A Conversation with Author TJ FOX

Every now and again I read a novel that stays with me long past the time I finish reading it. TJ Fox’s debut novel, An Unexpected Turn, is one such book.

I discovered TJ through her blog on WordPress. She’s one of these incredibly talented Renaissance-type women who seems to be capable of doing just about anything she sets her mind to, whether it be writing, photography, decorating, or any number of other endeavors. And she does them all beautifully. Check out her blog at http://tjfox.net.

Recently I recommended TJ’s book to a friend and I started thinking about the incredible way it came to pass. Having spent nearly ten years writing my first novel, (eight of those years it spent on a shelf, nearly forgotten), I was amazed, impressed, and flabbergasted to learn that TJ wrote the first draft for An Unexpected Turn in one week! Yes. Read that and weep, fellow authors.

I asked TJ how she came up with the idea for her novel:

TJ: I had a literal dream I couldn’t get out of my head after waking from it because of how improbable and ridiculous my rational mind thought the dream was. My brain wouldn’t let go of the questions and the “what ifs” that dream dredged up. I had to start writing all those thoughts down to get my brain to process it and it became a book, something that I never dreamed I would ever do. In a way, it feels kind of like I accidentally wrote a book.

Me: But you wrote it in a single week?

TJ: My brain was so obsessed with trying to answer those “what ifs” and trying to take a situation that seemed so over the top and impossible and figure what kind of circumstances would create an environment to make it be possible, that I sat down and wrote the entire first draft in a week. I would sit down in the mornings and write until I hit a problem I wasn’t sure how to get beyond. I’d then go to sleep and by morning, I’d have a solution and I’d start up again.

Of course, I spent so much more time on edits than I did on writing that first draft making the entire process so much longer, but a vast majority of the story was set in stone in that one week. It was one of those rare creative moments where it feels like the creation took on a life of its own and created itself while the creator was just a tool in the process.

As an artist, I’ve experienced similar creative moments here and there, but never on this scale or this completely. Even now, at three and a half years later (sheesh, I can’t believe it’s been that long already), I still struggle to believe it happened.

Me: Incredible and mind-boggling, but I’m glad it happened that way. Now, I’m a lousy interviewer, so I’m going to ask a “catch all” question. What is it you’d like future readers to know about An Unexpected Turn?

TJ: This one is always hard for me. To me, with the story evoking all kinds of emotions as the events unfold, it feels like if I talk about any of those events, even in very broad strokes, that I’ll take away from the emotional impact of the story for any future reader. And it IS a story that is all about the emotions, a lot of really sad emotions, but still laced with the feel-good kinds of emotions that make such hard events bearable. It isn’t like a major suspense kind of story that I’m going to be spoiling the big “who done it” reveal, but I’m never really sure how to talk about my book without feeling like I might cheat a reader from the experience if I were to say the wrong thing. The best I have been able to come up with in trying to describe it is that it is a story about a woman’s emotional journey to finding and creating family in unimaginable circumstances.

Me: That’s a really good description. I think I used a whole box of tissues while reading your book. I remember being shocked by your protagonist’s situation. I felt everything she was going through and became totally lost in the story.

Could we have a sample???

TJ: Again, because I struggle so much with knowing which pieces to share that won’t change the impact of the story, I’m just going to give you what I have as part of my blurb.

“When I take a good look at my reflection, I’m a bit surprised by the fact that the face looking back at me in the mirror doesn’t look any different than the one I’ve seen staring back at me for the last 27 years. I feel like I should look different. That my face should show the upheaval and the weight of the last several hours, that it should somehow show how much the course of my life has changed, but other than the mess from crying, everything is still the same. That seems wrong somehow.”

Me: Okay, now I’m crying again. Thanks, TJ!

You can find An Unexpected Turn on Amazon. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook on Kindle. It’d make a great gift, too.

Peace, people!

Buy the Book

Last week I posted about an afternoon spent watching the film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. https://nananoyz5forme.com/2021/02/01/the-ghost-and-mrs-muir/

The resulting comments from friends on WordPress and social media led me to purchase a copy of the book, and thanks to Amazon, I’ll soon be comparing the book to the film. Seldom do I do the reverse order thing. Usually I’ve read the book first and then often find the film disappointing.

As a newly self-published author I can’t help but imagine what the screen version of my book might look like. Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Express would work well as a movie, but I’m afraid one scene would need to be cut or altered and that would be a shame. Since Hollywood isn’t going to come knocking on my door anytime soon, I guess that’s a senseless waste of a good worry.

A couple of years ago I got to hear author Louise Penny speak when she launched one of her Detective Gamache books here in Tallahassee. Someone asked what she’d thought about the screen adaptation of her first novel. I can’t provide a direct quote, but Ms. Penny said she’d not been happy with the way the book was transformed for the film and that she’d felt as if she had let her characters down.

I totally understand that. My characters, Paula and Cassie, the 3M’s, and Dr. Hunky, are all important to me. They’re like family. I find myself wondering, WWPD (What Would Paula Do) in certain situations. As I write the sequel to Mayhem I ask myself that question multiple times a day. So if I allowed someone to take my characters and change them in ways that weren’t true to my images of them, I’d feel awful. Again, a baseless worry, but hey, that’s how my mind works.

So buy the book. Support those characters, so you too can think of them as family.

Peace, people!

A Pain in my…

Shoulder sent me to the chiropractor today. We’ve been working on giving me some range of motion without making me howl in pain. At the end of the session Dr. Cal (who kind of reminds me of Matthew McConaughey) sent me to a walk-in orthopedic center. There, they x-rayed my shoulder, determined that I have some arthritis, bursitis, and maybe even other “itises“ yet to be named.

The orthopedist gave me a shot of cortisone and hopefully that, along with continued physical therapy, will help me get back to my normal wacky activities. All this pain—has resulted in my gaining five pounds, and it’s ticking me off.

I’ll be more chipper tomorrow. Oh, if you need something to read on this cold February weekend, might I suggest a couple of books? Suitable for Framing, a cozy mystery by Lori Roberts Herbst and my own novel, Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Resort, a quirky road trip story set in east Texas. They’re both available from Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle. And the reviews are really good. It’d probably make my shoulder feel better if you bought the books.

Sometimes Bad is Bad

My copy of Manhandled by E. L. Scobie arrived in the mail on Saturday afternoon. Studly brought the mail in, and I didn’t see the book until Sunday.

This is me before reading the book.

Immediately I set about reading this salacious looking novel that was published in 1963, a Midwood Book, by Tower Publications in New York City.

Having read my share of romance novels over the years I imagined this particular book would be tame in comparison to the bodice rippers I’d devoured in my twenties and thirties. I was both right and wrong.

This novel is hardly tame; however, the sex scenes aren’t titillating at all. With one really sweet exception, they’re just sad and tawdry. The front and back covers had more campy sexual appeal than the entire contents of the book combined.

I tried googling Scobie, with no luck, and I’m certain the author used a pen name. This seems to be his/her only published work, but it was, indeed, published which makes me think the author might have been trying a different genre. I’ll give the author this much—he/she wrote lyrically about the beauty of the area in which the book is set.

The book was disappointing. It didn’t make me want to lure Studly Doright to my boudoir for a night of passion, which had been on my mind. Instead, it inspired me to daydream about fishing in a cold mountain stream. And I dislike fishing. Go figure.

Peace, people!

Power of Observation

Never will I claim to be the most observant of humans. In fact, my husband of nearly 44 years, Studly Doright, is fond of telling me that I have “awareness issues.” I’d disagree with him if he weren’t so right.

Yesterday I wrote about a woman who, while visiting in my home, thought that when I said that I’d just finished my first novel that I meant I’d just finished reading my first novel.

https://nananoyz5forme.com/2020/06/08/my-first-novel/

Okay, I get it. I don’t look all that scholarly, but she was in my home, where literally the first thing one sees upon entering Doright Manor is this:

And this:

Look around a bit and you’d see this:

And this:

And even this:

Oh, and then there are my Star Wars books:

And

The dust is real.

Most of my books are on kindle nowadays, but the evidence that I’m a reader is pretty clear. So perhaps I’m not the only one with awareness issues. Maybe we can start a club.

Peace, people.

My First Novel

One day last week I ordered new carpet for the room that suffered damage from our recent water leak here at Doright Manor. The saleswoman who helped me decide on a pattern came out to the house to measure the area to be carpeted and talked me into also buying carpet for the two adjacent rooms. She was quite good at her job.

We chatted as she measured and eventually she asked what I did with my free time. I told her I’d recently finished my first novel. She looked at me kind of funny, so I elaborated, saying I one day realized I’d written 100,000 words.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought you meant you’d finished reading your first novel.”

We laughed, but then I wondered if I needed to upgrade my image. Surely I don’t look like a non-reader. Right?

Sort of relative cartoon.

Peace, people!

International Book Club Report

Several of my readers asked for a follow up post about yesterday’s book club meeting, and I’m happy to oblige. For those unfamiliar with yesterday’s post, here’s the link:

https://nananoyz5forme.com/2020/04/19/international-book-club-meeting/

This was my first Zoom experience, and for the most part the technology worked well. A couple of those attending experienced technical difficulties, and I know that was frustrating for them.

I believe there were nine of us in the meeting, and it truly was an international experience with one attendee from England and another from France. The U.S. was represented by folks from Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, and Florida. Due to the time differences, some folks were enjoying a glass of wine while we met, while others were still savoring their morning cups of coffee. Me, being in the middle joined the wine drinkers, of course.

Opinions on the book, Infield by Téa Obreht were mixed. The story tended to appeal most to those of us who’d grown up in the Southwest. The themes of thirst and need certainly resonated with me. It’s not light reading, by any means.

But—there are camels in Infield. And who doesn’t love camels? A very small portion of the book is set in Camp Verde, Texas. Several years ago Studly Doright and I were staying in Kerrville, Texas, with a group of our motorcycling friends. The men left early one morning to enjoy riding the sweeping curves of the Texas Hill Country at speeds that make me shudder, while three of us women set off on our own slower paced ride.

It was my day to lead, and I hate being the leader, but I took my turn without too much grumbling. We had no destination in mind that day, so I just headed south. We hadn’t gone more than about 19 miles when I thought I’d begun hallucinating, for in the near distance stood a camel calmly grazing. There was a sign posted that read “Camp Verde” and another for a general store, so I made an executive decision and turned left into the parking lot.

My friends and I spent the entire morning at the General Store, shopping, having lunch, and learning about the Camel Corps.

The U.S. Army’s “Camel Corps” Experiment

It seems I got sidetracked on my book club report, but I’d recommend this method of meeting if your group is jonesing to get together. I’m not very savvy when it comes to technology, but I was able to join the meeting with ease. I did keep forgetting to mute my mic when others were talking. Next time I’ll put a sticky note on my computer to remind me.

Peace, people!

International Book Club Meeting

I’m a book club dropout. Over the years I’ve belonged to several, but after a few weeks or months I become disenchanted and gracefully, I hope, bow out.

On the surface, it would seem that I’d be a book club aficionado. My reading habit is nearly insatiable, and if I only had money enough for food and books, I’d grow very skinny, but I’d have plenty to read.

I have a couple of issues with book clubs, though. First, I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it. I think if I could belong to a club in which we all simultaneously read a book of our own choosing and then met to exchange information about our chosen books, I’d be all in.

The second issue is that often the book I didn’t want to read, but read anyway because someone in the book club chose it, isn’t really discussed at the meeting. The group might start off discussing the book, but within five minutes the meeting dissolves into a purely social occasion. Argh.

I’m certain there are clubs out there that I would enjoy. I just haven’t found one yet.

Today, though, I’m going to participate in an international book club meeting via Zoom with several people I know from my senior year at Dumas high school. The instigator of this group, M.E., recommended the book, Infield by Téa Obreht, after she’d read it and felt the need to discuss it with others. I’m one of the lucky others.

M.E. was particularly persuasive, leading me to hurriedly complete the Peter F. Hamilton book I’d been reading in order to read Infield. I was quite taken with the book. It reminds me in ways of some totally different kinds of tales: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and John Steinbeck’s story, The Chrysanthemums. The book also includes a touch of the supernatural, and I’d almost say magical realism.

I cannot wait to discuss this book with M.E., et. al. The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. my time—a time frame that will work for our friends in France and all over the U.S.

M.E., who lives on the west coast, has put a lot of thought and effort into making this happen today. And honestly, I won’t care if we end up socializing five minutes into the meeting. After all, many of those planning to take part today haven’t seen each other since 1975. We visit on Facebook, but nothing like we’ve got planned.

Here’s hoping technology doesn’t let us down.

Peace, people!

Good Times

I’m reading Light of Impossible Stars, the third novel in Gareth Powell’s Embers of War series. When I came across these sentences it hit me just how perfect they were for what we’re experiencing now. And, who knows? A month down the road these days in early April 2020 might be considered good times. Everything is relative. Look for the good when and where you can. We will survive.

I highly recommend the series to fellow sci-fi enthusiasts. Do start with Embers of War, though.

Peace, people.

Just Any Book Won’t Do

On Facebook a couple of days ago I asked friends what books they loved, but would NOT recommend people read during a pandemic. I started the conversation off with a couple of my personal favorites.

First on my list is The Stand by Stephen King. Every now and then I reread King’s tale of a biological weapon unleashed on an unsuspecting and unprepared world. The weapon, in the form of an awful disease nicknamed “Captain Trips” wipes out all but about 4% of the population worldwide.

Of course, being vintage Stephen King, supernatural forces also come into play. As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough. Every time I’ve read the book I’ve ended up with either an upper respiratory virus or a digestive illness, and become fairly certain that I’ve contracted Captain Trips. I definitely will NOT read it in the near future.

Another book I enjoyed and will at some point reread once we’re past the current crisis is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Her novel follows several individuals who have survived a rapidly spreading disease and are trying to make their way in a new kind of society. Multiple story lines explore how different characters cope with the initial panic, the decimation of the population, and the aftermath of the pandemic years later. It’s well written, creatively imagined. and thought-provoking. I just can’t read it right now.

There are a few more I could list, but I want your best DON’T READ RIGHT NOW BOOKS. These should be books you really like, but probably would just ramp up anxiety if read right now. And I’m changing my mind even as I write this. Maybe you LIKE to read books that parallel our current situation. I’d like your thoughts, as well. Ready, set, go.

And as always, Peace, people. Stay well.