A Long Way Home

Did you know that recent statistics reported over 105,000 people as homeless in Australia? Alarmingly, 27% of those people are under 18 years of age, with 16% under 10. (Yes, ten!) Australia isn’t alone in these stats, with many countries seeing staggering numbers of homeless people sleeping on the streets or in non-permanent sleeping arrangements.

Homelessness is confronting, and was on my radar well before I wrote the scenes in Integrate where Blaine, the teenage hero of the novel, finds himself sleeping rough on the streets. Sometimes homelessness can seem an overwhelming issue. Perhaps this is because of its prevalence and the complexity of circumstances that can lead to someone becoming homeless. And the reality is it can happen easier than one might imagine.

Many cases of homelessness slip under the radar, especially couch surfers who may technically have a roof over their head most nights, but have no permanent residence. The impact on those living in transient housing is significant: socially, economically, mentally, physically and more. Consider this for children, who are supposed to go to school and learn, but they don’t even know if they have a bed each night, or even food.

For this reason it’s been great to see so many incentives raising funds and awareness of this issue. This Saturday just gone, our local city held their ‘Hike for the Homeless‘, which is a fundraising opportunity that exists in a number of communities about Australia. Other opportunities that people can get onboard with include ‘Hangout for the homeless‘, ‘Homeless for a Week‘ and ‘Vinnies Community Sleepout‘. Even professionals, like social workers, have taken up similar efforts to bring positive change to this situation. It’s also been great seeing a number of churches about Australia, such as those in the Yarra ranges, opening their doors to the homeless to provide food, shelter, bathroom facilities and hope.

As great as these programs are, when we start thinking of homelessness on a more personal level it can be a little more confronting. It’s one thing to join a collective effort, it’s another thing to look a homeless person in the face and offer them … Well, what can we offer? A coffee, either in person or by paying it forward? A meal? A hug? A donation to ‘Swags for Homeless‘? Or even a room in our home?

As we approach Christmas, the awful reality is a whole bunch of people will be spending it alone, hungry, in old clothes, and with no ready bathroom facilities.

What do you think we can do? Is joining a worthy cause and fundraising enough? Or can we go beyond general kindness to practical steps, like befriending a needy stranger, and bring a little brightness into someone else’s world? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Risky Business

Is there a risk in being loved?

No matter what relationship’s under the microscope, friendship, romance or family, to truly connect we need to become vulnerable. And vulnerability’s risky business.
Anyone who’s read my novels knows relationships are a big theme. Recently I received a review for the first novel in the Blaine Colton trilogy, that perfectly surmised the underpinning issue:

Blaine can’t stop thinking about one night of near heavenly bliss spent with his best friends Sophie and her brother Jett. More time with Sophie tops Blaine’s priorities … and yet … if he is an illegal GMO, will he ever have the right to love and be loved? [Emphasis mine]

I have a theory that self-worth and healthy connection are intimately linked. To clarify, I’m not talking so much about self-esteem, but self-worth, and Dr Christina Hibbert defines this perfectly in her blog ‘the psychologist, the mom & me’:

Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing “I am greater than all of those things”. It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth.

One of Blaine’s greatest struggles is believing he’s worthy of love, even of life. This doubt undermines him time and again, at times, tricking him into believing the world and those he cares for might be better off without him. On one hand, he has his adoptive parents telling him he’s been created with great love and care, wonderfully wrought, even before anyone knew of his existence. On the other hand, he’s confronted by the abandonment and rejection of his birth parents, who for a long time he believes dropped him like a steaming potato because of his overwhelming health challenges. (Like anything, it’s more complicated than that.) He longs to have friends, to love and be loved, but his physical imperfections and disabilities often seem an insurmountable obstacle.

What makes him valuable, lovable, in a world that glorifies perfection?

This is gritty stuff. No matter how many times Blaine’s family and friends tell him otherwise, it’s a matter he has to settle for himself. Especially when facing a reality where all he can do is ‘be’.

Although our circumstances may differ from Blaine’s, I suspect this grapple with self-worth is a struggle we all face at one time or another. When self-worth is a pivotal factor for achieving healthy, relationship-appropriate levels of intimacy, it can become a vicious cycle of yearning to let people near then hiding our flaws, or pushing them away so they can’t see how imperfect, unworthy and unlovable we really are.

Perhaps a cultural ideology that focusses so much on self-pride and feeling good about ourselves is a poor exchange for an inherent knowledge of our worth. The fact is, there are times we all mess up, make dumb choices, act out and do stuff that’s just plain unhealthy. It’s pretty hard to feel good then. And then there’s phase two: beating ourselves up because of these mistakes. But does this make us less valuable?

In our head we can tell ourselves it’s not what we do, say, earn, wear or how we look that determines our worth. It’s much harder telling our heart. It’s even harder to risk what someone else might think. Any relationship that goes beyond superficial acquaintance brings a risk of rejection and hurt. But when I think of those I do life with(every bumpy, emotionally warty, physically imperfect one of them 🙂 ) I recognise those who are willing to see beyond my many flaws and journey with me, are the ones who make it their business to remind me of my intrinsic worth.

Are relationships risky business? For sure. But with great risk can come great gain.

Confessions of a Science Geek

Did you know I’m a self-confessed science geek? If you’ve met me, I’m pretty sure you do. In fact, it becomes a little obvious when you read my near-science fiction trilogy (science-based speculative fiction that feels like it could happen now in our modern world) and my current WIP, which is a science fantasy time-slip parallel narrative. What may surprise you is that there have been times I’ve been at reader-writer events and felt like a fish out of water.

What may also surprise you is that science fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (I know, right?) At some events I not only have to explain what my techno-thriller novels are about, I find myself talking a lot about the genre and where my novels fit. But not this weekend just gone!

Have you heard of Oz Comic-Con? I had, but until science-fiction author friend, Lynne Stringer, and fantasy/science fiction author friend, Jeanette O’Hagan, contacted me, I didn’t realise the event had anything to do with books. How wrong I was—and it’s been a blast.

My enjoyment of this event was for multiple reasons. It was my first Oz Comic-Con and I was there with friends. Writers, if you’re ever going to a new event as an exhibitor, consider sharing your stall (if possible) with an author friend or two in a suitable genre. Not only could we take breaks and cover for each other (we even got to meet & greet with other stall exhibitors), we found if one of us didn’t have the type of story a reader was interested in, the other might, and usually did. The other fantastic factor was the attendees spoke our language!

Now, I’ve been to signings or events where there are heaps of booklovers in attendance, but rarely have I spoken to so many people with an interest in science at a single event, let alone science fiction. In fact, if the attendees who visited our stall weren’t into science fiction, they were into fantasy—or both! Sure, I still had to tell people about my stories, but it was amazing having them so familiar with a genre they’d break in partway to clarify exactly where the novels fit. Some knew just the sort of books they liked and were happy to try a new author like me (or Jeanette or Lynne). (Happy author heart … Love sharing stories with people who are excited about reading them. <3 <3)

The other fantastic factor, and the one that remains the highlight whatever event I’m attending, were the people. SO many new faces and stories (life-stories, that is) and some seriously cool names. And then there were the amazing costumes. Like, wow!

Folks, I think I’ve found my literary tribe. Don’t worry readers, I won’t neglect my other author connections, but honestly, this was serious fun. Next time you’ll have to come along for the ride!

TP Hogan Interview

This post I have the absolute delight of interviewing urban fantasy author, TP Hogan. TP’s unique work burst into my world three years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. I know you’re going to love her novels too. Welcome TP!

1. What genre do you write and why?

I like to claim ‘speculative fiction’, it covers a lot – Paranormal, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Sci Fi, Steampunk and Horror. It has a lot of wriggle room to be creative. So far I have one Paranormal novel out, and an Urban Fantasy series.

Oh, by the way – just because a lot of people ask ‘what is Urban Fantasy’ – it’s fantastical (with ‘magic’ instead of technology) stories set in ‘our’ world (historical, now or futuristic) rather than a made up world. Think ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Fallen’.

The why is kind of a long story.

When I started writing I thought I would write romance. At the time, I read a heck of a lot of romance, and it seemed natural. I wrote one romance (still to be published – maybe) and sat down to write the second and realised the ‘boy meets girl’ sorts of stories wasn’t what I wanted to explore. I had to think a long time on the stories I actually liked to read, aside from the romances. The long time was because I’m a voracious reader and there’s a lot I like. Finally I realised I loved the ‘hidden world’ stories – the world in a world, hidden just beneath the surface of what we think is reality…and ‘speculative fiction’ covers that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your previous works and what inspired them?

Sure. Just be warned, asking me to talk about my books could result in an extremely long answer. I’ll try to keep it short (ish).

This one is a Paranormal story about a man (Bastian Ashcombe) who is trapped behind the mirrors of Ashcombe manor and the woman (Mattie Holmes) who is trying to break the curse and set him free.

This one was inspired by a Jon English song called ‘Carmilla’. Part of the lyrics are – “…the man in the mirror says you’re my friend…” and as I heard them I thought ‘what if a woman looked into a mirror and saw a man instead of her reflection?’

Nephilim Code
(Nova, Edward, Zeph)
This series is an Urban Fantasy where Nephilim are real, some want to live ‘normal’ lives and some want to rule humanity like they did in the days of old, and both factions are on the hunt for a living Angel.

This one was inspired far too many years ago, long before I even thought I could be an Author. As a kid I loved the stories of the Greek and Roman gods (still do, although it’s been years since I’ve read one), and because the two cultures had many gods who were so similar, I thought they must have once been real people. I didn’t think they were real ‘gods’ but people who were special in some way. I just never figured out what was special about them.

That was until ‘Nephilim’ came into my sights. In two biblical references (Genesis and Numbers) they are described as the offspring between the sons of man and Angels…and as the ‘men of renown and heroes of old’. That small description triggered the thought ‘what if this is what made the Greek and Roman gods ‘special’…they were Nephilim’. (I’ve since learned that this isn’t an original theory, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

That lead to a little project with my husband (who has a theological background and a strong interest in history and industrial archology) and we tracked a theoretical timeline to see if it was possible for Nephilim to be around in the days of the Greek and Roman gods. As a bit of side-line fun (never denied being a geek) we took the timeline and looked for plausible ways that the Nephilim could end up in Australia.
When we actually succeeded in that (with a bit of poetic licence, I have to admit), it became the inspiration which became the series.

Out of those works, what was your favourite story and why?

That’s a hard question to answer. It’s on par with trying to decide my favourite child. Each has their parts that I love. Edward (Nephilim Code #2) was my first attempt at writing from a male point of view (and a character who is the complete polar opposite of me), and I’m very proud of how that turned out…but I think I like writing puzzles best. They are the most fun. So that would have to be a decision between Shattered and Zeph (Nephilim Code #3). I think I’ll go with Zeph, that one has a full on ‘treasure hunt’ style adventure in it and the clues were a lot of fun to set up.

What has been the most difficult part of your publication (and/or writing) journey?

Believing in myself.

To this day, with four books out and one on the way, I feel like a fraud. Doubts are very good at rearing their ugly heads. I’m not a good writer. I don’t write dark gritty, grab you by the throat and spill your blood books. I get confused when someone starts to talk ‘pronoun cases’ and ‘subject-verb-object sentences’ and I wear out the comma key on my editor’s keyboard. I graduated with an ‘A’ in high school English, but have no further qualifications in writing. No university degree in literature. I sometimes stare at my page as I’m writing and wonder if I’m any good at this at all.

The other day, I finished writing my next book. To get myself out of that world, I went back and re-read the Nephilim Code. I laughed and I cried. And not once did I wince over the story or the characters. I enjoyed it and still can’t believe I wrote it.

I love writing, and I love being in a world hidden within a world, exploring the characters and their journeys. I love fan interactions and having the chance to talk about my books with anyone who stands still long enough. It’s amazing that I get to do something like this, but those doubts can get pretty loud sometimes.

In your writing process, are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?

A ‘plantser’, maybe? Somewhere in between with a severe bent towards a pantser.
I know from experience that working out a predetermined overview just doesn’t work for me. It causes writer’s block for some reason. I think because I write character driven stories, not plot driven ones.

My most important prep are my character overviews, and they can take months. If I really know my characters, and what drives them then I’ll know how they’ll react to being dumped into the middle of a plot and left to their own devises.

I like to have an overview of the direction I’m going with the story. What the important moments are – I call them my story beats. Mostly that will be in the form of a list or bullet points. I’ll have some research done prior which relate to the story beats, and I’m more than willing to do further research as I go, if needed. While I’m writing I’ll have a file that I’ll add important details to, so I don’t get them lost as I go along. For example, in Nova (Nephilim Code #1), Nova ‘sees’ Nephilim abilities as colours. So I could remember which colour meant which ability, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

After that, I sit back and let my characters have free reign. So long as they take me in the general direction of my story beats, then it’s all good. Although, sometimes they do take off on their own, and I don’t mind that. If I like where they’re taking me, I’ll adjust the story beats. If I don’t like where they’re taking me I’ll pull them back into line, which most of the time does mean re-writing, but that’s half the fun.

What should we expect next from TP Hogan?

What if Thylacine (Tasmanian Tigers) weren’t extinct, but were shifters trapped in human form? That’s the ‘what if’ question which inspired my next book, Extinct. If all goes to plan, it should be released on 7th October 2017.

Thanks so much for sharing your writing with us, TP. I look forward to reading your newbie!

TP Hogan writes speculative fiction. This allows her to escape…and explore hidden worlds, inhabited by the creatures of her imagination, and she invites you to join her in these realms. She has penned such stories as Shattered, Nephilim Code and Extinct.
When she does step owlishly into reality it is to mess about with baking ideas, play violin, drink copious amounts of coffee and remember that there is a whole other world to explore, in the guise of the beautiful Sunshine Coast Hinterland of Queensland, Australia. She shares her home with her husband and an ever expanding urban backyard garden.
TP Hogan loves talking to readers and writers and you can find to her on Facebook, Twitter and on her website.

Activate Interview By Book

Cross-Post from Just Write for Kids!

December last year I got to share details of my new book Activate on the ‘Just Write for Kids’ #InterviewByBook blog. This was such a fun interview. I thought I’d repost it on my site so those of you who missed it could enjoy it too. For all those who write for children and young adults, make sure you pop over to the ‘Just Write for Kids’ site for some great resources on kids lit.

#InterviewByBook with Adele Jones
Posted on December 28, 2016 by Just Write For Kids
Title: Activate
Author: Adele Jones
Illustrator: N/A
Publisher: Rhiza Press (YA/Adult imprint of Aussie children’s publisher Wombat Books)
Genre: Techno-crime thriller
Age Group: Young adult (13+)

Please tell us a bit of what your book is about.
Activate is the final book in the Blaine Colton trilogy. The teenage hero, Blaine, is a survivor of a genetic disorder, thanks to some pretty cool gene therapy. Activate begins with Blaine living a secret life to protect him from enemies he’s made in the previous two novels. He’s lonely, unwell, and over being isolated from his friends and family, so he decides to ‘bend’ the rules … just a little. Things rapidly tumble out of control, leaving Blaine in a desperate situation. Will he survive? Will justice be served? Well, you’ll have to read the novel to find out. 😉

What kinds of themes / issues are raised in this story?
The underpinning theme of the trilogy is ‘What determines the measure of a person’s worth?’ These novels perhaps ask more questions than they answer, but by experiencing the world through Blaine’s eyes, readers are encouraged to consider issues relating to bioethics and intellectual property, disability, adoption, faith, values, self-worth, loss and relationships (family, friends and romantic).

How are these important to you in raising awareness to your readers?
Although Blaine’s background may be different to ours, in life we all face personal challenges that require us to decide many of these issues for ourselves. These themes are interconnected, and I think the significance of this becomes clearer as Blaine tackles obstacles from corrupt medical researchers, members of an international crime syndicate, to his own failing body. Previously, he’s been unable to decide most things for himself, his illness forcing him to be entirely reliant on the choices, actions and opinions of others. Finally he can choose for himself, but with that choosing comes the weight of responsibility and the realisation that even if life isn’t perfect, you’ve got to make the most of the opportunities you have.

Who or what inspired you to write this story?
The premise ‘what if science could’ was sparked by a discussion with a friend about the illness of a member of their family. When every question was answered with ‘it’s complicated’ I couldn’t help investigating the disease for myself. With a background in science, my mind kept tumbling around the information I’d learned about mitochondrial disease (and there’s always more being discovered), until the outline for Integrate came together. I wasn’t writing the story about the young man who sparked the initial conversation, and had invented a fictional ‘different from what’s been seen before’ scenario for Blaine, but I also wanted to acknowledge his contribution. With the blessing of his family I placed an acknowledgement in the front of the first novel, from which the trilogy grew.

What is your favourite part of the book?
Oh, that’s hard! Blaine’s such a cool character to write. He’s got a healthy dose of teenage attitude and independence, and a good sense of humour, even though life hasn’t been easy for him. In such a fast-paced story with so many facets, I don’t know if can narrow down a very favourite part of the story, sorry.

How would you describe the publishing process? Were they supportive? How long did it take?
Rhiza Press have been wonderful throughout the publication process. Given this was the third in the trilogy with a definite release date one year after Replicate, the process was a little different to the first two novels. I had a clear timeline of when each stage needed to be completed, and Rhiza’s very reliable when it comes to dates. I did have a little ‘oh my goodness’ moment when I realised the publisher’s key assistant-cum-internal editor was going away to Europe smack bang during the finalisation of the manuscript, but we got there—well ahead of schedule, in fact.

What was the collaboration like between author and illustrator?
Juicy gossip, please! Given I don’t have illustrations, I’m going to defer to cover design. I was very fortunate to have a handsome young man (who happened to fit Blaine’s features fantastically) model for the cover. The photo shoot team are a great bunch and we had lots of fun getting the images. Rhiza browsed the photos from the shoot, selecting the one they felt best suited their requirements, before doing the graphics work on it. (All the pretty bits.)

What has the feedback / audience response been like so far?
I’ve been holding my breath since the novel’s release. Replicate was very well received, but it also had a cliff hanger ending. (Cue ‘hurry up and get the next book out’ mail.) I even had some readers who wouldn’t read Replicate until they knew Activate was available. Given how popular Replicate had been, I felt a little anxious over how Activate would be received, especially as the story has quite a different feel for very plausible reasons relating to the plot. Thus far the reviews have been very positive. (Phew!)

What teaching and learning ideas would you suggest to complement this book?
Integrate has found its way into a few high schools as a class novel, and it has quite inclusive teaching notes supporting it. I’m still working on the notes for Replicate and will begin Activate’s once these are done. A lot of the exercises in the Integrate notes relate to the themes and values (ethics, IP, disability, self-worth etc) presented through the novel, particularly Blaine’s situation and the motivation of those vying for ownership over his ultimate outcome. Given the common themes across the books, many activities in the Integrate notes could relate to all three novels.
I’ve pasted an activity from the notes below. This one’s often used in psychology applications and I sometimes include a variation of this as part of my characterisation workshops.
At the top of a fresh page ask students to write the heading, ‘I am …’ In one or two minutes have them write down as many things as they can in response to this prompt. At the end have students: – Mark each statement as positive, negative or neutral.
– Ask, ‘If I [teacher] were to collect and read these lists, what would it tell me about you?’ (self-esteem, body image, relationships, etc)
– Ask, ‘If the lists were to be read aloud, is there anything you would change?’
– Ask students to consider their ratings (+ve, -ve, neutral) and reflect on why they’ve assigned them to the respective statements.
– Can they identify any overarching themes?

Do you have a book trailer for your book?
Please share. Only for Integrate, unfortunately. (I’ll put the link here, but am hoping to have ones for Replicate and Activate in the near future.)

Any details on your book launch you’d like to tell us about?
The book launch was held at our local library and was lots of fun. It involved questions about bedpans, kissing people with beards and making a face on a balloon using the hands of someone else (who couldn’t see what they were doing). All relevant activities. (Truly, they were.) Oh, and we had readings, some Q&A about the novel, book signings and a hearty morning tea brought together by my amazing ‘Quirky Quills’ writing group.

Please let us know where we can find more on you and your book.
My website is: www.adelejonesauthor.com
Rhiza’s website is: http://rhizapress.com/activate
Activate on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31498997-activate
And don’t forget good ol’ Dr Google ‘Adele Jones Blaine Colton’

Thanks for sharing your story, Activate, with us, Adele!

Adele Jones is a Queensland based, award winning author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fiction short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel ‘Integrate’ was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or contact[@]adelejonesauthor.com