Month: December 2014

Author focus – Elizabeth Hein

rosie3                           Elizabeth book cover

I reviewed Elizabeth’s book ‘How to Climb the Eiffel Tower’ for Rosie Amber’s blog.  The book follows the story of Lara as she undergoes treatment for cancer – I lost my mum to cancer so I was worried that I would find the book upsetting, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was surprised to feel so uplifted – this was a book that, while telling it like it is, wasn’t depressing or maudlin in any way. I’m delighted to have Elizabeth as a guest on the blog to find out more about her, her writing, and what inspired her to write.

Tell me a little about your writing history. 

I was an avid reader long before I ever put pen to paper. As a kid, I spent my afternoons reading in my room. My parents tell me that I have been making up elaborate stories since I was a little girl. When I saw a person in the grocery store buying five gallons of vinegar and a box of trash bags, I would tell my mom an elaborate story about a lady who was pickling her giant vegetables while they were still on the vine. Thank goodness, my parents had the patience to let me rattle on all the time.

It wasn’t until after I had been diagnosed with cancer in 2002 that I started to start writing my stories down. My experiences with cancer treatment taught me that life is too short to waste time doing anything that is not your passion. Once I decided to write, I jumped headlong into learning as much as possible about the craft of writing. The stories were always there, the techniques needed to be practiced.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

I had a terrible time coming up with a name for my latest book. I brainstormed dozens of bad names that were too esoteric or plain old boring. When I sent the manuscript to Light Messages Publishing, I made it clear to my editor that I needed help with the name. She sent me several perfectly good possibilities before we agreed on How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. Once I heard that title, I knew it was the right one. The two main characters talk about climbing the Eiffel Tower in the first scenes of the book and the idea of travelling to Paris comes up several times in the novel. Also, like healing from a traumatic experience, climbing the Eiffel Tower is difficult, but worth it.

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your book?

Although I love Lara and Jane, the two main characters in How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, my favourite character is Nurse Rosaria. She is a kind woman who is firm with Lara when she needs firm reassurance and soft with her when Lara is afraid. Rosaria only appears in a few scenes in the book, however I wrote pages and pages of backstory on her. She lived a fascinating life before she ever meets Lara. Only a few paragraphs of that life made it into the book, but I feel it was important to do all the pre-writing work of knowing Rosaria so well.

What was the hardest part of writing the novel? 

I would have to say the hardest part of writing this book was the process of learning how to write a book. This book took me eight years to write because, not only did I have to develop the story and characters, I had to make all the usual mistakes a new writer makes. That took at least four years in and of itself. Also, it was difficult to separate my experiences as a cancer patient from Lara and Jane’s experiences. At one point, I had to put the manuscript aside and write another book. That book turned out to be Overlook, a fun book about a how a slightly unbalanced woman deals with her cheating husband. Starting fresh with different characters and different themes helped me regain my perspective on Lara and Jane. When I returned to How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, I could incorporate the humour and hope that I knew it needed.

What are you working on now? 

My writing life is a bit scattered right now. I’m hoping to finish up the sequel to my first book, Overlook, so it can be released next fall. I am also working on a mystery series about two friends who travel the world, a historical novel revolving the concept of beauty, and another women’s fiction novel set on Cape Cod. I am not sure which piece will get to publication first.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Don’t give up. Keep showing up at the keyboard every day and you will eventually get results. Writing is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. An author spends years tapping out draft after draft of a novel, will invariably receive a multitude of rejections, and is at the mercy of a changeable publishing industry. It helps to have a stubborn streak.

Also, don’t go it alone. Find some writer friends, either in real life or on the internet, and work together. The road to publication can be a long rough ride, so bring snacks and a friend.

Which writer would you choose as a mentor? 

Wow, this is a tough question. I admire many authors for so many different reasons. I guess if I had to choose just one, it would be Ruth Rendell. She has written in several different genres, yet still has a distinctive voice. She can plumb the deep dark places in her characters’ minds without making them caricatures of themselves, and she has continued to write excellent books over many decades.

What book are you reading at the moment? 

I am always reading several books at a time. Right now for my craft book, I am reading Now Write! Mysteries edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. It is a series of essays from successful mystery and thriller writers on different aspects of writing. I am also reading The Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable, The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry, and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that you love about their work? 

Right now, my favourite author is Mary Doria Russell. When I read her first book, The Sparrow, it changed the way I looked at speculative fiction. If you are not familiar with the book, it is the story of a group of Jesuits and civilians that travel to another planet and questions traditional concepts of right and wrong. Each of her books is different the last. She has written about the Middle East after WWI, Jews escaping through the mountains of Italy in WWII, and has lately been writing about the American West. I admire her writing style and her ability to write about different historical eras so well.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

Before I decided to become an author, I ran a small drapery design business out of the storage room in my attic. I loved playing with fabric and solving my clients decorating problems. I specialized in making expensive looking drapes on a shoestring budget. Some of the knowledge I developed about colour theory and fabric shows up in my novels. Colour subtly effects how people think and feel. Colour is a theme that runs throughout How To Climb The Eiffel Tower.

Elizabeth author pic

Author Elizabeth Hein

Elizabeth Hein grew up in Massachusetts within an extended family of storytellers. In 2002, Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. During her extensive treatment, she met dozens of other cancer patients and developed close relationships with several of them. These friendships were the inspiration for How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. She learned that a cancer diagnosis is a life changing experience, yet it does not necessarily change a life for the worse. Prior to the new book’s publication, Elizabeth was invited to attend the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) conference.

Elizabeth Hein writes women’s fiction with a bit of an edge. Her novels explore the role of friendship in the lives of adult women and themes of identity. Her first novel, Overlook, spotlighted a housewife dealing with a cheating husband and the pressures of keeping up appearances. Elizabeth has published several short stories and is currently writing a novella and beginning to write a historical family saga about how love and identity effect four generations of women. She and her husband now live in Durham, North Carolina.

Connect with Elizabeth:

scribbling in the storage room


How to Climb the Eiffel Tower

Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.


Ellery Cancer Center protruded from the hospital’s facade like a glass tumor. The night before, a Kafkaesque voicemail told me to report to the reception lobby by 7:00 for my 9:00 appointment. I left the house at 6:00 sharp even though the hospital was twenty minutes away. An appointment with some strange specialist wasn’t going to make me deviate from my routine.

My footsteps echoing through the brightly tiled lobby accented the nervous murmuring of the people waiting in line as I strode past them to the reception desk. The receptionist didn’t even look up when I said, “Blaine. Lara Blaine. I have a 9:00 with Dr. Lander.” She robotically found my file in the tall stack to her left, handed me the itinerary clipped to the front, and moved my file to the short stack to her right. My itinerary said to report to the red waiting room by 8:00.

I stood to the side of the room and watched people until I understood that the lines of multicolored tiles in the lobby’s floor were not decorative. They were paths to the color- coded areas of the Cancer Center. I followed the line of red tiles from the reception desk to the red waiting room. A clot of people sat on crimson and burgundy couches clutching their itineraries. I sat just inside the doorway and watched as people disappeared one by one through the slick red doors at the far end of the room. No one came back. An hour later, it was my turn. On the other side of the red doors, an old man with hairy knuckles checked my name against his orders then jabbed a needle in my arm. We didn’t say a word to each other. I liked that.

The next stop on my itinerary was the green waiting room. A line of green tiles in the floor led me back to the lobby and up two flights of stairs to another room with worry worn carpeting and faded couches sagging under the weight of their occupants’ despair, but all in green. I’d roamed the Ellery Cancer Center for nearly an hour and had yet to speak to a soul. I slipped into the crowded room, commandeered the pea green love seat in the corner, and opened my dog- eared copy of Great Expectations. I held the tattered pages in front of my face, yet couldn’t read. I watched the elderly couple across from me over the top of the book.

I don’t belong here. I’m not like these people. I’m young.

I crossed one leg over the other and clenched my thighs together. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s just a false positive. I’m fine.

The elderly man’s hand shook as he lifted a cup of tea to his wife’s lips. The limp paper label dangling over the edge of the foam cup taunted me. I should have been researching the effect of the recent earthquake in Northern China on the green tea crop for my boss’s presentation the following week, not sitting in that waiting room. This is such a waste of time. So what if I have weird periods? Doesn’t everyone?

I turned away from the old people and focused on the normal looking woman in a black suit slowly making her way down the corridor. I assumed she was a doctor or pharmaceutical salesperson until she stopped in the doorway to hack into a tissue. She saw me looking at her and lurched over. “May I sit with you?” I expected the woman’s voice to be as smooth as her grey silk blouse, but it sounded as scratchy as wool against bare skin. I moved my battered leather backpack to let her sit down.

“Jane Babcock-Roberts.”
“Lara Blaine,” I replied with a curt nod.
“I think you sprinted past me on the stairwell earlier,” Jane sighed. “I used to be able to run up stairs like that.”
“I’m good at stairs. I climb the Eiffel Tower every Tuesday.” Jane dabbed perspiration from her upper lip with a clean tissue and tucked it in her sleeve. “I climbed the Eiffel Tower once. What a view, huh?”

“I haven’t actually been to Paris,” I replied. “It’s a setting on the stair stepper at my gym.”

“That doesn’t sound nearly as fun.” Jane flipped her long silver-blonde hair over her shoulder. “And there wouldn’t be any croissants when you finished.”

My Review

Lara Is 29 and lives a solitary, friendless life, working, going to the gym and eating takeout every night. Then she is diagnosed with cervical cancer and her life is changed, but in surprisingly positive ways.

This book is harrowing at times, as Lara’s background story is revealed and the reasons for her fear of people become clear. But watching her finally make friends and finally live is really rewarding and a pleasure to read.

Her relationship with Jane is a stand out of the story and the kindness of Vanessa is heart-warming. But this book isn’t soppy or sentimental; neither is it preachy. It is simply a tale of a lost, lonely girl who learns to live when confronted by her mortality.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the recounting of Lara’s dreams, although I can see why they are included. This was my only issue with the book. Aside from this, this is definitely worth a read and I recommend it.

4 stars

Buy a copy:

Amazon UK 

And watch the trailer


Null City – meet the Krampus (and help animals this Christmas!)

Don’t forget that you can still buy Barb Taub’s Null City books and help animals this Christmas. You can read my interview with Barb here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Barb back to learn a little about the villain of ‘Don’t Touch’ – the Krampus. And a very seasonal villain he is too. Over to Barb:

Krampus and Saint Nicholas visit a Viennese home in 1896

Krampus and Saint Nicholas visit a Viennese home in 1896

Christmas in Austria is not for the faint hearted. While a familiar St. Nicholas does make the rounds, in many Germanic traditions he’s accompanied by a terrifying beast called the Krampus whose job is to punish – and even take away – naughty children. With his curling horns, long red tongue, and tail, the Krampus is enough to chill any heart.

As the villain of Don’t Touch, the Krampus is a monster who literally feasts on the fear and terror he inspires in children. The demon who threatens Stefan and Lette is a cornered beast, an anachronism whose ever-diminishing influence only makes him more desperately dangerous.

The other inspiration for this story is the image of Rapunzel. But in Don’t Touch, Lette isn’t the helpless girl awaiting rescue by her prince. Instead, I go back to the origins of the folk story in sources such as Giambattista Basile’s Tale of Tales  from 1616, where she is actually the hero who rescues herself and her children, and then saves her lover. Like her earliest predecessors, Lette is a tough, self-reliant young woman who tells her would-be prince, “If I need rescuing, I’ll do it myself.”


Hope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it. Her online journal spans a decade, beginning with the day a thirteen-year-old inherits an extreme form of the family “gift.” Every day whatever she touches converts into something new: bunnies, bubbles, bombs, and everything in between. Lette’s search for a cure leads her to Stefan, whose fairy-tale looks hide a monstrous legacy, and to Rag, an arrogant, crabby ex-angel with boundary issues. The three face an army led by St. Nicholas’ legendary dark shadow, the Krampus, who feeds on children’s fear. But it’s their own inner demons they must defeat first.

My final message in Don’t Touch is that we build our own towers. They can provide safety; they can even be gorgeous and appealing, but if they keep us from truly living our lives or cut us off from others, they are still our prisons. I think that’s one of the things I love the most about the holiday season. No matter how often we hear them, those messages of peace and goodwill just keep reminding us of our connections to each other. More sophisticated folk can turn up noses at the consumerism and the crowds, but I believe the reason we all come back for more every year is that basic gift of hope and belief.

It’s that belief that inspires my holiday appeal to you. In most of my stories, an animal companion plays a prominent role—from George, the grumpy cat in Don’t Touch to Bygul, the bitchy feline goddess of Payback is a Witch. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by my dog Peri who came from a shelter in eastern Washington State, and by the friends (feline, canine, and the occasional rodent) rescued by the dedicated members of many shelters.

In thanks, therefore, I will donate all royalties on sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just For The Spell Of It) to the following wonderful organizations:

  • USANo Kill Advocacy Center. Headed up by Nathan Winograd, the No Kill Advocacy Center movement is revolutionizing shelters across America.
  • United KingdomDogsTrust. Active since 1891, this no-kill shelter rehomed almost 15,000 dogs last year.

As a special incentive, both Don’t Touch and the brand new release set, Tales From Null City (containing Payback is a Witch and Just For The Spell Of It), will be listed at the sale price of $0.99 in the USA, and £0.77 in the UK.

Both make wonderful holiday reads, while at the same time supporting the work of the no-kill shelter movement. Please help ensure that animals are not left unsheltered during the very difficult winter months to come. To help, please order a book by selecting one of the following links:


Claire Danielsen is a young witch whose goddess is house cat of unusual size. Peter Oshiro is a Warden policing a delicate truce between those who are human and those who… aren’t. It just would have been nice if someone told them the angels were all on the other side.


Liam is an ungodly soccer-playing card sharp on a mission from God. Eirie is a beautiful punk fairy princess with her own daytime radio talk show. They’ve worked cases for the Accords Agency before, but with war between realms looming and her baby sister as the bargaining chip, partnering just got personal.

Contact Barb: blog | twitter | facebook

‘Null City’ stories – great reads that help animals too!

Tales_from_Null_City-Barb_Taub-1563x2500                                          cap-Dont_Touch_Barb_Taub-500x800

I’m so pleased to have the lovely writer and blogger Barb Taub on my blog today to tell you about herself, and about the wonderful way she is raising funds for animals this holiday season. Barb says:

In honor of this holiday season, my publisher, Hartwood Publishing, is offering a special gift package of my urban fantasy Null City stories. Not only are they releasing the two newest stories as a $0.99 set called Tales From Null City, but my holiday-themed Don’t Touch will also be available at the sale price of $0.99. (£0.72 in UK)

In most of my stories, an animal companion plays a prominent role—from George, the grumpy cat in Don’t Touch, to Bygul, the bitchy feline goddess of Payback is a Witch. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by my dog Peri who came from a shelter in eastern Washington State, and by the friends (feline, canine, and the occasional rodent) who have joined our family over the years after being rescued by the dedicated members of many shelters.

 In thanks, therefore, all royalties from sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just for the Spell of It) will be donated to the following wonderful organizations:

 USA: No Kill Advocacy Center. Headed up by Nathan Winograd, the No Kill Advocacy Center movement is revolutionizing shelters across America.

United Kingdom: DogsTrust. Active since 1891, this no-kill shelter rehomed almost 15,000 dogs last year.

 As the owner of two dogs myself, I can’t think of a better cause. Our dogs are definitely part of our family. We lost our gorgeous cocker spaniel Honey over a year ago and still miss her every day.



We rescued kind-of-labrador Daisy two days before the breeder was going to shoot her – she has turned into the most gentle, calm, beautiful dog you could wish for. The latest addition is a beautiful cocker spaniel, Belle (for my daughter’s 16th birthday – although she seems to forget the puppy is hers when it’s pouring with rain or she’s peed on the floor – the dog not my daughter).

Daisy and Belle 'Because the cat's bed is so much more comfortable than our own!'

Daisy and Belle
‘Because the cat’s bed is so much more comfortable than our own!’

Our dogs (and our rescue cat Milo) have and had wonderful lives, and wonderful Christmases. It would be lovely to help other animals to have just a little bit of that love.

Anyway, enough about my dogs (yes, I am slightly obsessed with them) – I’m sure you’d love to know more about Barb and her books:

Barb and her dog Peri

Barb and her dog Peri

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

Writing is verbal alchemy, so it’s my happy place, where I’m the sorceress who converts the dross of unused disk space into a whole world of golden prose. (Of course, that only lasts until I type the words “The End”. Then, into the happy place’s den comes Doubt, the sorceress’ embarrassing, obnoxious brother-in-law who sits on the couch drinking her beer, making body noises, and dropping offhand remarks about how the sorceress should keep her day job.) 

How did you come up with the title of your series?

My daughter and I have this tiny little life-altering addiction to superhero movies. One night we started talking about superheroes with awkward powers. Let’s say you are the Man of Steel, but you don’t dare have sex with Lois Lane because your Little Man of Steel would probably split her in two. (And we’re not even going to discuss the havoc your Swimmers of Steel could wreck on Woman of Pasta…)

 The point is that when you think about it, most people with special powers would be lining up to get rid of them and get their normal lives back. That’s where Null City comes in. After one day there, those with extra gifts turn into their closest human counterparts. Imps, for example, become baristas. (Of course, they’re now ex-PhD candidates in literature or classics who claim to be experts on third-world coffee blends and obscure world music groups. But hey – there is only so close to human that hellspawn can get…)

 So the idea of Null City is that it takes our fantasy worlds and turns them into normal life. My daughter Hannah (aka obsessive cowriter) and I talked about Null City for her last year of high school. The one thing we couldn’t figure out was who the villain would be, when everyone is a hero. The problem with heroes, though, is that they don’t all have the same goals. What if each group – angels, superheroes, and just plain humans – is willing to do whatever it takes to make their right thing happen? So Hannah headed off to University in Scotland and I headed to my computer. One year and many hours of video chats later, the first Null City book, One Way Fare, was published by Taliesin (now Hartwood). Its backstory is the founding of Null City. In the second book, Don’t Touch, the backstory is the Metro train, Null City’s connection with the outside world.

 What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Editing. I tell the words I’m cutting that it’s not them, it’s me. They are perfect, beautiful jewels and I’m going to place them in a special file (“Dead Kittens”) until I can come up with exactly the right place for them to shine when the day comes for me to use them again. [NOTE: any woman who has old bridesmaids dresses in the back of her closet because she was told she could “cut them off and wear them to parties later” will understand how I can say this with perfect sincerity…]

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up Book three, Round Trip Fare, which explores what happens when saving Null City means destroying the ones you love.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

As a reader, nothing pulls me out of a story faster than seeing spelling and grammar errors. As a book reviewer, I’ve gotten to the point were I won’t look at something unless it’s been professionally edited. Their are so many people who seem to think they’re words are so perfect, there unwilling to consider what a good editor can bring. (See? I could barely stand to write that, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to read it.)

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

That changes constantly. When I have the flu, it’s an old friend like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series because it’s so soothing to grow up and old along with Anne. For fun I love the humour and breezy read of Molly Harper’s southern vampires. And the writing team behind Ilona Andrews simply could release the updated Muncie Indiana phone book and I’d have it on my preorder list. 

Who would you choose to have over for dinner and why?

I usually answer this with a lofty and intellectual dinner party list. But maybe because it’s the holidays, I have to admit the truth. I’m looking forward to holiday dinner with my family. Because we’re all writers, the conversation is usually amazing. My husband is a theoretical economist, one daughter is a human rights attorney who does commentary for Vox, another daughter is a humourist who writes for Funny or Die, and the youngest is my co-author on the first Null City book and my toughest critic.

Desert Island Books – what five books would you choose to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (I figure it will be comforting on that island to know I don’t have to survive a Turkish prison, take a bullet, stop a stampeding elephant, etc. But if it came up, I’d be prepared…)  
  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Because Armageddon just never gets old.)
  • Three really fat blank books for the screenplay(s). (Let’s face it—desert island stranding has best seller all over it…)

Thanks Barb for taking the time to visit my blog- I’ll be welcoming Barb again on Friday when she’ll be telling me all about the villain of ‘Don’t Touch’ – the Krampus. In the meantime, do check out this very special offer, remember all royalties from sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just for the Spell of It) will be donated to No Kill Advocacy Center and DogsTrust.

On the Tenth Day of December . . .

A timely reminder about what really matters as christmas approaches. Do check out the kindness blog – I can guarantee it’ll make you smile and make you cry 🙂

Kindness Blog

Compassion Quote With The Moon Shining Through the Trees Photo Credit: Pinterest

Some of the greatest teachers and biggest motivators in my life are the guests at the day shelter for homeless men where I work, and I love to share my experiences with them for a variety of reasons.  I feel an immense responsibility to tell their stories honestly and respectfully to give them a voice among those who often turn a deaf ear to their pleas and to make them visible in a world that often turns a blind eye to them.  It is a daunting task at times, but it is one that I value.

Tonight, I came across a video that caught my attention, and as I watched it, my eyes began to well with tears.  The people in the video remind me of some of the gentlemen I work with, and in this season of giving, I thought that it was perfect to share here:


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