Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: FOREVER OR A LONG, LONG TIME by Caela Carter

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Flora and Julian weren't born. They have no baby pictures, and cannot remember their beginnings. They are Only's - only able to depend on each other as they cycle through an endless parade of foster homes, where Flora's words keep getting stuck in her throat and Julian hides food in his room, always afraid of hunger.

But now there is Person, who promises she will be with them forever. Flora has called too many people Mother; the word has lost all meaning. It feels like this time they might actually have a home, but then change comes again. Person is going to have a baby. A baby that is born, a baby that will be so much easier to love than a fourth grader that can't communicate and her brother that hides chicken fingers in his coat pockets.

Somehow, Person seems to understand, and she wants to help Flora and Julian stitch together what little memories they have of their pasts in order to get back to when they were born. With a scant trail of paperwork, patchy memories, and overworked foster parents, the family goes on a trip to find where Julian and Flora came from, and try to understand who they fell through the cracks of the system.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

This week I came across something awesome and fitting. As I am such a big fan of the inane and trivial I looked up the origin or the word... trivial.

Trivial has its origins in the physical layout of Ancient Rome. Say what? No really. We've learned a lot from the Romans but one thing we didn't take from them is street grids. Ancient Rome was a twisty, turny city. There were many places where three roads converged, dumping all their foot traffic into a convenient location for temples and food carts. And who wants to eat alone? Lollygagging and gossiping became a trademark of these areas, and any news that one overheard there was usually of the non-important sort, thus it was tri (Latin prefix for "three") via (Latin for "way" or "road").

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christina Farley On Creating Swag That Works

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

Today's guest for the SWAG is Christina Farley, who became an author because "write a book," was on her bucket list. She did, and - it was awful. But a very strange thing happened. She realized she liked writing, and after much perseverance her GILDED series was released from Skyscape. Her newest release THE PRINCESS & THE PAGE is a mystical adventure about a pulls-no-punches princess and the power of her magical pen, releasing March 28 from Scholastic.

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

For the swag for THE PRINCESS & THE PAGE, I wanted to portray that whimsical, fairy tale feel as well as highlight on the theme of the power of writing.

First and foremost, I had bookmarks created. The great thing about bookmarks is that they are useful advertisement. After all, aren’t we all always in need of a bookmark? To give the bookmarks their own special bling, I ordered castle charms and attached the charms to the bookmarks with ribbon. I ordered my bookmarks through GotPrint which has great prices. The charms cost around 10 cents apiece.

I also decided to offer a pre-order giveaway as well as a book launch gift for everyone who purchased a copy of my book. The giveaway was a special swag pack that I named the Word Weaver Pack (a term used in the book). This included a poster, the castle charm bookmark, sticker, and of course a pen! I chose a crystal stylus pen, which I felt was versatile and gorgeous. The cost for each pen came out to 38 cents apiece.

An extra bonus for those who pre-ordered my book, I collected a whole basket full of my favorite fairy tale and French themed items. One lucky winner will get the basket which included a Loire Valley castle book, French purse, Eiffel Tower scarf, Eiffel Tower bracelet, Thomas Kincaid fairy tale calendar, Paris notebook, Paris pillow, and a Happily Ever After mug.

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? (or) Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I don’t think that having special swag at a table at an event draws people. But I always give a poster to every person who purchases my book and that has encouraged them to buy the book once they’ve stopped at the table.

When I hold a book launch, I always offer a special gift or prize to those who came to the party. I feel that has been a very effective tool and this has helped draw people to my past events.

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

Bookmarks are a must-have I feel like for an author. They’re not only a great advertisement, but they can be useful. It’s great for kids at school events who can’t afford your book but still want to get your autograph. For other swag items, I would only use them for a specific purpose such as a draw to an event or to order a copy of a book.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

I love the candles designed to match the book. There are some Itsy candle shops that offer this surface, but it’s not cheap!

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

I think if used effectively—definitely. The key is to make sure that the swag is targeted to the book’s buyer and/or the event you are hosting. Also, really consider the costs. Is what you are giving away cost effective? My biggest advice is to have fun with your swag because it can be a fun way to celebrate all the hard work you’ve put into your book.

Brian David Johnson On Storytelling And Knowing What To Cut

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Brian David Johnson is the co-author of MWD: HELL IS COMING HOME, a graphic novel about Liz, a young soldier who returns from Iraq suffering from PTSD, and the two dogs that help her cope; Ender, the military working dog who saved her life, and Brutus, a stray she connects with after her boyfriend nearly hits him with her car.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I don’t believe there was a specific origin point for MWD in terms of an “a-ha” moment.

My co-author Jan Egleson approached me with the idea of writing about a returning female soldier from Iraq, who was also a dog handler. He also felt strongly that she was suffering from PTSD and the dog would be central to her healing. Therefore, her primary struggle was going to be getting her dog back from the army.

Jan is an artist who has explored PTSD several times in his career as a theater/film director and author. In the mid 70’s, he produced and directed a play called “Medal of Honor RAG,” with the Theater Company of Boston, that play was also televised in 1982. In addition, he wrote a book called “Zero,” which focused on his father’s experiences in the Pacific Theater in WWII.  He is also the father of two daughters and has a dog named Max, so the idea flowed from that amalgam of experiences.  

For myself, the idea resonated because I was both a journalist who had covered soldiers returning home from war. In addition, I had a sister-in-law who worked with female veterans and another sister –in-law who works as a dog trainer. For me, the idea appealed on several levels.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

For me, storytelling is a process of answering a series of questions, with the mission of narrowing a broad concept into a narrative that is compelling, logical and plausible. When we had an outline of an idea about a female veteran and her dog, we set about finding out as much as we could about her character. Why was she in the military? What did she experience while she was there? We repeated that step with the other characters that would appear in the book.

Following the character work, we had to construct a dramatic narrative, so we had to take what we knew about our character and decide how and what we would reveal her story in a way that showed the reader, rather than told them about how her experience in war would shape her homecoming. This involved a lot of construction of scenes using whiteboards and notecards, which we would arrange and rearrange accordingly. Note cards are the best way to frame a story because you can visualize the journey of your characters and easily arrange/rearrange. Several programs now allow you to do this digitally but we used note cards.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Every story changes when you try to put it to paper because the mind works much faster than your hands can. I find that it’s best to try and flesh out the scene with very obvious dialogue that expresses what your characters are trying to convey and then re-write it as you go along to get more subtle and add more subtext.

Plot wise, MWD changed dramatically over its many iterations. First, it was a screenplay where our main character was older and had a child. As a result, we delved more into what mothers who come home from war face with their children. In addition, we had a much more complicated plot, that included a mystery, which was slow revealed over the course of several flashbacks.

As we modified the story, the main character became younger, we eliminated the child character and several other characters as well. In addition, we internalized several of the flashback scenes. By that, I mean that as writers we agreed that just because we didn’t place those scenes in the final draft it didn’t mean they didn’t happen. Instead, we would use those experiences to shape the way our character reacts to her surroundings. I think this enabled us to create a much more nuanced picture of PTSD without having to show everything that ever happened to our character.

In some ways, cutting almost 50-75 pages of scenes, characters and dialogue was really freeing as a writer. It also helped create a much more nuanced piece.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I come up with ideas constantly. The good ones tend to stick around my memory for a while and if that happens I will write them down in a notebook, or start a Scrivener file with that idea in it with the intention of one day returning to it. Ideas are not hard to come by, which means the art is in the discipline it takes to flesh out an idea to its fullest extent. Remember, any good book will take a minimum of six months to a year to write so those ideas have to really capture your attention.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Even the great ideas, which I know I want to write one day, require some sort of inspiration to tackle. I have ideas that have been in my head for decades but I just don’t feel like I have the skill or the patience to tackle them at the time, so the story has to choose me as well. Momentum is really important to me. I have to feel like I’m writing downhill or else I’ll get frustrated and stop. Writing for me is mood and discipline. I have to be in the mood to tackle a project and then the discipline to work on it every day until it’s done.

Technically, I will say that programs like Scrivener are really handy because you can easily build the spine of a story with their notecard feature and then store research materials and other things into the story file. I like to take pictures of things and find a lot of historical material to use as reference points so that’s helpful to keep in the same file. Filling the research file also helps you feel like you’re working even if you’re not working on the text. Also, project notes/writing exercises are all really helpful to kick start the process.

Interestingly, the first and final scenes of MWD were buried in a notebook that I had lost and then found when we were writing the final drafts. It was rather amazing to open this notebook and find that I had written these pivotal scenes as a throwaway writing exercise some five years earlier.  The lesson there is, keep your notes.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

I’m not much of an autobiographical writer but I will frequently incorporate my own experiences into my stories. For example, I was at the beach and a young woman starting drowning right in front of me. I swam in and, along with another man, was able to help her until the lifeguards arrived. As I was trying to help her I could feel myself starting to tire really fast and I had to let go of her for a moment to try and not drown myself. When we finally got her rescued I felt very guilty about that one moment where she thought I was abandoning her. That night I wrote into the book I was writing a drowning scene and explored those feelings of guilt.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Walk In The Woods

I've got a lot going on, and that's fine - I like it that way.

But it's 70 degrees in Ohio (in February, mind you) and my laundry is hanging on the line so yesterday it was hard to stay inside and work. Everything I do is tied to the computer. Writing, editing, blogging - and the new podcast I'm starting to go along with this blog - require me to sit inside and stare at a screen.

Sometimes it's not fun. Yesterday was one of those times.

I thought I'd go into the woods. It's not a stress thing, or a cathartic thing, or a break for freedom. It was simply hanging out the laundry and saw the woods and thought I might like to be in it. So I went.

If you look you can see spot awesome things in the woods. And if you don't you're likely to miss a lot. I was taking my time yesterday, standing still even, when I spotted a drop (an antler that a deer has shed). Drops are hard to see, as they blend in so perfectly with the forest floor. I grabbed it to have an entire skull follow, shedding a few years worth of the leaf covering that had been hiding.

So I have a new friend. A dead friend, but a friend. He's in my office now, providing a wonderful focal point for me to zone out on when that's what work calls for.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

A mysterious killer is haunting Chicago, and Blair is sure it’s something supernatural. She should know. She’s has She has) been training to be a Guardian her entire life. While people sleep soundly in their beds, Blair stalks the streets, making sure the monsters are having nightmares about her. Not bad. Fix that little grammar flub and I think the last sentence would be better without -ing verbs. For one thing, if the monsters are awake while others are asleep, they can't be *having* nightmares at the same time as they people they stalk. It's a tense thing, and very picky on my part. Change to... to make sure monsters have nightmares about her. See how that brings more immediacy as well? 

When Blair’s new neighbor, Lexi, is attacked by a vampire, Blair rushes in to save her, only to find she’s is Either she is or she's But more importantly who is immune? Lexi, or the vampire? Needs clarified. Also, why would it matter if Lexi is immune? immune to magic. To protect Lexi from the prying eyes of the Guardian Assembly, Blair is caught in her own lies, pride, and selfishness, causing a mission to go horribly wrong. Leaving her ex-boyfriend dead.  Why does Lexi need protected from the Guardians if she's immune to magic? What does that mean in their world? And what are these lies, pride, and selfish acts from Blair? We had no indication that this was her character until now.

The Assembly steps in and puts Blair on probation. She now has to face her worst nightmare:  being normal. No supernatural creatures. No fighting. No magic.

But the killer is still out there. Is the killer connected to what happened with the mission that went wrong or to the attack on Lexi? Because the killer was your hook, then we lose him / her until here at the end of the query. The Assembly doesn’t know what it is and Blair is unable to help. Then it goes after her friends. It no longer matters what the Assembly does or says. Nothing gets to Blair’s people without going through her first.

GUARDIANS OF THE CITY is an urban fantasy novel complete at 95,000 words. It stands alone but has potential to be the first in a series. GUARDIANS OF THE CITY will appeal to fans of Chloe Neill, Illona Andrews, and Kim Harrison.

Not bad, but we definitely need more cohesiveness in this query, otherwise it makes the book sound like a conglomeration of one-off events that aren't related, and therefore raises questions about plot arc and pacing. 1) Lexi 2) boyfriend 3) killer -- how are these things related? And why does Lexi being immune to magic matter at all? Why would magic be used on her at all, if she's the victim? And if Blair is a prideful, selfish liar, why would she protect Lexi in the first place, or anybody else for that matter?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Talk & GIveaway: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

In a re-imagined historical world where magic matters as much as money, Anna Arden only has one. She is Barren, a member of high society that cannot call magic. Not only that, but whenever Anna is near magic, spells seem to backfire. When she accidentally ruins her older sister's spell at her debutante ball, Anna's family sends her away to her grandmother in Hungary.

There she meets her cousins, as well as Romani Gabor, who believes that Anna does indeed have an ability - that negating magic is in fact, her skill. Unrest is spreading across the country, anger against the Luminate - the reigning magical circle, who keep magic sequestered away from the general population.

Romani knows that not only the wealthy can wield magic - anyone can. But the Luminate has long fought to keep magic out of the hands of anyone they deem unworthy. Anna could be the key to changing that, if she can learn how to use her skill to break the spell that keeps magic from all but the wealthy. But to do so means betraying the world she was born into.


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