y’all were never in any real danger. I wanted to be sure the big guy got close enough that I could get him good. And I did.”

“And the second bear?” asked Evan.

Great. They were ganging up on him now. Well, bring it on, thought Max. He could handle these wimps. He looked straight ahead and shrugged again. “What of it? I got him good too, didn’t I?” Then he turned back toward the window, angling his shoulder as a barrier against the other men.

Ted looked at Evan who, almost imperceptibly, shook his head. Then, after quickly glancing in his mirror to be sure that Max wasn’t looking, Evan held his hand slightly aloft, as if supporting an invisible pen. Ted gave a single nod. They would write up Max’s behavior when they returned to the barracks.

Brian flushed as he observed the interaction, feeling a pang of guilt for not intervening on behalf of his friend. After all, Max was doing his job as he understood it. And polar bears were incredibly difficult to spot since their fur was as translucent as ice. So it wasn’t that surprising that the bears had snuck up on them. Then the memory of the gargantuan bears, the first of which seemed to have locked eyes with him, came crashing back, paralyzing him once again with fear. Maybe it wasn’t Max’s fault for not descrying the bears sooner, but he really had erred in not shooting them earlier. Brian’s eyes drifted to the window where they became snagged in the ponderous clouds and escalating winds that blew away the last vestiges of his contrition.

Back in the barracks, the men doffed their outerwear and dried off. A few minutes later Evan radioed mission control to report the incident, as Riesigoil protocol dictated.

“Two bears? That’s highly unusual,” said the crackly voice of their supervisor.

She said something else after that, but after a few seconds of loud crackling sounds, the connection was lost. The storm that had been brewing on the horizon for the last several hours, growing ever larger and darker, now sank its fangs into the land. For two solid days the incessant winds howled and hail and snow pelted relentlessly on the tin roof of the small barracks, sounding as if the Arctic was waging a war with them, shelling their camp mercilessly.

No one could go outside. Communication satellites were blocked by the thick, impenetrable gray clouds. No one could reach the outside world. No one could hear their cries for help. No one would ever forget the horror of the events that occurred inside.

Share Button

What is a Megavirus?

Canada pic for blogIn the last decade, scientists have discovered viruses that are much larger than any viruses ever known before. They are called Megaviruses, or more correctly, Megaviridae. They are being discovered in remote parts of the planet, such as very deep in the ocean or tucked under thousands of years of ice, up in Siberia.

In March, 2014, Drs. Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel and their team of researchers published a paper on their discovery of 30,000 year old virus in the scientific journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. This virus, named Pithovirus, was found in an ice core sample.

Why do we care about viruses frozen in the ice? Well, for one thing, people are actively digging up the ice. Many oil companies are drilling in the Arctic to access the rich petroleum reserves up there.

For another thing, the permafrost layers are melting.

All this digging and melting of the ice could free these viruses.

Viruses can be revived even after being frozen for thousands, perhaps millions of years. What would happen if one of these viruses was a human pathogen? Drs. Claverie and Abergel speculate that this scenario could occur.

And this is the premise of my latest novel, which, for now, I am calling THE LAPTEV VIRUS.

THE LAPTEV VIRUS is completely based in science, much like Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park. Some would say that more than science fiction, it could be called fictionalized science. Although I did not engineer it to be a thriller, it is definitely a page-turner and “in the suspense/thriller territory” as my editor and writing coach, Lauren Sapala put it.

Look for my novel to be published in the next month. When it becomes available, I will publish another blog post with the first part of the novel available for you to read. Meanwhile, you can read articles on the subject, such as this one from the LA Times  and follow announcements about the novel on my FaceBook page.

Share Button

The Genius of Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde speaking at Brazos Book Store in Houston. Image taken by Christy Esmahan.

This week I had not one, but two dreams come true! Dreams come in all sizes and shapes. Some are dreams that one works toward diligently, and others are more like passing wishes—it would be really awesome if I ever got a chance to… This week the stars aligned in the universe, and I found myself swirling in the everyday magic that comes from having experiences filled with joy and wonder. The first was a professional dream: I began writing in earnest in 2008, working on my series of novels which were ultimately published this year, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas. That in itself is a pretty big dream come true, but on Tuesday evening I was given the opportunity by the lovely folks at Katy Budget Books to do my first Book Signing ever, and on top of that, the event went swimmingly well. Many of my friends and neighbors showed up to support me, but I also had the chance to convince some nice strangers to try my novels, and that was very gratifying. I hope to have many more book signing events in the future, but this one will always have a special place in my heart.

My second dream was seeing one of my hero-authors in person: on Wednesday night I got to meet Jasper Fforde when he did a book talk and signing at Brazos Book Store in Houston. I have lots of authors I like—I can talk excitedly about books for hours on end—but there are only a handful of people that I call my hero-authors: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Jasper Fforde.  That’s it. There’s no hope of meeting the first three, so you can imagine my delight when I found out by chance that Fforde would be in town! I live 30 miles from the store, and yes, I had other commitments, but this was a special dream so I cleared my schedule and got myself there, right smack in the front row.

I’ve admired Fforde since 2003, when I read his first novel, The Eyre Affair. Most of Fforde’s early published works are more enjoyable if the reader has read and remembers a broad spectrum of books by other authors in order to greater appreciate and thoroughly understand the hilarity of his plots. As he described his writing style in his talk, he said he liked to “move the furniture around in people’s brains–put a sofa on top of a hat stand and look at it from there.” And boy, does he have a creative and talented mind for doing this!

The Big Over-Easy was the next book I read, and my experience as a mother of young children, whom I doused in nursery rhymes, helped me to further enjoy his Nursery Crime narratives. The Fourth Bear was also extremely entertaining, and my training as a scientist primed me further for enjoying his questioning at the thermodynamic level of the temperature of Mama Bear’s porridge, which makes no sense if you consider that there is no way it should be colder than Baby Bear’s porrige unless some of its volume was reduced by interference from a hitherto undisclosed fourth bear. How awesome is that?

In his Last Dragonslayer series, Fforde also tickled my fancy when he described the “fact” that there were six different types of Quarkbeasts, (terribly frightening monsters with shark-like rows upon rows of teeth who eat cans of dog food as treats, can and all) and these beast come in six flavors: Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange and Charm. If you remember your high school physics, you can’t help but be amused!  I was listening to this book on audio and I found myself pounding the steering wheel and laughing out loud when the narrator got to this part.

That’s nice, you’re probably thinking, a very creative mind and entertaining books. Is that all it takes to be a hero-writer for you, Christy? Good question, and the answer is no. Where Fforde crosses the line from “very good writer” to “sheer genius” is in his Thursday Next books where he takes on the act of reading in a refreshing and altogether unusual and creative fashion. His explanation of the ImaginoTransference system is nothing short of brilliant, so let me quote a post on in his Phorum 5 

Book Operating Systems:The operating system that runs every book from within using a system of ImaginoTransference to project the author’s ideas into pictures within the reader’s head. The first system used was OralTrad, upgraded ten thousand years later by the rhyming (for easier recall) OralTradPlus. For thousands of years this was the only Story Operating System and is still in use today. The system branched in two about twenty thousand years ago; on one side with CaveDaubPro, (fore-runner of PaintPlusV2.3, GrecianUrnV1.2, SculptMarble V1.4, and the latest, all- encompassing SuperArtisticExpression-5). The other strand, the Picto-Phonetic Storytelling Systems, started with ClayTablet V2.1 and went through several competing systems (WaxTablet, Papyrus, VellumPlus) before merging into the award winning SCROLL, which was upgraded eight times to V3.5 before being swept aside by the all new and clearly superior BOOK V1. Stable, easy to store and transport, compact and with a workable index, BOOK is still the operating system of choice. Current System in use today: V8.3.

So basically, what he’s saying is that there is an operating system, a kind of computer program, if you will, that allows readers to take the little black marks that we see on a page and turn them into the full-blown mind-movies we get when we read. And like all systems, Fforde goes on to explain in his novels, it can sometimes go down. When this happens, steps must be taken to keep us, humans in the Outland, from finding out. The program therefore puts us to sleep so we don’t realize that the failure is occurring. Like most systems, it fails more often at the end of the day, when it’s been used continuously by humans all around the world, and that’s why we will often fall asleep reading at night. Like I said, the man is a genius!

I also love how he dives into the formation of characters, with varying depths of personalities and back stories–his explanations have affected the way I view other books and even the way I view my own writing. All of this is what makes him an author-hero in my mind.

If you like books that challenge you to use your imagination, and which are not afraid to step into several genres at once, mixing time-travel with Ms. Havisham,  a nice werewolf detective who will help with literary crimes, and Shakespeare, all the while teaching you about the dangers that “Adjectivores” and other “Grammasites” can and do cause to our language (if you text, you’ve seen the damage!) I encourage you to read, nay, devour all of his novels. I have, and am ready to re-read some as I wait impatiently for the next ones to be published.

And, if you ever get a chance to attend one of his speaking engagements, as I did this week, do yourself a favor and go. He is a dynamic, charismatic and entertaining speaker, every bit as fun and thought-provoking as his novels. Meanwhile, check out his website  and enjoy this genius who lives and walks among us.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

Share Button

Harvey and Elul

Front cover Sinco26In Jewish tradition, this month before the High Holy Days is called Elul. It is a time of reflection, a time to think about the past year, ponder manners in which one may have “missed the mark” and which one now regrets. Harvey Jones, the main character in my debut series, the Cantabria American School novels, is a Jewish man, although he considers himself an ethnic Jew, i.e. not one to go to services regularly or follow all of the rules.

He is a complex, flawed and endearing character, one who is dealing with grief (his beloved brother Sammy was killed accidentally by the terrorist group, ETA) and with the anger and disapproval that his father laid heavily upon him as a child.

He is also struggling to manage the group of disgruntled employees, difficult teachers, at his present school in northern Spain, where he is a foreigner.

In the second book of the trilogy, Sinco, Harvey has made a bad mistake—he neglected (procrastinated to his detriment) telling his girlfriend, Carmen, about an important event from his past and she (quite understandably) feels betrayed when she finds out from others.

Under these trying circumstances, when Harvey is feeling anguished by the thought of possibly losing her, the love of his life, his Judaic teachings surface and his apology is rendered more solid as a result.

Here is an excerpt from the scene, after he had spent quite a bit of time telling her the entire story:

Carmen, it was so wrong of me not to tell you sooner,” he whispered.

     She nodded.

     “And I can see how, if you only heard part of the story, you must have thought me a monster…”

     She nodded again.

     “Do you…do you think you could ever forgive me?”

     Carmen looked up at him, but kept her arms folded. “Bueno, Harvey, I am not sure…relationships take trust, and you have not shown me that you trust me.”

     Harvey held her eyes. “It was really wrong of me not to trust you. I was frightened that I wouldn’t be able to explain it…but I really did mean to tell you, eventually. I thought about doing it several times but there never seemed to be a good time to talk about something so awful…but that’s not an excuse. Look, in Judaism, when someone makes a mistake, a really bad one like this one, they teach that you can only be truly forgiven once you are faced with a similar set of circumstances and then make a different and better decision the next time around.”

 Carmen looked at him doubtfully.

     “So, say for example,” said Harvey, rushing to make his point, “I walk by a fruit stand and there’s this beautiful apple and I’m hungry and I don’t happen to have any money on me and the shop keeper isn’t watching so I steal the apple. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t cut it. I can, and should, pay the shop owner for the apple that I stole, and that helps, but even then, I’m not truly forgiven. But if the next time and the time after that and so on, when I walk by the stand and I’m hungry and I don’t have money and he’s not watching, I still don’t steal the apple, then I’m forgiven.”

     Carmen nodded and continued looking at him.

     “What I stole, Carmen, was far more valuable than an apple,” said Harvey, his voice quavering. “I…I stole your trust in me, and it was a particularly bad thing to steal when your heart had already been broken by the circumstances of losing Javier. But please, Carmen, I’m begging you with all my heart, please give me another chance. I promise that I will never be this stupid about not telling you things that you should know in advance. Oh, Carmen, I love you so much, and these last several days, thinking I…that I had lost you, they’ve been the worst days of my life. It’s been absolute hell. My dearest, sweet Carmen. Please say you’ll give me another chance.”

I’ve not added any more of the scene as I don’t want to spoil the book. What do you think? Have you ever hurt anyone by omission? Are there people to whom you’d like to apologize and don’t know how or when to do so?

If you enjoyed this blog post you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

Share Button

Brujas newsflash

Wordle: Brujas WordleOne of the fun things you can do is play around using the words you’ve slaved over for so many years and plug them into a program called Wordle, which will mix them up and represent them in randomly colored shapes based on word-count. So, in honor of autumn, which is upon us with its lovely colors and cooler weather, and in commemoration of the start of a new school year, I created this Wordle using a chunk of text from Brujas. What do you think?

I also wanted to announce that Brujas, the third and final novel of the Cantabria American School trilogy, will be released in paperback form on September 1st and in Kindle (which is currently available to pre-order from the Kindle store) on September 8th, 2014. As you can see from this Wordle, Harvey plays a prominent role in the narrative, as do Tom, Sonia, Sherice and Cindy. Can you guess what else is going on from the words you see?

Preliminary reviews by early readers of this book are saying that they love the series and that Brujas is the best one yet. Let me know what you think!

This is a perfect book for any educators in your life!


If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

Share Button

Hatchette Books vs Amazon

It’s been a LONG while since I wrote a blog post, but this legal battle between Hatchette CEO, Michael Pietsch, and Amazon is getting on my nerves.  I think that Amazon is right in offering lower-priced e-books, and after reading the article written by Readers United and the Amazon Books Team ( I decided to make my voice heard. I recommend that you, too, dear reader, take a moment to read the letter at the above link, before reading my letter below:

Front cover Brujas2

Brujas, the third novel in the Cantabria American School series, will be available in September, in both paperback and e-book and proudly sold through Amazon or your local bookstore.

Dear Michael,

As a mother of 4 college students, an educator, an avid reader and an author, I strongly believe your company is making a HUGE mistake in refusing to lower the price of e-books.

I have read and followed the debate extensively, and I’ll admit that I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have a vested interest in seeing a prolonged fight. What I know for sure is that reading is FUNDAMENTAL to bringing up literate, creative and intellectually hungry children. And it is increasingly difficult to compete for their attention with all of the electronic games and social media available, so being able to give my daughter a Nook or my son a Kindle and instruct them to download e-books and carry 10 or 20 or 30 with them in their backpack, wherever they go for the summer, has been a life-saver. There is no way they would have agreed to carry so many paperback or hardback books, but e-books get read. And I would NOT be able to afford purchasing so many books if it were not for the fact that e-books are generally cheaper. Oh, and I do tell them to only get books under $10—with so many different kids and interests, I can’t afford more expensive ones.

I have also found that the cheaper the e-book is, the more likely I am to take a look at it and buy it, just to see if I like it. Often I will try new authors—I was never this adventurous when I had to pay more for books. So, yes, I do end up spending more on books than I did before, but I feel good about being able to get so many. However, if I see an e-book priced at $14.99, I won’t take a chance on it.

As an educator, I just LOVED telling my students to get a book, say, on a Friday night, and know that they could easily do so without asking someone to drive them to a store. And again, out of consideration for their parents’ pocketbook, I only suggested the more economically priced e-books.

Finally, as a new author, I assure you that we authors are not united on this issue. I chose to price my e-books at an accessible $5.99 each. I have written terrific books that are beginning to receive national and international attention. But not just because they are wonderfully well-written, no. It is because they are AFFORDABLE. So people take a chance, download them and like what they see. If I had to charge more, I would be less well-known.

So please, re-consider your position and come to an agreement with Amazon which embraces the future and makes reading accessible to all.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.



Share Button

Thank you, Lauren Sapala!

Salamanca art

Salamanca art: Lauren often uses images of murals in her blog posts, so in her honor, here’s a mural in Salamanca, Spain.

Knock me over with a feather! I’ve got a wonderful success story to share with you today.

It begins late in 2013, during the final stages of writing The Cantabria American School series. The editor I had hired had sent me a huge list of issues that needed to be addressed, (rightly so), providing me with no less than 17 pages of comments and suggestions, and I had been slogging my way through them. In addition, I had decided to take my 700+page manuscript and break it into three books. That meant that each novel needed a separate story arc, characters needed to be developed more fully, and I needed to create more beginnings and endings than I had originally intended.

I was exhausted and discouraged, and even though I’d dedicated more than 5 1/2 years to writing this series, I felt like I was never going to be a published writer. Even more distressing was the fact that a friend of mine who is a successful writer gently suggested that I should go back to working in what I was trained to do and give up writing. The tasks ahead seemed completely unattainable and I was ready to walk away, throw in the towel, and forget about my dream of becoming a writer.

That’s when I stumbled upon Lauren Sapala’s blogs. Lauren is a writer and a writing coach based in San Francisco, and her posts were nothing short of a miracle for me. Posts such as “Why You Finishing Your Novel is Exactly What the World Needs” and a slew of others began to brighten my days. Lauren is a terrific writer and over the weeks and months as I continued to read her posts, hungrily digging through the archives, I became inspired to keep going and finish the task. Her blog is a treasure trove for writers: there are posts that address specific issues to do with characters or plot, and others more about life in general for writers and the special demons in the heads of all writers (not just mine!) Her blog is wealth of ideas and inspiration and I continue to greatly admire and benefit from her insightful writing.

I managed to complete Bueno and publish it, and then last month I published the second novel in the series, Sinco. Now, as I put the finishing touches on Brujas, the third one, I can honestly say that Lauren Sapala is a huge part of the reason I was able to keep going and finish writing these novels.

One day about a month ago I decided to reach out to her: I wrote to her, introducing myself and thanking her for inspiring me. I had been reading her posts constantly for six months now, and even though she didn’t know me, I was beginning to feel like she was a friend, always there with another cheerful and expertly presented blog post dealing with the craft of writing. In the middle of my e-mail, I became brave and decided to ask if she wouldn’t mind reviewing Bueno, a creation which she had been so instrumental in inspiring me to complete. I figured that most likely she wouldn’t answer me—after all, she has over 17,000 followers on Twitter, and over a thousand friends on Goodreads. Her whole life is about writers, all of whom are more well-known than me. Surely my little request would be one of a million and she would not have time to look at. I drafted my note to her about ten times, and read it to my husband over and over again before I finally pressed the “send” button.

And here’s the part where things began to turn surreal: first, she wrote back to me! It was a cheerful answer, much as her blog posts are.

Second, she agreed to read Bueno. I was over the moon just anticipating her taking a look at my creation, wringing my hands in worry that she’d not like it or find it sub-par, and wondering if I’d done the right thing in asking her to read it.

Then the third surprise came: she gave it five stars, calling it a “hidden gem”! It was a dream come true! And even If I do say so myself, it’s a terrific review, thoughtful, thorough and kind. Click here to read it.

So that’s my story of a miracle in my little corner of the universe! I hope that you too, dear reader, find miracles in the form of helpful souls like Lauren Sapala in your life, and if you do, please share your story–I’d love to read it!

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

Share Button

Ask the Author…or the Character

Pilars lips

This is how I imagine Pilar’s ribbon lips when she speaks to Harvey. (And what do you think about the snowflakes in the background? Apt, wouldn’t you say?)

It’s summer time in the northern hemisphere, and one of my fun rituals is making a list of the books I want to delve into. I’m so happy that several of my favorite authors have come out with new books, and I just finished ordering a few from the library. I’m a bit behind on Alexander McCall-Smith’s books, and when I went on his website this morning to get the list, I scrolled around to see what else I could learn from this pro. He’s one of my idols–I have several authors in that category–and someday I hope to meet them all in person. McCall-Smith’s website is interesting because of the fun African music that plays while one is browsing, and the graphics of little birds flying around–it’s a nice touch.  One section which I really like is the “Ask the Author” one in which readers can address him OR one of his characters. The questions are not just about his writing process, but often they are about life itself, and it is these that Mma Ramotswe, the main character from his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, answers with the wisdom and patience that are inherent to her. One reader (though I wonder if they really are readers or if McCall-Smith made up these questions) asks “My son stole a car. What shall I do?” and I just love Mma Ramotswe’s  wise answer which is rooted in understanding, forgiveness and common sense.

Another of my all-time author idols is Jasper Fforde, and I’ve also read all his books and am eagerly awaiting the next ones. If you’ve not read his books,  I can’t recommend him highly enough. He’s got a brilliant and hilarious writing style and his books are both entertaining and mind-expanding.  Like McCall-Smith, Fforde has created an entire world with truly lovable and unforgettable characters. His fans are so devoted that they have one weekend a year in which they celebrate his books in Swindon, (in the U.K.) where his Thursday Next novels are set. Everyone dresses up like his characters and runs around playing games that act out events which might (or might not) have happened in his books—it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s called Fforde Fiesta, and I would love to be a part of it one of these years.  Like McCall-Smith, he has fans write to his characters, and it’s hilarious. One of Fforde’s series is about Nursery Crimes, you know, the dastardly stuff that can happen in the world of Jack Spratt, Humpty Dumpty (who, himself, was a victim of a vicious crime, don’t think for a second that he just fell off that wall, he was clearly pushed) Mary, Mary, and others.  Readers are encouraged to write to Detective Spratt about any crimes they suspect in the Nursery world, and some of the fans are quite creative.

So, those are two of the authors I’ll be reading as I sit down with something tall and cool to drink. What about you? What books are you excited about reading this summer? I hope you’ll make time to read Bueno and Sinco, which are available in paperback or on Kindle. If you have any questions for me (or any of my characters), please do send them my way, either on this page or by messaging me on my FaceBook page. And if you’ve made any drawings (or other art projects) about anything in my books—I understand that about 30% of readers draw out characters and scenes from the books they are reading—I would love to post your fan art.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

Share Button

Older posts «