“Farsighted” by Emlyn Chand

There was a country French cafe I passed almost everyday to get to my apartment fourteen years ago. It was called La Madeleine and it had the most amazing tomato basil soup. The smell of basil wafted elegantly above my spoon, enticing me to take that first savory sip. I also couldn’t order the soup without a small Caesar salad; the croutons were crusted in Parmesan cheese and melted in your mouth. I probably ate there once a week. The very thought of it made my stomach warm and my mouth water.

Until, I got pregnant for the first time.

I ate my usual dietary delight with wild abandon, satisfying my weekly obsession despite my bouts with first trimester nausea. Shortly after finishing my meal, I found myself doubled over a porcelain throne violently emptying every last drop of soup from my system. The bathroom smelled of rancid tomatoes and wilted basil for days. It was so traumatic that I couldn’t even drive past the restaurant without dry-heaving, forcing me to find an alternative route. Now, almost fourteen years later, I still have not stepped foot in that restaurant again, nor have I eaten tomato basil soup. The smell still sends me clutching my stomach, battling phantom cramps and hearing an echo of retching.

It’s amazing how our senses can be manipulated and marked for the rest of our lives, triggering responses at random.

In Emlyn Chand’s debut novel, Farsighted, Alex Kosmitoras has to rely on four of his senses to maneuver through life. He is a blind high school student struggling to fit in with his peers. Like most teenagers, he is tormented by a love/hate relationship with his parents. He feels sheltered by their efforts to keep him safe while he tries to gain some independence.  Alex also harbors feelings of bitterness towards them.

“As usual, she (his mother) steers directly into the pothole we don’t have the money to repair. Sometimes I wonder if she does it on purpose.”

Alone, and detached from his classmates for years, Alex has almost given up hope of making friends and being accepted until Simmi, a new student from India, befriends him. She is intelligent, insightful, and kind. She appeals strongly to two of Alex’s senses: hearing and smell. Her thick Indian accent draws him in when she speaks, setting her apart from the other voices at school.  Alex is also intoxicated by her sweet chocolate and almond scent.

Just when Alex thinks he has found his best friend, and possible teen romance, we are introduced to yet another new student, Shapri. She and her mother, Miss Teak, stir up this small town by opening a psychic shop next door to Alex’s family business. Shapri’s quirky and independent New Orleans personality is bigger than Alex is able to handle, causing him to become resentful when Simmi and Shapri become thicker than thieves.

While Alex tries to juggle these new found friendships, avoid the school bully, and stay under his parents’ radar, he suddenly finds himself afflicted with random sensory episodes. His senses are transported to another time and place, almost like a vision, momentarily paralyzing him in a trance. With each episode, his body responds as if he is physically present in the vision, revealing a deadly mystery.

“The air becomes lighter all of a sudden, as if a vacuum cleaner has sucked up all the humidity. The fragrance of sweat and Axe deodorant spray fills my nostrils. I’m totally confused now.”

Farsighted is a Young Adult (YA) sci-fi drama that combines elements of teen romance, mystery and paranormal into a well-developed thriller. The underlying theme is about friendship and coming of age. The main characters must rely on each other, while accepting their own strengths or weaknesses, in order to prevent something horrible from happening. The biggest obstacle they must face together is learning to trust one another and accepting that sometimes things aren’t always as they seem.

Of the main characters, my favorite was Shapri. She demanded respect from her peers and held tight to her convictions. She was not easily swayed or manipulated and managed to maintain her beliefs in spite of the many negative influences in her life. I also liked the fact that she was flawed, struggling to accept some of her paranormal gifts, like many of us struggle with accepting our own abilities at times. It is refreshing to see strong, independent young women in YA fiction that do not need to be rescued.

However, the character that I could relate to the most was Shapri’s mother, Miss Teak. Perhaps it is because I am a mother of a teenager myself, but her calming spirit was a nice change of pace from the other characters’ hormone charged presence.

“All of a sudden, the background of the busy street is gone, replaced by the stillness of Miss Teak’s shop. The scent of sandalwood incense drifts by.”

She is the voice of reason, although she is far from being “all knowing”. Her life experiences and innate ability to reason through any problem make her an anchor, keeping this small band of teenagers from drifting away too far. She constantly gives helpful, albeit dark and mysterious, nuggets of advice:

“The potential for good and evil lies within all things. Nothing is fully dark or fully light. All have elements of both sides.”

Besides the main story-line, I also liked all of the personal details, even about the peripheral characters. Emlyn was able to make even the most minor characters three-dimensional by giving them their own quirks. For instance, Alex’s mother is a little bit obsessive compulsive.

“How was your first day?” Mom asks as she washes her hands, counting faintly under her breath to ensure the she lathers for exactly thirty seconds.

These added details were the best way for the reader to “see” through Alex’s eyes. Since we could not picture his environment, Emlyn Chand made sure that we could hear, feel, smell and even taste the story as it unfolded. Much like the way my body responded to driving by that French restaurant even years later, I was able to rely on my sensory experiences to visualize Farsighted.

Also, as a parent, it was nice to see positive lessons. This book was definitely appropriate for the age group that it was written for, readers like my teen-aged daughter. I also appreciated that the parents were not only present and involved in the story-line, but they were not portrayed as ignorant or stupid.

“Dad was more important to my life than I realized. As mush as I hated him for destroying everything, I can’t help but miss him.”

I would recommend this book to teens as well as adults. As an adult reading a YA fiction, it was a pleasant surprise to find so many “a-ha” moments for myself. Sometimes we get distracted by what is right in front of us, a sort of nearsighted perspective, and need to be shown a greater vision. I definitely found this to be true when Alex was talking about watching the ball drop in Times Square with his mother and could relate it to life in general. It was a nice reminder that life is not  just about the destination, but about the journey too.

“The great thing about the ball drop isn’t the ball itself – from what I understand, the visual end is pretty lame. I get excited by the countdown. 10,9,8… Everyone screaming the number at the top of their lungs, eager to bring in the New Year, channeling all of that enthusiasm into counting. They truly believe this year will change their lives for the better.”

*This book review is part of an official book tour with Novel Publicity.

Blog Tour Notes

THE BOOK:  Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t.  When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider. Get your copy today by visiting Amazon.com’s Kindle store or the eBook retailer of your choice. The paperback edition will be available on November 24 (for the author’s birthday).

THE CASH PRIZES:  Guess what? You could win a $100 Amazon gift card as part of this special blog tour. That’s right! Just leave a comment below saying something about the post you just read, and you’ll be entered into the raffle. I could win $100 too! Please help by voting for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll. To cast your vote, visit the official Farsighted blog tour page and scroll all the way to the bottom. Thank you for your help with that.

THE GIVEAWAYS:  Win 1 of 10 autographed copies of Farsighted before its paperback release by entering the giveaway on GoodReads. Perhaps you’d like an autographed postcard from the author; you can request one on her site.

THE AUTHOR:  Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb. Visit www.emlynchand.com for more info. Don’t forget to say “hi” to her sun conure Ducky!

MORE FUN: There’s more fun below. Watch the live action Farsighted book trailer and take the quiz to find out which character is most like you!

I obtained this book through Novel Publicity (Novel Publishing Group, LLC.), for FREE to read and write a review for this Virtual Book Blog Tour.  I was not compensated with any monies whatsoever, just the pure enjoyment of getting to read this great book.  This is in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Twitter You Doing At 4pm Today?

A few weeks ago I featured a guest blogger, Emlyn Chand, that gave some very practical and insightful tips about blog writing. Today I have the pleasure of being Twitterviewed at 4pm EST by this same writer.

Yep, I didn’t really know what that meant either. I’m not overly well versed in today’s technology, but I hold my own most days. The easiest way for me to grasp the concept of Twitter was to equate it to texting, only anybody who wants to read it can participate. Public texting. Emlyn has come up with a unique way to help introduce writers to their public through Twitter.

It will be sort of like a game of Truth or Dare, only without the Dare. She’ll be asking me a series of 20 questions, fifteen of which will come from her, but the last 5 will be from the “audience”. Here’s your chance – you know there’s a question you’ve been dying to ask me, some burning desire to know what color my pajamas are today or what I’m making for dinner. Ok, but all joking aside, there really is a method to my blog. I’ll be focusing on my writing and writing process today. You’ll just need a Twitter account and search for our Twitter stream of #emlyn.

I thought it was very appropriate to be Twitterviewed this month considering I will be celebrating my blog’s one year anniversary on February 21st. I have a couple of exciting things up my sleeve over the next few weeks too.  It made me laugh to read my first blog post. Not much has changed in a year. I’m still trying to manage my time and I’m still trying to get out of my own way. But I guess that is sort of how life transpires. We move along every day trying to define ourselves, figure out our details and conclusions. At least by writing it all down, I am reminded that I am more than fragments or incomplete sentences. I am complete…word by word by life tells a story.

Guest Post by Emlyn Chand – 11 Steps to Better Blogging

 

For the full writing how-to series, click on this icon.

Blogging—the convention’s been around long enough that most of us are over how funny this quirky, little verb sounds. I’m sure you already know that a blog is; it’s an online journal in which people write and publish posts about their lives and hobbies and sometimes receive feedback from others. Knowing the definition of “blog” is the easy part—do you know what a blog can do for you as a writer? The answer’s simple: anything you want it to.

It happened for Julie Powell.  She began a blog, which got popular and became a book (and then the 2009 film “Julie & Julia”), and now she’s a career writer—the dream!

I’m definitely not guaranteeing that a big book-movie deal will spring from your blog, but it’s always a remote possibility (an important part of being a writer is holding out for greatness against infinitesimal odds—you have to be your own biggest fan).  At the very least, having a blog will boost your web presence, lead to valuable intra-craft connections, and keep you writing.

I’ve been blogging for AnnArbor.com for about a year and a half now but only recently set up my own private reading-writing blog on WordPress.com.  Through trial and error and a lot of hard work, I’ve been able to get my blog to over 250 hits per day within less than two weeks.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of visibility—especially if you’re an aspiring writer.

Here are 11 steps for getting the most out of your writing blog this year:

  1. Make your blog user-friendly—if your blog is easy to navigate, users are more likely to stick around and check out its offerings.  Tag and categorize your posts with clear and decisive labels.  Set up various subpages to further filter information, especially if your blog covers more than one topic.  It also helps to add in widgets that offer the viewer the option of jumping to posts by category or date.  These organizational steps combined with a bit of artistic flair give your site a more professional, authoritative feeling.
  2. Post regularly—you don’t want to be a sitting duck.  Make your blog interesting, dynamic, and relevant.  Post often, but not so often that you overwhelm your subscribers with update spam.  The biggest challenge for many would-be writers is getting into the habit of writing.  If you make it a point to blog 250 words per day, you’ll soon get into the writing groove.  Once you’re reliably posting that amount, you can increase the word count or designate some of your daily writing time to work on a novel or short story.
  3. Use the advanced spellchecker—this feature is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me as a writer—I’m not exaggerating! The WordPress.com advanced spelling and grammar checker is a God-sent.  Even though Microsoft Word’s standard spellchecker is a good thing to have, aren’t you sometimes frustrated when it doesn’t pick up a usage mistake (like “their,” “they’re” or “there”) just because the word is technically spelled correctly?  WordPress’s spellchecker can pick up on this type of usage error.  You can also customize its options to check for biased language, clichés, complex phrases, diacritical marks, double negatives, hidden verbs, jargon, passive voice, and redundant phrases.
  4. Pay attention to your site stats—Wordpress keeps track of a number of usage statistics, including your page views, top posts and pages, referrers (sites that led viewers to your blog via link), incoming links (other blogs or websites that permalink to your blog), clicks (links that viewers click on within your blog) and search engine terms. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the hit counter, watching it go up and up, and feeling giddy each time that it does.  However, the most useful stat is actually the list of top posts and pages.  It shows you which pieces of your site viewers are connecting with the most—pay attention and try to write more posts along those same lines.
  5. Engage your readership—if someone posts a comment on your blog, post one back.  Provide your viewers with advice, answers to their questions, and a sense of community.  Ask them what kind of content they would like to see on the site and listen to their answers.
  6. Add your site to blog search engines—blog search engines categorize blogs by topic and keyword, connecting those who have an interest in your blogging topic with your site and maximizing your visibility.  Some search engines require you to pay for their surfaces, some ask that you post a badge on your blog, and others ask for nothing in return.  If you want to see an example of search engine badges, click here and scroll down.
  7. Establish a fan page on Facebook—this will further increase your visibility and allow less web-savvy users access to your site.  Set up an RSS feed of your blog on your fan page and post regular status updates to intrigue users.  You can also guilt your friends and family into following you.
  8. Tweet, tweet, and tweet some more—I started using Twitter about a week ago.  At first I didn’t understand its benefits, but after reading an entire book which taught me how to mold Twitter into the platform that would best serve me (AKA “Twitter for Dummies”), I see that Twitter is perhaps my most useful networking tool for my work as a writer. Tweet about writing and topics on your blog.  Do a search of keywords and hashtags like #writing, #amwriting, #wip and the like to connect with other writers.  Build a following.  You can also channel your RSS feed to Twitter.
  9. Visit related blogs and post comments—it’s all about building a community of like-minded people.  Engage others who blog about the same topics that you do.  They just might come over and check out your blog.  Maybe you’ll find a new friend in the process.  One writing-publishing blog that I follow obsessively is www.nathanbrandsford.com.  This site has a huge following with well-thought-out posts and an extremely active set of forums.
  10. Post on trendy or seasonal topics—I’m not asking you to completely change the focus of your blog and be a trend chaser.  Instead write posts about how the latest news or the current holiday season relates to your topic of choice.  One example would be the piece I wrote about resolving to read more in 2011.
  11. Create a team of blog contributors—by involving other writers on your blog, you’re doing something that is mutually beneficial for both parties. You’ll gain new content for your blog and maybe get a bit of rest for the day. Now let’s say that your guest writer has no blogging platform of his own—by posting on your site, he’ll reach the audience that frequents your blog, thus gaining some exposure for himself. If your guest writer does have a blog, he’ll reach your readership in addition to his own, plus his followers may hop on over to check out your blog. Win-win.

*Please note: Since I blog with WordPress.com (not .org—know the difference), some of my tips are WordPress-centric. You should still be able to take these tips and adapt them for other blogging platforms without too much difficulty.
That’s it!  As always I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have about this post or writing in general.  Happy blogging!

Emlyn Chand is the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com. She is also an aspiring novelist, busily spinning her paranormal YA yarn, Farsighted, while seeking publication for her multicultural work of literary fiction, The Iron Pillar. You can learn more about Emlyn by visiting her website: www.emlynchand.com.