StJean’s Interview with Novelist Alana Woods, Australian Author of Imbroglio and Automaton


Alana Woods, author of Imbroglio, with one of her UK grandsons, with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. The Hyatt Hotel where Noel Valentine has dinner with her boss William T Hall is tucked under the bridge, far side left.

After reviewing her book a few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to catch author Alana Woods with a few minutes to share her thoughts on writing, and her native Australia (where Imbroglio is set).  She was even kind enough to send along some snapshots of locations used in her latest novel.  Ms. Woods has plenty of experience in the craft, and has even published a handbook, 25 essential writing tips: Guide to writing good fiction.

Your title seems a bit risky in the marketplace, given that it’s not a very common word.  I, for one, had to look it up.  Given that the cover helps suggest the genre, can you offer  more than the dictionary definitions some reviewers are?

My first thought is that it intrigued you enough to look it up, which means you took the time to investigate at least that far into the book. Then you bought it. What more could I ask for from readers?

But to answer your question, I’ve found the two explanations that satisfy people who ask are firstly the dictionary one of ‘A complicated affair’. The second is  my pointing out of the maze on the cover and saying that the situation the main female character find herself in is one she’s going to have great difficulty finding her way out of, hence the maze to illustrate the theme.

It seemed to me the real strength of Imbroglio was the deep psychology of the major characters.  I recall a scene in which Noel Valentine is performing an everyday action to the extent of hurting herself, but not stopping.  Is she a masochist?  Or are some other forces driving her?

I’m so pleased you say that about the characters as I think of myself as an author who writes character-driven novels. Which scene in particular are you talking about? Because the whole story is about her trying to resist self-destruction while also seeking it. She isn’t a masochist; she’s being driven by wanting/not wanting to exist. Very primal. Therefore it’s impossible for her to avoid hurting herself.

I’m a classic literature nut, so certain elements of David, your male protagonist, reminded me more of Hamlet than of the thick-skinned tough guys it often takes to survive alongside thieves and murderers.  Why not give readers what they expect?

Again, I love that you think he’s complex.

But isn’t that, really, what readers want. They may expect the usual stereotypical treatment but they love it when they get more. I’ve had people go to the trouble of emailing me—I’ve even had phone calls—to tell me how much my characters, or a particular one, has affected them. To the extent that they think about them for weeks after finishing the book and to the extent that they’ll read it again for the pleasure of being in that character’s company again for a while. Love that. J

You hail originally from England, correct?  What should everyone from the Northern Hemisphere (or at least readers of your books) know about Australia?

I was born in Leicester in the UK midlands but my parents emigrated to Australia when I was four. Everything in the tourist ads are true—as they are of every country to some extent—but there’s so much more. Australia is diverse and real, as are its people, so expect the country and its folk to also have faults. I kid around about wanting to live in other countries—check out my Amazon bio which says I’d love to buy a masseria and live in Puglia, Italy—but if being able to bring the world into your living room on the nightly news has done anything for me it’s to reinforce that Australia is one hell of a good place to be. Other than to escape floods and bushfires there’s no risk of having to leave your home because of danger, you can drink straight from the tap, emergency services respond to your calls; there’s a general good work/life balance, there’s crime but overwhelmingly you’re very safe, and the country is so big you can choose what kind of climate you want to live in ranging from snow and sub-zero temperatures to the tropics. Take your pick!

PS: I live in Canberra, the nation’s capital. It’s endearingly referred to as The Bush Capital because it is so treed and has a lot of nature parks. My house backs on to one and I get kangaroos peering over the fence at my vegetable garden every morning and evening. So far they haven’t been tempted to jump in for a tasting. What’s not to like. J

A few of your “bad guys” struggle to be totally bad (I’m thinking of Walter, but he’s not the only one.)  This is less expected than when good guys struggle to be good.  Are you some kind of sentimentalist about human nature?

Sentimentalist? Definitely not. At the risk of repeating myself, the nightly news disabuses me of the inherent goodness in human nature. No-one is perfect, including the best of us, so I’d put money on even them slipping up occasionally. As for the bad guys—ruling out the truly evil—I believe there are things that would give them pause for thought or have them examining their consciences. So to have my bad guys thinking twice about doing something, or having regrets, is part and parcel of characterisation for me.

It’s been roughly ten years since you published your first novel, Automaton, while managing to bring out a collection of short stories and some other material in between.  Tell us how either your experience of writing or publishing (or both) has changed in this volatile decade.

Shawn, you make it sound like I’ve been busy with the writing but I have to say I feel very guilty about the time I spend away from the keyboard. Life gets in the way, as it does for everyone, but I’m not good at ignoring it and getting on with writing.

But the biggest impact on both my writing and publishing has been electronic publishing. I feel safe saying many writers would place the blame very squarely there. I’ve been wanting to rewrite my third novel for two years but since I published AUTOMATON, IMBROGLIO and the others on Amazon I spend hours every day on the social media sites promoting them. I resist saying I’m addicted because I’m not doing it because I want to or because I enjoy it. It very much has a purpose. However, I’m going to try very hard to reduce the amount of time I spend on it so I can put some quality time into the next book. Famous last words? Hopefully not.

It seems that many suspense thriller writers are women, a genre that is not historically kind to its female characters.  Any comment?

Mm. Hadn’t thought of that before. Could it be, sensible creatures that we are, that we prefer vicarious danger to the real thing? Therefore, living it through our writing is an enormous amount of fun.


Alana Woods’ blog can be enjoyed at


Night shot of Darling Harbour where Noel Valentine (heroine of Imbroglio) has lunch with Nick Donaldson and David sees her for the first time. Jordan’s, the restaurant, is towards the left, looking over the bridge. (courtesy Alana Woods, author)


Day shot, Darling Harbour, Sydney (courtesy Alana Woods, author of Imbroglio)


New Book Trailer–Shawn StJean Video Interview on Clotho’s Loom


As he finally gains some technical skills and prepares the Audiobook Edition of Clotho’s Loom for its upcoming release, Shawn StJean explains how his novel began as a guy-centered, military action-adventure, but became a hybrid with a woman’s journey to self-realization, in this 6 1/2 minute video interview.


Change the view to HD when you get there!

Really Deep Beneath the Weave (my running baldness joke)–New Interview: Laurie vs. Shawn

Very impressive promotion on Shawn StJean’s novel today, including a GIVEAWAY you may want to enter. She’s got an interview, excerpt, full bio, the works. . .
Someday someone will “like” that baldness joke. . .

Cowboys and Indies: Amazon and Monopoly in the Free Market


poster for High Plains Drifter

The last few years have been a revolutionary ones for book publishing—five centuries shackled to the mechanical printing press are over. Yet, with all that free-for-all, a new sheriff was bound to come to town, to corral the anarchy. One of the largest distributors and retailers of both physical and e-volumes has aided, but not unequivocally endeared itself, in 2012, to the largest, most sensitive group of content providers: self-publishers, and “Indie” authors.

It’s no more a secret that would like to be the default sales engine for books, than that Google wants to be the default search engine for the internet, Microsoft Windows wants to be the default OS for PCs, and Intel the default hardware manufacturer. It’s all too easy to forget that ITunes (and Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, and your local library, and many littler guys,) Bing, Linux, and AMD make great products/provide great services, too. Why so easy? Well, we as consumers are so busy, we’d just like a nice comfortable place we can be sure of, in many aspects of our lives. Everybody loves having a go-to restaurant, or saloon: “Ahh, that’s one load off my mind.”

For the record, and from this consumer/content-creator’s perspective, at this point I think Amazon has it about 75% right. Remember when they were just books and movies? But, in their apparent quest to be and sell all things to all people (just look at the logo, with its arrow from “A” to “Z”,) they must necessarily do a lot of experimenting. Some of those attempts, as in any general store, fail to produce the expected or hoped-for results.

So, first take a paragraph to give them their due: they have certainly provided a valuable opportunity for authors (not all of them first-timers, and some extremely talented) to bypass the stranglehold of the traditional, brick-and-mortar publishing establishment–whose time had certainly come. Amazon’s KDP Select Program, which currently balances a modest exclusivity agreement with attractive royalty terms and good exposure schemes, deserves particular praise.

Now, the not-so-good: I was lately asked, in an interview, if I’m afraid that Amazon will try to gain a monopoly on ebooks. My response was that, in order keep relative parity with a self-regulating market, they will have to play fair with creators and consumers. I still believe that, today—but apparently, some of us may have to put it to the test, ourselves.

I have heard a few, varied, and repeated charges against the giant bookseller, ranging from shorted royalty payouts (a serious problem, if true,) to frustration with the arcane ranking system that no one seems to be able to adequately explain (but which is clearly sales-driven to a large extent. Unless one is a best-selling author, I don’t consider unknown variables in ranking to be too bothersome. My own rises and falls several hundred thousand places, every week.) The current experiment I’d like to focus on is the “review-policing” that has recently caused an uproar on message boards and blogs.

I don’t have to cite the experiences of others (just “Google” it—sorry, Blekko, I jest). I personally had two 5-star reviews taken down. For a first-novel that was published only two months ago, this is fairly devastating—those reviews are hard to get. And for all the wide and sundry types of promoting we self-publishers do, reviews are really our lifesblood. I received a belated, boilerplate e-mail from Amazon informing me that “during a quality review of the Kindle catalog, we determined that one (or more) of the reviews associated with your book does not meet the Amazon General Review Creation Guidelines.” Upon consulting these guidelines, and in considering the seven reviews I had up at the time, I could glean no clue as to which guidelines had been violated. In even the most broad interpretation, I can at least say that the reviews, as a group, were not targeted consistently. My attempts to complain, and requests for restoration of the seemingly random victims, have gone ignored. I was even able to track down one of the reviewers (who had been provided with an ARC, but who also had officially purchased a copy, as had the second reviewer whose text had disappeared,) and convince her to re-post with best-guess modifications. This was summarily removed within several minutes, obviously by a ‘bot. Is this person then banned from reviewing my book?

Furthermore, I had a reader (whom I have never met, but is a friend of a friend) denied a posting because, even though he has an Amazon account, he had not purchased the book from them. Does this mean that the thousands of people who downloaded it for free will be denied, as well?

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal to some (“oh, just wait for more good reviews,”) that attitude would be misconceived. I worked very hard at producing a nontraditional, non-formulaic novel that some will love and some will hate. That’s fine: I wanted no compromises, and Clotho’s Loom is certainly not for everybody. But the wrecking of my average (I had four 5-star reviews, one 3-star, and two 1-stars) is not just a blow to my fragile, writer’s ego—in fact, to me the positive-biased spread helps confirm the book’s legitimacy to my target audience of potential readers. But going to a much more dismal review distribution has effectively put, in the short-term at least, a stake-to-the-heart of sales. Let’s face it: it’s quicker and easier to scan a few two-sentence condemnations, and assume you’ve run across a hack who couldn’t find a “real” publisher, than to actually read the generous sample provided. And that smarts.

Assuming this all gets straightened out, not just for me, but for all the authors out there (a BIG assumption,) it troubles me because it may be symptomatic of the slide toward monopoly. I was already bothered by the fact that links to external blogs are disallowed on product pages—this seems needlessly restrictive, as blogs are many writers’ primary promotional channel. ITunes has alienated a lot of potential repeat customers with its (some say) fascistic Digital Rights Management protection. I personally paid nearly $40 for books I cannot read, because I don’t own an IDevice. It strikes me that the review-policing we’re seeing, across town, is really the same kind of problem: designed in intent to protect consumers and creators, what happens in practice is that Amazon/ITunes actually dictates what gets read, and how, and to some extent by whom. Too much control, which can be called a form of greed. Remember, I started out by calling them a distributor and a retailer. Publishers and authors own the texts and rights. And just as we had to bow to the conditions of the people who “managed” the printing presses for 500 years, or to the railroad barons, so too now we’re in the position of negotiating our rights with the new technology-holders.

The difference is, there are now a lot more choices for us.

When we sing America’s praises (which many equate with capitalism and the free market, as much as basic human rights,) one of the things we’re endorsing is the value of competition. I certainly was, until recently at least, willing to put all my horses in the Amazon stable: I’m currently producing an Audiobook edition (to be sold on Amazon-owned and a mass market paperback for Createspace (also a creature of Amazon.) I’m continuing research on the alternatives, and there are some very viable ones out there. I’m particularly interested in watching the extreme potential of the audiobook marketplace over the next several years, as no single contender has yet risen to dominate it (entrepreneurs, take note.) There is no better way of sending a message to a corporate entity whose practices one deplores, than to not only withhold one’s money, but to redistribute it to a competitor.

So how badly does the sheriff want my vote, for re-election? Or will it be shoot first, answer questions later?


Clint Eastwood and Chief Dan George in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Casting Call–Miscellaneous Characters–the Old Man and the Young


Martin Sheen as Nexus Wyrd’s blue-collar father, Lambert

Before I reveal my pick for the major male character of William Wyrd for my hypothetical film production of Clotho’s Loom, there remain a few minor characters that fill important supporting roles.  First is Nexus’ father, Lambert.  An uneducated but nevertheless sharp, liberal influence on the heroine, Lambert undergoes minor adventures of his own in the course of the novel, and provides it with a pure, moral voice.  Famous from his breakout role as Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, later as the president in The West Wing, Martin Sheen has shown such a flexibility throughout his career, and lately seems to be featured as a father so often (even onscreen to real-life sons Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez,) that I think we should get in on the privilege.

I know little of Days of Our Lives‘ Dylan Patton, and even though he’s now about twenty years old, he just looks like James, Nexus’ adolescent neighbor, and helper, to me.  His line, “Because I hate the bastards,” is one of my favorite in the novel.


Dylan Patton as James

WHO Women Want—or, Will a Real Man Please Step Forward?


A woman and child look for America’s future

With presidential candidates Obama and Romney alternating between courting and alienating women voters, that old, quintessentially male question, “What do women want?” rears its head again this October, with no less power than a coven of Wiccans.

I wrote a novel in which I took on the dubious task of sustaining a strong female protagonist, who shared the stage with males, proving better than most of them.  Unlike her husband, she had to do it without a BFG (“big fraggin’ gun”) and a 400–horsepower car. In creating this character, I put a lot of thought into this puzzle, because, as a middle-aged man, I have no direct access to women’s inner minds—except what I’m told, and what I can observe.  And I see and hear a lot about children.  And it makes sense: What woman would choose a leader for her country whom she wouldn’t trust near her own family?

I’m sure no expert–so everything I’m about to say may seem presumptuous–but it seems to me that long-term security for their children would be foremost on many women’s shopping list for a powerful man, whether for romantic-involvement, or otherwise.  They’d like a leader who can deliver an America in which those kids can still dare to dream, and moreover, have realistic opportunities to pursue those dreams: in short, they want sensible educational reform, affordable and equal access to higher education, market regulation, and more jobs in the future.

Now, don’t try that bunk about how we can have ALL that, AND everything else too.  Most women learn, sooner or later and as a practical necessity, how to budget money.  And one of the first things they learn is that it’s hard to have both a decent set of kitchen appliances, AND a Harley in the driveway, without going way into debt.  Some, a few, are certainly comfortable with debt—-but again, you’re eating into that future, aren’t you?

Of course, they want border security and military strength, the same way a dog about the house and a deadbolt are deterrents to burglars.  But if you look at how most adult women distribute their own spending—-regardless of social class—-I’m really not sure that the percentage-equivalent of buying a medieval moat, a solid iron drawbridge, not to mention a hundred catapults and a standing army to go out and make sure none of the other barons have their own catapults, is really how they would budget.

And speaking of job creation, how many mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers of a five-year old—-either boy or girl—forsee a career in the military for the little ones?

How about a man who is tough enough to need fewer guns, secure enough to love his children openly, responsible enough to show it in deed and not just word, and reliable enough to keep on truckin’, year after year?


Sarah and John Connor of the Terminator mythology

Indie BookSpot Interviews Clotho’s Loom Author: “Once More Under the Weave, Dear Friends”


Dr. Melfi takes counsel with Tony Soprano

Ever wonder why anyone would give up–well, all this–to become a self-published writer?  Yeah, me neither.  But find out the answers anyway, as John Warner puts Shawn StJean under the hot lights.


And while you’re over there, I highly recommend their “Opportunities” feed, if you are looking to publish and/or promote your own novel or other book.