Head Transplants: Not Just For Fiction

My newest book, Heads Will Roll, is a medical thriller about a doctor who is desperate to get his long overdue fame, fortune, and recognition by performing successful head transplant surgeries.  Notice that the word successful is in italics.  That’s because Dr. Farkis and his team have tried this surgery at least twenty-five times – all without success.

But that doesn’t stop him.

In his own words: “Success?  Every one of them contributed to the success of knowing more, learning, working towards that goal of someday . . .”

Most of the first half of the story is spent getting to know the rest of the casted characters, but all paths lead to Dr. Farkis. I began thinking about this subject after I had listened to a story on BBC about head transplants.  I was intrigued.  What if, in the near future, we could choose the body we wanted?  We could visit a store front, much like a neighborhood mom-and-pop shop, and we’d see all the available bodies lined up in a glass-enclosed case. We’d be able to choose the body we wanted, purchase it, have an operation, and wham bam! wake up with our new body.

Of course, this is all fiction . . . or is it?

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While researching for Heads Will Roll, I came across articles about a real-life doctor who is planning a head transplant surgery.  Seriously.  In 2017.  Yes, you read that right.

The doctor’s name is Dr. Sergio Canavero, and he plans on performing the procedure alongside a team of Chinese surgeons lead by Dr. Xiaoping Ren, who has reportedly performed “around 1,000 head transplants on mice.”  “It will be a success,” he insists.  [Link]

Get your wallets out.  If you need, or want, such an operation, it will cost you a whopping $11 million. It will take approximately 150 surgeons and at least 36 hours to complete.

Will this procedure end up being another avenue for a quick fix of imagined or made-up flaws for the rich and famous?

Even if Dr. Canavero and his team were successful, a single-word inquiry comes up – Why?  The honorable answer is that we’d hope that an operation like this would help those who have untreatable neurological or muscle-wasting diseases; in other words, paralyzed bodies. Most of us couldn’t, in our wildest dreams, even image the helplessness of having such a disease.  Some may ask what kind of life it is when one is required to spend all their waking hours in a wheelchair, not even able to scratch the itch on their nose? (Although we all know that many paralyzed people lead productive lives.)

However, as we know too well, human nature is fickle, and narcissism and our instant gratification society wouldn’t allow this to be coveted by only wheelchair-bound, paralyzed people now, would we?  This would be a new opportunity for rich people and women who hated their bodies enough to suffer pain (not to mention a huge ugly scar around their neck) and a three-week coma.

A quick fix, if you will.

One such man has volunteered to be the first recipient of the 2017 (real life) human head transplant.  He is 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov, who lives in Vladimir, Russia. Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, which affects the spinal cord and causes paralysis. He says that he wants a chance at a new body before he dies, and really, who can blame him? [Link] [In April, 2017, Dr. Canavero announced that the volunteer will now be a Chinese national because he moved the surgery to China.  I felt a little sad for Valery that his two-year dream of getting a new body were dashed.  But maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.]  [Link]

In my fictional story, you’ll meet Barry, who has a similar disease.  He spends most of his time in a wheelchair, but he is able to walk, albeit stilted and slow, with two canes that attach to his arms.  Barry wants a new body, but he’s not quite willing to show his desperation to his co-workers.

After he discovers that Dr. Farkis plans to perform an experimental head transplant surgery, he stalks him until he gets the chance to talk to the doctor privately, pleading with him and assuring him that he’d be the right candidate.  Barry is horrified when the doctor discloses that he had already performed many other unsuccessful operations, but in the end, that doesn’t deter Barry from begging to be his first success story.

How many of us would be that determined to get a new body?  Imagine what kind of ruckus it would cause. I could image a long waiting list, the participants buying and selling to jockey up to the top positions, and who knows, perhaps even murdering fellow candidates to be moved up even faster.  After all, there would only be so many doctors educated enough and willing to perform such an operation, therefore, the operations performed would probably be few and far between.

It’s also a very expensive endeavor, so only the rich could afford it, but maybe it’d become so routine that it would become a grandiose form of plastic surgery.

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And, here’s a thought: where would we get these bodies?  Not too many people die while they are healthy, unless they are old and die in their sleep.  Would people resort to … murder?  In Heads Will Roll, we hear about an omnipresent entity called Headbanger, who is rumored to be nabbing some of the young homeless men and women from the warehouse district in Oakland, California.

After all, wouldn’t the doctor need bodies to practice on?

Getting back to the real life scenario, there are many people who say that Dr. Canavero is nuts [Link] and that what he’s proposing to do is absolutely absurd. They report that it’d never work, pointing out its many flaws, but most importantly, pointing out that this type of surgery wouldn’t get ethical approval, let alone backing for the cost of the operation.

Now, I propose another question: How many unsuccessful operations would it take to finally have one successful one?  How eager would people in our world, like Valery Spiridonov, be to learn that they may not end up with a new, improved body, but end up only a statistical notation for history?

What’s interesting though all of this research is that I discovered something I didn’t know before. I hadn’t realized that a lot of experimenting had been done in this field already.

In 1908, Charles Guthrie wrote a book entitled Blood Vessel Surgery and Its Applications (which shows up on the dusty shelf in the fictional Dr. Farkis’ study) which apparently shows a photograph of a successful grafting of one dog’s head onto the side of another dog’s neck, creating the world’s first artificial two-headed dog. (Maybe this is where the fictional Dr. Farkis got his inspiration, since it is rumored that he experimented as a kid in his parents’ basement with mice and who knows what else.) Guthrie even noted that there were basic reflexive movements from the dog after the surgery was done.

Not to be outdone, Vladimir Demikhov, in the Soviet Union, transplanted a puppy’s head to a German Shepherd in 1954, and noted that the donor’s head lapped up water and milk from a bowl, bit the finger of a staff member, and bit the other dog’s ear.  [Link]

Heads Will Roll is fiction, but it has factual elements to it. After reading such articles while researching this fascinating topic, I wondered just how long my book would stay fiction.  Might I’ll have to change the categories for my book on Amazon in a few years, from fiction to nonfiction. Only time will tell.

Heads Will Roll, available at Amazon.

Read more at www.joaniechevalier.com

Heads Will Roll 3d

June Wrap Up

Feed My Biblio-diction

Stats:

14 Books Read, 15 Different Countries, 140 Visitors, 483 Views, 18 Likes, and 7 Comments.

I want to thank each and every one of you who made my first month a success!! How do I define success?? Well, if you saw my TR-for-review list you’d understand. I absolutely love it!! So many brave indie authors took a huge risk in handing their “baby” over to me. I can honestly say I have enjoyed all of them. I got to travel in time multiple times (how fun is that???), witness unorthodox medical procedures (two come to mind), learn how to overcome death (a few times), and experience love in its purest form (many, many times).

This all started after watching  My year reading a book from every country in the world, a TED Talk by Ann Morgan. I began my list. I searched online and found hundreds of helpful suggestions…

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Heads Will Roll by Joanie Chevalier

Wow! What an awesome review of my medical/horror thriller, Heads Will Roll. Sandy did an awesome job. Thank you!

Feed My Biblio-diction

 

Finished the book. My mind is still trying to wrap around what I just read.

I love the story line. The premise of head/body transplants are usually related to robots and cyborgs. No science fiction in this book! There was so much going on. Never a dull moment!

Throughout the book you learn the characters connection to each other. It’s as if each personal connection coordinates with the connection of each vein and spinal cord from the body to the head. The connections can be severed. Relocating and then reattaching may be accomplished, but it may not be completely successful.

The three brothers are trying to pick up the pieces of their faltering legacy. Their family was in no way perfect. Skeletons were being dealt with years after their parents had passed. The job wasn’t easy, but the brothers had each other. The boys were raised in…

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Stop Preachin’ to the Choir! Marketing to our Savvy Readers

Stop Preachin’ To The Choir!

I woke up with this sentence stuck in my head a few days ago.  I had to chuckle too, because in my dream, I saw this phrase as a big blinking neon sign, like a sign you would see flashing outside of a seedy hotel window in an old Dick Tracey movie.

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Stop Preachin’ To The Choir!

I had the sudden revelation that I was marketing my promotions wrong.  I had just published my new thriller and was busy marketing (indie authors can’t just sit on their butts and write-they’re required to market now too-grrr).  I’ve heard before that promoting what other people say about your book is more effective than your own claim that your book is the best.

We’ve all witnessed that author who constantly promotes their book with the claim that it “has twists and turns!” “will blow your mind!” “5-star read all the way!” “so exciting you’ll feel like you’re riding a roller coaster!”  Meh. After the same post on their Facebook and twitter accounts over and over, your eyes begin to gloss over and then eventually, ignore them, or worse, unfriend them.  Not the way to end a marketing campaign.

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Stop Preachin’ To The Choir! is a simple marketing plan FOR readers.  Listen, our readers are our choir.  Some are leaders of their own Goodreads groups, have thousands of books on their shelves, as well as hundreds of book-lovin’ friends. They blog. They are involved in book clubs. Their tbr (to be read) lists are so long, their Kindles have Kindles. In other words, our readers are savvy.

So, with this being said, why are we preachin’ to the choir (our readers)?  They want to hear what other readers are saying about our books, not what we’re saying about our books.  Of course my book is great, but if someone else said it, then it is truly validated.

After the flashing neon sign slipped through my sleeping noggin and I woke up from my dream, I decided to do a quick comparison via twitter to see if I was on the right track.  I saw that the marketing photo I tweeted with a short sentence from an Amazon Reviewer received double the interaction than the tweet where I said my book was awesome and therefore I’m a fabulous author (not in those exact words but that’s probably how it was read, with possibly the words “pompous” and “boorish” added in for good measure).

(FYI: These tweets were not any part of an ad campaign, just my daily tweeting.)

Top Tweet Comparisons

I think the tweets speak for themselves, right?

So, to recap: Stop Preachin’ to the Choir!   white-male-1871431_640

My new thriller Heads Will Roll is available here: myBook.to/HeadsWillRoll

“What an edge on your seat terrifying thriller, which focuses on people who will do just about anything to have the ideal body, and the doctor who will cross the line, to make their dreams a reality.” ~Amazon Reviewer

The Silver and Gold: BooksGoSocial Quality Mark

The Silver and Gold

BooksGoSocial Quality Mark

BGS Quality Mark Banner

For added credibility for my soon to be published medical thriller, Heads Will Roll, I submitted my manuscript to BooksGoSocial (“BGS”) for evaluation.  Their human analysis combined with the automated software program, AutoCrit, promised to improve and tighten my writing. (The quality marks come in Bronze, Silver and Gold and each quality mark is uniquely numbered.)

I received the Silver and Gold. It sounds like I participated in the Olympics. Instead, I received something better: validation that my book is a quality product. Silver Quality Mark and then, with editing and determination, I turned it into a Gold Quality Mark.

For me, it didn’t come easy to get that coveted Gold Quality Mark (the highest mark).  When I received a 15-page report awarding my manuscript the Silver Quality Mark, I was proud, yet a bit deflated.  Then, I felt a surge of determination. I didn’t spend over year researching and writing my book to not give it my all.  I was going to do this!


AutoCrit Test Novel

The AutoCrit’s analysis is “based on studying millions of successful fiction books.”  To be in the Silver category amongst top fiction books is something to be proud of and if an author wanted to stay there, that would still validate their book to be among the best. 

My report score for the Silver Quality Mark was 77.32.  The Gold Quality Mark score begins at 80.  I knew that if I didn’t try to aim higher when I was this close to the next achievement level, I would be kicking myself for years.

It took me approx. nine hours of editing to get my manuscript ready for the next round.  I went tGold Quality Markhrough each point from the report to improve and strengthen my writing.  My readers deserve quality and so do I! 

The next 16-page report was a shining and proud moment for me. I was awarded the Gold Quality Mark!  My score: 80.94.  Yes, I made it!

Comparisons

For authors who haven’t sent in their manuscript yet for a quality mark, I encourage you to do so. If fact, do it today!  It will be the best $29 you’ll ever spend.  I admit, I was nervous awaiting the results but receiving a quality mark comparing your book to thousands out there in Bookland is a humbling experience and one every author needs to go through.

I will now show you comparisons between the Silver report and the Gold report so you can see what to work towards.  Don’t wait until publication day.  Submit months in advance so you have the time to go through your manuscript and correct the issues.  Of course, you may come out on the first try with a Gold Quality Mark and I applaud you if that happens.  (I would love to hear your good news!) If you come out with a Bronze or a Silver report, then you have some work to do.  Don’t feel ashamed–feel empowered! You can do this!

  1. Adverbs. Overuse of adverbs can weaken your work. 

Silver Score: 232                    After improvement:   Gold: 119

 Silver:

Silver Adverb

Gold:

Gold Adverb

  1. Dialogue Tags. When dialogue tags other than ‘said’ or ‘asked’ are used they can detract from the dialogue as they draw attention to themselves.

            Number of Dialogue tags said other than ‘said’ or ‘asked’:

Silver Score:  350       After improvement:   Gold:  295

  1. Filler Words. Filler words are often described as fluff.

            This is what took most of the editing time.  As you can see, I had a number of filler words.  Wow!  I hadn’t realized this before.  Even with editing, hiring a proofreader, beta readers, etc. This just blew my mind.

            Silver Score: 676        After improvement:   Gold: 162

Silver:

Silver Filler Word

Gold:

Gold Filler Word

  1. Generic Words. Generic descriptions and words can make a book seem dull.

            This was my second surprise.  I was using boring words!

            Silver Score:  293       After improvement:   Gold: 92

Silver:

Silver Generic

Gold:

Gold Generic

  1. Frequented Words/Phrases. Repeated phrases will be noticed by the reader and may become tiresome. 

            This is the one that took some time to correct.  Once I edited the phrases, I had to reword the sentence.

            Silver Score: 1364      After Improvement:   Gold: 1293

Silver:

Silver Frequent Phrases

Gold:

Gold Frequent Words

  1. Show v Tell. Showing uses description and action to allow the reader to experience the story.

            This is my extra credit. It was not included in my Silver report and now I’m excited to get busy.

Gold Show v Tell

***

I hope you can use this document to your advantage.  And then get busy preparing for your own quality mark.  I wish you success in your writing.  And nevHeads Will Roll 3der give up!



Joanie Chevalier’s thriller, Heads Will Roll, will be published mid-May and will be FREE May 23, 24 and 25, 2017.  Join her launch page and receive an ARC, or connect via twitter or Facebook.  For more information on her current projects and to read some free short stories, visit her website.

The 5-Steps of an Online Book Launch

An author can spend months writing their best-seller, and then upload it to Amazon only to have it sit in cyberspace, gathering cyberdust. I know, because I’ve done it, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  What we missed is an important element needed: an online book launch.

There are important reasons why we need a book launch:

  • Only a few days after publishing, your book will have verified reviews
  • With reviews, you attract more readers and you meet the criteria for advertising on some popular sites with minimum review requirements
  • It is a good chance your book will be in the top 100 Amazon free list in the first 30 days
  • The surge in popularity will run over into paying days
  • The continued momentum can carry your book to bestseller in your category

Here are five steps to make your online book launch a success.

  1. Invest in a professional book cover and an edited book.

This same idea goes for a Facebook banner too.

Our readers won’t want to read something full of errors.  Don’t use them as proofreaders.  Also, beta readers should have already been engaged to catch inconsistencies or confusing sections of the book.  Of course, be open and encourage your team to let you know of any errors.  It’s better to know now then later, when published and in front of potential harsh reviewers.

  1. Create a (closed) book launch group on Facebook.

Invite friends and fellow authors and ask around in your social circles to get more members.  It is good to think that only a third will leave a review.  So invite between 50 to 75 readers.  If 25 leave reviews, that’s a good start!

Provide ARCs. Use bookfunnel or instafree (keeping it private, not public).

  1. Engage.

When you invite people to your book launch, make it interesting.  Encourage participation by posting articles and blogs related to your book, asking for feedback. Hold polls, have a few games and drawings for fun, if that’s your style.  Launching a book doesn’t have to be a serious (or boring) affair.

  1. Let your readers know what their role is:
  • Download and read the book before the publication date
  • During the free promotion, download a copy and then leave a review on Amazon for a verified review
  • Give them several ideas where to leave their review (Amazon US, Amazon UK, Goodreads, etc.)
  • Be sure and tell them that they are to give honest We are not here to receive phony 5-star reviews
  1. Continue to promote and engage. Use social media to spread the word.  Connect with others and be responsive and helpful.  Join other book launches and spread the excitement.  Create a book trailer (or have one created for you). Contact bloggers. Schedule advertising slots well in advance.  Finally, have fun and enjoy the ride!

 

Joanie Chevalier’s book, Heads Will Roll, will be published May 21, 2017 and will be FREE May 23, 24 and 25, 2017.  Join her launch page or connect via twitter, Facebook or her website.

 

Heads Will Roll – New Book Coming Out Soon!

My new book, Heads Will Roll, is a crime suspense about a doctor who is desperate to get his long overdue fame, fortune, and recognition by performing successful head transplant surgeries. Notice that successful is in italics. That’s because Dr. Farkis and his team have tried this surgery at least twenty-eight times – all without success.

But that doesn’t stop him.

In his words: “Success? Every one of them contributed to the success of knowing more, learning, working towards that goal of someday . . .”

Most of the first half of the story is spent getting to know the rest of the casted characters, but all paths lead to Dr. Farkis. I began thinking about this subject after I had listened to a story on BBC while traveling about a funeral director who sold bodies for profit. Then, shortly after that segment, there was a discussion about head transplants. I was intrigued. What if, in the near future, we could choose the body we wanted? We could visit a store front, much like a neighborhood mom-and-pop shop, and we’d see all the available bodies lined up in a glass-enclosed case. We’d be able to choose the body that we wanted, purchase it, have an operation, and wham bam! wake up with our new body.

Of course, this is all fiction . . . or is it?

While researching for Heads Will Roll, I came across articles about a real-life doctor who is planning a head transplant surgery. Seriously. In 2017. Yes, you read that right.
Who is this doctor, you ask?

His name is Dr. Sergio Canavero, and he plans on performing the procedure alongside a team of Chinese surgeons lead by Dr. Xiaoping Ren, who has reportedly performed “around 1,000 head transplants on mice.” “It will be a success,” he insists. [Link]

Get your wallets out. If you need, or want, such an operation, it will cost you a whopping $11 million. It will take approximately 150 surgeons and at least 36 hours to complete.
Will this procedure end up being another avenue for a quick fix of imagined or made-up flaws for the rich and famous?

Even if Dr. Canavero and his team were successful, a single-word inquiry comes up – Why? The honorable answer is that we’d hope that an operation like this would help those who have untreatable neurological or muscle-wasting diseases; in other words, paralyzed bodies. Most of us couldn’t, in our wildest dreams, even image the helplessness of having such a disease. Some may ask what kind of life it is when one is required to spend all their waking hours in a wheelchair, not even able to scratch the itch on their nose? (Although we all know that many paralyzed people lead productive lives.)

However, as we know too well, human nature is fickle, and narcissism and our instant gratification society wouldn’t allow this to be coveted by only wheelchair-bound, paralyzed people now, would we? This would be a new opportunity for rich people and women who hated their bodies enough to suffer pain (not to mention a huge ugly scar around their neck) and a three-week coma.

A quick fix, if you will.

If a woman could pick out a body, be it skinnier, shapelier, or more athletic than hers, and fuse her head onto it, do you think the new idea would spread like wildfire, or simply smolder like a green piece of wet wood in a campfire?
What about a man who yearns for a woman’s body, or a short person wanting a tall body? Where do we draw the line?

The important question is: Would you participate in the madness?

One such man has volunteered to be the first recipient of the 2017 (real life) human head transplant. He is 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov, who lives in Vladimir, Russia. Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, which affects the spinal cord and causes paralysis. He says that he wants a chance at a new body before he dies, and really, who can blame him? [Link]

In my fictional story, you’ll meet Barry, who has a similar disease. He spends most of his time in a wheelchair, but he is able to walk, albeit stilted and slow, with two canes that attach to his arms. Barry wants a new body, but he’s not quite willing to show his desperation to his co-workers.

After he discovers that Dr. Farkis plans to perform an experimental head transplant surgery, he stalks him until he gets the chance to talk to the doctor privately, pleading with him and assuring him that he’d be the right candidate. Barry is horrified when the doctor discloses that he had already performed many other unsuccessful operations, but in the end, that doesn’t deter Barry from begging to be his first success story.

How many of us would be that determined to get a new body? Imagine what kind of ruckus it would cause. I could image a long waiting list, the participants buying and selling to jockey up to the top positions, and who knows, perhaps even murdering fellow candidates to be moved up even faster. After all, there would only be so many doctors educated enough and willing to perform such an operation, therefore, the operations performed would probably be few and far between.

It’s also a very expensive endeavor, so only the rich could afford it, but maybe it’d become so routine that it would become a grandiose form of plastic surgery.

And, here’s a thought: where would we get these bodies? Not too many people die while they are healthy, unless they are old and die in their sleep. Would people resort to … murder? In my fictional book, we hear about an omnipresent entity called Headbanger, who is rumored to be nabbing some of the young homeless men and women from the warehouse district in Oakland, California.

After all, wouldn’t the doctor need bodies to practice on?

Getting back to the real life scenario, there are many people who say that Dr. Canavero is nuts [Link] and that what he’s proposing to do is absolutely absurd. They report that it’d never work, pointing out its many flaws, but most importantly, pointing out that this type of surgery wouldn’t get ethical approval, let alone backing for the cost of the operation.

Now, I propose another question: How many unsuccessful operations would it take to finally have one successful one? How eager would people in our world, like Valery Spiridonov, be to learn that they may not end up with a new, improved body, but end up only a statistical notation for history?

What’s interesting though all of this research is that I discovered something I didn’t know before. I hadn’t realized that a lot of experimenting had been done in this field already.

In 1908, Charles Guthrie wrote a book entitled Blood Vessel Surgery and Its Applications (which shows up on the dusty shelf in the fictional Dr. Farkis’ study) which apparently shows a photograph of a successful grafting of one dog’s head onto the side of another dog’s neck, creating the world’s first artificial two-headed dog. (Maybe this is where the fictional Dr. Farkis got his inspiration, since it is rumored that he experimented as a kid in his parents’ basement with mice and who knows what else.) Guthrie even noted that there were basic reflexive movements from the dog after the surgery was done.

Not to be outdone, Vladimir Demikhov, in the Soviet Union, transplanted a puppy’s head to a German Shepherd in 1954, and noted that the donor’s head lapped up water and milk from a bowl, bit the finger of a staff member, and bit the other dog’s ear. [Link]

Do you have goosebumps yet?

When I read that the key to a successful head transplant would be low temperatures, I thought of someplace cold where the bodies could be frozen. What better place than at the Tsukiji fish market in Japan, where they hold fish auctions daily? These huge slabs of frozen fish are displayed by the hundreds, and are flash frozen to -30ºC. Japanese fishing vessels that catch and hold tuna (a Bluefin tuna can weigh up to 550 pounds) have freezers that operate at -50ºC. Now that’s cold!

In my book, when the fictional Aiko takes his daughter to the market and lines up with the tourists early one morning, Kaneko is puzzled. (The actual daily tour is at nine am, but it’s limited to only 120 people. It’s first come, first serve, so tourist line up early.) She doesn’t know why she’s there, and her strict, stoic father doesn’t give her any information. When she winds up underneath the market in a maze of hidden tunnels, she still isn’t sure why she’s being tested and later undergoing medical tests. She knows it’s not polite to question her elders, so she stays quiet. Maybe it’s because her father thinks that she can’t find a husband because she’s “chubby.”

Sweet and quiet Kaneko undergoes a head transplant surgery because her father wants her to find a husband, and he feels ashamed by her body shape, convinced that it is holding her back from doing her duty for the family: getting married and producing grandchildren.

From Tokyo, Japan, we head back to Oakland, California, where we meet Baby and Denny. Baby is a spoiled 32-year-old. She has a “sugar daddy,” a married 52-year-old boyfriend who gives her anything she wants. When Denny begins to rethink his life because he and his wife of 22 years now have a few young grandchildren, Baby demands a new body “just because.” She doesn’t really think this decision through, and she and Denny find themselves caught up in the dramatics of a mad scientist/doctor: Dr. Stephen Farkis.

After walking into the warehouse for her “body consultation” appointment, they find that they are not allowed to leave. The doctor locks them inside and forces them to look at grotesque photos of mouse heads stapled to bodies from other mice. Denny sees the doctor as he is: a crazy, mad scientist dreaming of stitching bodies together in a Frankensteinian-style, but oddly, Baby still wants to stay to get her new body.

What kind of hospital is this!?

There are conspiracies abound in Heads Will Roll. Other characters include a senator, mobsters, and three brothers who take over their dad’s funeral business after he dies. They become inadvertently involved with the doctor after they learn their deceased father owed gambling debts to Mobydick, the head of the local gang, and they need extra funds to pay him off. Luckily, they have a few dead bodies lying around to sell . . .

This is fiction, but it has factual elements to it. After reading such articles while researching this fascinating topic, I wondered just how long my book would stay fiction. Might I have to change the categories for my book on Amazon in a few years, from fiction to nonfiction?

Only time will tell.

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5 Things You Must Do Before Submitting Your Manuscript to a Beta Reader

I provide beta-reading (and proofreading/editing) services on Fiveer and I receive manuscripts with the same issues over and over.  There are several things that an author can do to make their manuscript easier to read.  Here are my top five tips.

  1. Double-space your manuscript, or at least space it 1.5.  When I receive a manuscript, I want to be able to read it easily.  Sure, I’m redlining from a Word document and I can easily do it, but the author should remember to do this before sending; it’s common courtesy.  Also, it’s important to place page numbers in the footer. If I print it out, I want to keep the pages in order.
  2. Check for typos. This sounds obvious, but I’m also talking about typos such as their for there, or whether for weather.  This is where search/replace can be used. (Select the F5 key and select Find or Find/Replace.)
  3. Don’t be monotonous.  Nothing makes a manuscript more boring than “he said,” “she said” throughout the entire story.  Do not write this!  Use variation. Highlight your chosen word and click on the shift key and the F7 key at the same time.  The thesaurus will pop up.  There are at least 25 other words you can use instead of “said.”
  4. Make sure you are using the correct word or phrase.  Make it a habit to check out the definition of a word if you are unsure.  An easy way to do this is to highlight the word and click on the shift key and the F7 key at the same time.  Once the Thesaurus pops up, you can use that, or select the drop down arrow to select the dictionary.  I don’t like to waste time trying to figure out what the author wants to say.  A beta reader’s purpose is to read your story right before publication, not to read your first draft.  Don’t use betas as your free proofreader; that is not what they signed up for. (Unless you both agree ahead of time or you hire them to proof also.)
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.  What do you want from a beta reader?  Do you want her to concentrate on the characters? Do you want her to comment on plot flow?  Would you welcome comments or suggestions?  Keep in mind that family members are not true beta readers.  They will read your story and LOVE it. You’ll ask questions, and their only answer will be “GREAT!”  They won’t point out flaws or plot holes, or obvious mistakes.  They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Find an outside beta reader.  Goodreads has a great group of free betas. Or try out Fiveer; the cost is reasonable.

Lastly, don’t forget to thank your beta.  They read for the love of reading. They’ve spent precious time, sometimes hours, reading your story.  Some authors offer a beta reader a free book once it’s published, or a gift certificate. Whatever you do, be sincere.  Happy writing!

See my services here: https://www.fiverr.com/joaniechevalier

Visit my website for fun stuff: www.joaniechevalier.com

How to Write a Book Review

Before I became an author, I had never realized how important book reviews were.  Leaving a review is akin to leaving a tip.  An author appreciates when a reader leaves an honest review.  You don’t have to write a long review; write only what comes to mind after reading the book. There is no right or wrong way to write a review.

This is what I hear most often when the topic of writing a review is brought up:

  • I wouldn’t know what to write
  • I’m afraid it will sound stupid
  • I don’t have any writing skills
  • I don’t have time
  • I don’t know how

Once you realize that writing a review is actually a “piece of cake” (without the calories!), it should ease your mind and you’ll be ready to dig in.

I wouldn’t know what to write

Often, the first response we have when we think about writing a review is: “I wouldn’t know what to write.”  This creates a delay in writing a review at all.  Before we know it, several weeks have gone by and we think it’s too late.  First, it’s never too late!  Second, just be honest and say what’s on your mind, which is the best policy. Here is an easy formula: 1) write what you liked about the book, and 2) pick out two things that you can focus on.  Here’s an example:

Review by Pattie for The Art of Losing: A Thinkerbeat Anthology
I was very impressed by the stories, written by such creative authors. Each one kept my attention from beginning to end. [S]ome made me wonder about the outcome. Others made me smile and some made me cry.  One favorite was Finding Brother. This author immediately lead me into the story. I could feel the pain and sorry as the search continued for brother. Well written.  The story Silver Lining reminds me we have no assurance how our future turns out. So, like Edna, we must keep those we love close to our heart.

Pattie writes what she liked about the book in general and then she focused on two stories she related to the most.  Perfect!

I’m afraid it will sound stupid

Believe me, nothing you write will sound stupid to an author who is waiting with bated breath for a review.  We cherish reviews.  They can be long or they can be short.  If in doubt, just keep it simple and short.  I think it’s natural that we feel intimated when we see long, detailed eloquent reviews on a book page.  Don’t let that stop you from writing what’s on your mind.  Be brave and write a review in your own unique style.  Again, nothing is right or wrong.

Review by Virginia for Deadly Dating Games
This book keeps you interested with twists and turns at every possible corner! Great read!

Virginia simply wrote what she thought when she finished the book.  It’s short and simple.  Perfect!

I don’t have any writing skills

Don’t let this stop you from writing a review (but I’m pretty sure you can write something!).  As I already mentioned, authors LOVE reviews.  I don’t read reviews to critique them for grammar.  The heartfelt reviews are the most precious to any author.  If the reader has a connection to a story, their review will show it and that is the most important thing about a review.  If you feel that you don’t have any writing skills, you can refer to funny phrases or even write a few favorite sentences from the book. You can also write a review with only a few words, like Bob did here:

Bob’s review for Lunchtime Eavesdropper
The ending is a total cop-out.

After I got over the shock of reading my first ever negative review, I still appreciated Bob’s time and effort.  Remember, we are asking for *honest* reviews, and Bob’s review was honest; it’s exactly how he felt.  *Smiling here while gulping nervously*  Per….Per….Perfect!  :o)

I don’t have time

Good news!  You don’t always have to write a full review.  If you are reading from a Kindle, you’ve probably noticed that at the end of every book there is a prompt that will ask you to rate it.  If you are in a wifi area, you can rate it right then and there.  Perfect!

I don’t know how

If you bought the book from Amazon, simply go to the book’s page and scroll down until you see the “Write a customer review” button.  Click on that and follow the prompts.  It’s probably the same at other venues too.  If you feel overly excited about the book, it would be fantastic if you also left a review at Goodreads.  So, before you exit out of Amazon, copy your review and paste it at Goodreads.  This is not a required step, but if you have the time, author’s LOVE seeing reviews for their books at different venues.  It helps spread the love.

The next time you finish reading a book, review from the heart.  Keep it simple.  Be honest.  Write what feels right.  Be yourself.

Happy Reviewing!

Check out my books:

Amazon Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/o4h8682
Website: http://www.joaniechevalier.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/JoanieC
Twitter: @JoanieChevalier

Hazel & Marlee: A Study of (Fictional) Personalities

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Hazel & Marlee: A Study of Two (Fictional) Personalities

I’ve always been fascinated with the how’s and why’s of personalities.  In my two novelettes, Lunchtime Eavesdropper (we’ll refer to this as “Lunchtime” going forward) and Save an Angel’s Kiss for Me (and we’ll refer to this as “Angel’s Kiss” going forward) you’ll meet two fictional personalities: Marlee and Hazel.  We’ll explore here the characteristics of quirky Marlee and her elusive mom, Hazel.

I wrote these two novelettes with a little bit of knowledge about how it feels like to live with someone struggling with mental issues, just like Mar has to do with her mom in Angel’s Kiss.  You see, my son has bipolar disorder.

Don’t you find it true that the more we read (and write), the more we come to believe that there are parallels between fiction and reality?  At times my son (and Marlee) is quirky, funny, industrious, full of great ideas, rambunctious, excited about life and lovable (in their own style).  Other times, (s)he is dark, moody and uncommunicative.

This is what bipolar disorder looks like.

Marlee

It’s best to read Lunchtime first, and then Angel’s Kiss.  The reason I say this is because in Lunchtime, Marlee is a cynical, quirky and sarcastic adult woman.  In Angel’s Kiss, she’s a child and acts as any child would: innocent, trusting and loving.  If you read Angel’s Kiss first, you’ll be disappointed in Marlee after reading Lunchtime. But if you read Lunchtime first, you’ll have more understanding and empathy towards the character and you won’t feel so cheated when Mar loses her childhood innocence.

But why such a drastic change in personality between the stories, you ask?  We’ll discuss this below and I hope that I can answer your question by the time we finish here.

In Lunchtime, even though Marlee is a twenty-something year old woman, she acts (and looks) older than her age.  She’s set in her ways and seems to be satisfied with her daily routine: her job (a mundane but comfortable data entry position), her lunchtime pattern of going to the same eatery day after day, and reading romance novels.  She doesn’t necessarily like other people and enjoys the peaceful and relaxing time with “the love of her life,” the adorable Larry.  A thorn in her side seems to be her mother.  We detect a disconnect between the two of them as the story unfolds:

“Why do you call your mother ‘Hazel?'” The doctor removed her reading glasses with a flair (too dramatically for a psychiatrist, if you ask me) and gazed at me, waiting for an answer, her cornflower blue eyes wide with interest.  Well, this was unexpected.

“Because that’s her name,” I responded simply.  I tsked and shook my head.  “It’s probably even written right there in my file, doctor.”  I tried my hardest to be respectful of people with degrees on their walls; I never knew when I might need

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a professional on my side, maybe to be an expert witness in a deposition or something.

Dr. Thompson’s lips scrunched up sideways as she hummed.  “Most people call their mothers, ‘mother,’ ‘mom,’ ‘mama,’ or often even with a nickname, typically not by their given name.”

“Hmmm,” I hummed, mimicking the doctor’s lip contortion.

Marlee lives with Hazel, but is only tolerate of her.  She wants to believe that her mother is living with her, instead of the opposite, that Marlee lives with her mother.   Marlee simply wouldn’t be able to cope on her own.  In her mind, Hazel needs her, not vice-versa.  Hazel is wise enough in this situation to not want to cause waves by butting heads with Marlee over this issue.  Nobody likes conflict.

I wrote Lunchtime as a stand-alone story, wanting to keep my writing skills honed while I worked on my next full-length novel.  But when I was done creating Marlee’s character, I wondered, hmm, where did this contemptuous and suspicious personality come from?  When and how did it originate?  If Marlee were a real person, would she have been born with it?  Was herpersonality shaped from something tragic that caused her personality to change forever?

The idea of delving into Marlee’s childhood for a second book was a no-brainer.  Hence, Angel’s Kiss.  (She’s called Mar in Angel’s Kiss since she’s only a child.)  She doesn’t have that cynical voice we hear in Lunchtime.  We notice a little quirkiness but she has a loving and attentive dad in her life and that seems to balance her out – until the tragic accident when she was only 12-years old, that is.  Later, we see defiance and control issues, but this may be normal teenager issues.

In Lunchtime, we receive few clues as to Marlee’s background and we don’t get the whole picture.  Her story is like a puzzle to be put together, which quickly becomes frustrating when we find that there are several pieces missing before it’s nearly completed.

In another session with her psychiatrist, Dr. Thompson asks Marlee about the tragic accident she had as a child and wondered about her dad, who died in that accident.  Marlee cuts her off abruptly and doesn’t want to talk about it.

Dr. Thompson:  Notes from your file, Marlee, indicate that you had an uneventful childhood.  That is, until that horrendous car accident.  Do you want to talk about it?

Me:  Why? It’s over, isn’t it?

Dr. Thompson:  Didn’t your father-

Me:  Talk to the hand, Doctor, I said it was over.  [Choose an emoticon of your own choice here.  I see only a round empty black hole.]

We read later in the story that Marlee is in denial of the accident:

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When they [co-workers] brought up the subject of my childhood accident during lunch on Thursday, I quickly corrected them.  “Oh, no, no, that wasn’t me.  That was my twin sister – she’s the silly one!”

In between giggles, I explained in more detail. “Part of my twin sister’s frontal lobe is missing,” I disclosed with confidence, whispering for effect.  “I know these things,” I lowered my voice even further here for emphasis, “Larry’s a . . . doctor.”

There were “ooh’s” and “ahhh’s” coming from the girls.  That evening, I googled “missing frontal lobe,” so I could disburse knowledgeable tidbits about things medical during future lunch hours.  I even took a few minutes to research “twin traits” just in case anyone asked anything specific about my pretend twin sister.  After all, I had to prepare.  No one wants to sit next to a boring person at the popular table.

We still don’t quite understand why Marlee acts the way she does in Lunchtime, but we have more of an understanding after we meet her as a child and experience her life for a short time in Angel’s Kiss.

To further complicate things, but to add fodder to our study of personalities, does Mar really have bipolar illness?  Or is her condescending, scornful personality traits in Lunchtime simply a shield to protect her from the world?   When her dad died in that car accident when she was only twelve in Angel’s Kiss, did it mar her for life?  Was her psyche so traumatized that she neverrecovered?  Is she still so sad that she can’t cope with reality, or, perhaps she just doesn’t care?  We hear hints of a “frontal lobe” injury in Lunchtime, believed to have happened in the accident.  This is not explored so we never find out whether this is true or not.

Mar is forced to live without her dad at a young age and she quickly learns by default how to live with her mentally ill mother, alone, without her father as a buffer.  Maybe her disdainful ways was just a protective shield of hers to ward off unwanted questions and curiosity. As we know from real life experience, if we don’t want to be hurt, we often act arrogant and distant to keep people away.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about Mar however.  Deep down inside herself, she really did love her mom.  When she finally decided to visit her dad’s gravesite, three years after he died, she had an epiphany, if you will:

After I was done tracing dad’s inscription, I carefully rolled the paper back up and placed it in my backpack.  I then sat beside him, quietly contemplating.  On what, it didn’t matter.  There were many thoughts.  Christmas and how much fun I had with dad.  Laughing, opening presents, snowball fights.  Making snow angels.

But intermixed with these thoughts were thoughts of Hazel too.  Thoughts other than her crying.  Memories of her stamping a sandwich with a star-shaped cookie cutter, asking me what I wanted to watch on TV, turning on my night-light when I went to bed.  Simple things really, but things I’ve never really thought about before.  They were tender moments, and I have to admit,mom moments.  They were few and far between, but did that make her any less of a parent?

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Should I really withhold my love from her because of her mental illness or because dad had died?

Was this dad’s way of finally getting me to think about my mother?  I was beginning to believe that he wanted me to mend my ways with Hazel.

I thought of Hazel and how she would be alone in the world if I were gone too.  I felt sadness for her.  I felt loneliness.  I couldn’t allow it.  I wouldn’t leave her alone with no one.  In her own way, she needed me.  And, I had to admit, I needed her too.  It was funny how life worked.

Hazel

As we read about Marlee and her drama in Lunchtime, we can’t help but wonder what Hazel’s story is.  We have more questions than answers.  Why is she so stoic and why does she seem so distant?  Is she an alcoholic?  Is she mentally ill?  Only in the last sentence of the story do we catch a glimpse of her personality, which will be touched on below.

We get to know Hazel in more depth in Angel’s Kiss and we get answers to some of our earlier questions.  But what we learn is somewhat disturbing.  After reading Angel’s Kiss, we have an “aha” moment and some of the puzzling moments we read about in Lunchtime now make more sense.

In Lunchtime, Hazel stays in the background and we only meet her in passing:

After I [Marlee] was done glamorizing myself, I walked into the living room and plopped down in my chair with a loud sigh, wanting mother to notice my new look.  When she finally glanced over at me during the commercial break, she let out a little gasp.  She struggled out of her Lazy-Boy, stood up and farted, and slowly shuffled to the kitchen for her nightly bowl of butter pecan ice cream.  Her thin penciled-in “soft taupe brown” eyebrows arched as she got to me.

“What, are you trying to look like red broccoli?” she asked as she continued by.

I swear, sometimes, Hazel just doesn’t make any sense at all.

I admit, Hazel has a complex personality the more I get to know her, and I love her character in Angel’s Kiss.  We discover early in the story that she has a mental illness:

My mother’s understanding of her own mental disorder ebbed and flowed like the moon’s cycle with the tide.  In the good times she was happy and able to let loose a little bit, not allowing her OCD to get in the way of life.  But when she’d happen to be deeply hidden away into one of her bipolar episodes, she’d snap at anything I and my dad did or said.  That’s the reason why I wasn’t allowed to make a blanket tent in the rec room.  Too messy.  That’s the reason why she couldn’t handle blood or vomit or a mild cough.  Too messy, and with germs to boot.

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Because she has a mental illness, Hazel didn’t always react to situations appropriately. For example, she has a meltdown after she and Mar carry in a Christmas tree . . .

Things were going okay until we figured out that we were trying to carry the tree through in the wrong direction.  The branches were going against the door jam and about a thousand and one pine needles flew off and were flung everywhere.

Hazel’s OCD kicked in big time and she went berserk.  She ran to the hall closet and grabbed both the broom and the vacuum, ranting that there would be “ants and rats and god knows what else” running around her house.

After cleaning up she rushed into her bedroom and stayed there for most of the evening.  She just couldn’t take the excitement . . .

After reading Angel’s Kiss, a reader commented to me that she really felt for Hazel in her struggle to be a good mom.  Mar tells us that while she’s recuperating from the accident, Hazel comes in and stares at her “like a scientist would study the Milky Way.” And then she doesn’tunderstand why her mom would put her hand on her forehead, “to feel if I have a temperature or if I was dead.”

As mothers, we all go into our children’s rooms to touch them lovingly, or to watch them peaceful sleeping.  Oh boy, when Kevin was a baby, I would quietly walk up to his crib just to watch him breath!  Who can relate to that?  That is a treasured (and peaceful!) time for mothers and we can easily understand Hazel’s sentiment.

This same reader told me that while she works in the mental health field, she has never really thought about a family member’s viewpoint before and that reading Angel’s Kiss opened her eyes.  She said this is because the focus is usually on the mentally ill patient, not on the family member(s).  The struggle of having to deal with someone with bipolar is complex.

In Angel’s Kiss, Hazel and Mar have their miscommunications. Mar has learned, through trial and error, that sometimes she just can’t trust her mom. Anyone living with someone with a mental illness will understand what this means.

“Let’s go get our tree,” she announced too loudly, emphasizing the word “our.”  We haven’t gone for a tree for three years.  And, if we were to be real here, Hazel had never gone with us to get our tree.

I eyed her suspiciously.  I looked her up and down.  She was dressed properly.  No robe and slippers, but real street clothes.  It was obvious she was not having one of her episodes.  I couldn’t trust that this would last though.  I was tentatively trying to play it by ear.

“Okay.”  I ran to my room and grabbed my coat.  This dream might easily became a nightmare before we knew it.  I figured that if we hurried things along everything would be okay.

I don’t write either of these stories through Hazel’s point of view, but the undercurrent here is that she really does love her daughter.  She just doesn’t know how to show it:

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“Mar, you know your mother loves you, don’t you?”

. . . I answered his [dad’s] question in my head.

No, I actually didn’t know that my mother loved me.  Maybe cleaning meant love? She was always cleaning.  What would I know?  I’ve often seen other mothers hug their kids at the drop-off curb at school.  I think she hugged me once, but she flinched whenever I hugged her, so I had become conditioned not to give her hugs.  It was like it hurt her skin to hug.

Just when we begin to believe Marlee’s point of view that her mother is cold-hearted, we get a surprise at the end of Lunchtime.  Remember, we’ve only met Hazel briefly, through Marlee’s eyes and we’ve come to believe that she’s standoffish and distant.  When Marlee finally comes home near dawn after a night of drama, Hazel surprises us with a “mom” moment:

I [Marlee] felt drowsy from my adventures and had almost drifted off into dreamland when I heard the soft click of the bedroom door.  I caught the faint fragrance of Evelyn Rose Perfumed Bath Soap, the scented soap Hazel had used since I was a girl.

“Love you, Marlee, night-night,” she whispered before she quietly closed thedoor.

Getting a glimpse of that fleeting tender moment shows us that Hazel cares for Marlee after all.  She is forever a mom, no matter what age her daughter is.  This simple gesture shows us that Hazel accepts Marlee the way she is.  Hazel has the unconditional love that only a mom can give. A mother’s ache for her child is never over.

Summary

In summary dear reader, I’ll leave it to you now.  Read Lunchtime first and meet Marlee as an adult.  Then read Angel’s Kiss.  Reading these two books in that order is akin to eating sweet and sour soup from your favorite Chinese restaurant: it’s a confliction of taste but your taste buds are happily clashing.  The soup wouldn’t be the same aromatic flavorful soup without thecombination of both flavors.

Same with Marlee and her personality – we accept both sides of her.  Ditto with Hazel.

After reading Angel’s Kiss, you’ll find that the Marlee you met in Lunchtime may not be really crazy after all – but simply broken – complete with flaws and exposed pain, with real-life emotions.  You may just learn to love her.

And loving Mar will bring you full circle – to Hazel.  You’ll forgive her flaws and feel empathy towards her anguish of battling bipolar disorder and wanting to do what’s right.  After all, she didn’t ask to be born into a family with mental issues.  Who would?

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Meet Marlee, a woman who lives a comfortable but simple life with her loving partner, the adorable Larry. She discovers that covertly listening in on other people’s conversations during lunch hour excites her and adds to her otherwise humble life. When she overhears unpleasant gossip about herself, she becomes obsessed with changing her personality and makes the bad decision to become someone she’s not. After her total makeover, Marlee suddenly finds herself basking in the attention of her co-workers and is ecstatic when she’s finally invited to sit at the “popular” table at work. But is a personality change really worth the price? Is being popular worth losing herself, possibly the love of her life and/or redefining her own definition of happiness?

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After 12-year old Mar’s father unfortunately dies in a car crash during the Christmas holidays, she not only has to recuperate, but also has to live with her mentally ill mother without the calming presence of her beloved dad. Fast forward three years and Mar is now 15-years old. Because Mar had blocked out her dad’s death, she’s never really admitted to herself that he’s gone forever, let alone acknowledged or visited his gravesite. She suddenly decides to take a 14-hour journey on a Greyhound bus to finally visit her dad’s grave and to face the truth: that her dad is really gone. Will Mar finally get the closure she so desperately seeks?

This is a touching short story about grief, loss, acceptance and forgiveness. It’s about the comfort of a gifted Christmas angel. It’s about the miracle of healing and unconditional love.

Visit my website for more book information, author interviews and book reviews:  www.joaniechevalier.com