Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interview with author, Marilyn Meredith

Today my guest is author, F. M. Meredith. Earlier in the week, I reviewed her mystery novel, An Axe to Grind.

Marilyn has agreed to answer some questions about her writing life.

1. What writing organizations do you belong to?

I think I’m a writing organization junkie. I belong to four chapters of Sisters in Crime (San Joaquin, Central Coast, L.A. and the Internet Chapter.) I’m also a member of Mystery Writers of America, Writers of Kern (chapter of California Writers Club), Epic, and Public Safety Writers Association.

2. What advantages do you see to belonging to these organizations?

There are various reasons depending upon the organization. I have friends in all the Sisters in Crime chapters. I’ve gotten ideas for books from attending my local chapter meetings and I often do events with the Central Coast chapter as well as the L.A. chapter. Mystery Writers of America offers a lot of information that I might not get elsewhere. Writers of Kern has generously had me as a speaker for the group several times. Epic is the international organization for electronically published writers. I’ve been e-pubbed since before anyone knew what that meant. I’ve learned a lot from that group and attended nearly all of their conferences around the country and been a workshop leader.

I’m the conference chair for PSWA and as such have met and become friends with the most interesting people in all areas of law enforcement and other public safety fields.

3. Why do you enjoy writing mysteries?

Mysteries are what I read. I like figuring out a puzzle that I hope others will enjoy following. I also like to write about people and how what happens to them and others affects their lives. Another big reason, is I have some control over the worlds I write about—and none whatsoever in the world I live in.

4. You use different pen names for the different series you write, Why did you choose to do this?

When I began writing the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, I used the male point-of-view so much, I thought men would be more apt to buy the books if you couldn’t tell I was a woman. Then the publisher put my photograph on the back of the book, so it was done for nothing. I’ve continued to use F. M. Meredith for this series because it seemed logical.

5. You have more than one series. What is your technique for keeping the characters organized?

In an Axe to Grind, there is an ensemble of characters. Different characters have bigger parts in each book. The last couple have focused a lot on the romance between Detective Doug Milligan and Vice Officer Stacey Milligan, though the main plot is always about the crime. I have 3 X 5 cards with information about each of the characters, major and minor, for both series.

In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Tempe is always the main character and the story is told through her.

6. What do you do to ensure your settings in the different series don't blend or become confused?

Though both settings are small towns, they are very different. Rocky Bluff is a beach town in Southern California and close to two large big cities, Ventura and Santa Barbara. In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, the setting is a small mountain community and its surroundings, including an Indian reservation. Bear Creek is a much more rural environment than Rocky Bluff.

7. In An Axe to Grind, you have a number of Hispanic characters. What research have you done to be sure of authenticity in these ethnic characters?

I don’t really have to do research for Hispanic characters. I have a son-in-law who is Hispanic and now many grand and great grandchildren with this heritage. I also have a daughter-in-law who is Native American and grand and great grandchildren from this marriage. For several years I worked in day care’s with a majority of Hispanic children, and once I was the only non-Hispanic teacher. I also had a Camp Fire group for ten years with girls of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds.

8. What is your marketing plan for An Axe to Grind?

Besides this blog tour, I’ve already been to one writing conference, spoken to a writer’s group, sold books at a craft fair, and I have two book launches planned, one in my little town in a bakery-deli, and one in the nearest city at a used book store. Also on my calendar is a joint booksigning with other mystery authors on the coast, several craft and book fairs, and another writing conference, and two mystery conventions.

9. What was your process for locating your publisher?

The Rocky Bluff series has had four publishers. When the last publisher decided to close the business, I approached Oak Tree Press with the next in the series, No Sanctuary. I’d met the publisher, Billie Johnson at the Public Safety Writers Association’s conference several times. She read the manuscript and offered me a contract.

10. Where can readers learn more about your work?

On my website, http://fictionforyou.com are all my books along with their first chapters and how to order them.
My blogs http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/ and
Stiletto Gang: http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/

11. Any tips for writers wanting to break into the mystery genre?

First, read the kind of mysteries you’d like to write. Learn as much as possible about the writing craft. There is a wealth of material on the Internet. Read books about writing. Go to writers’ conferences. Join a critique group. Write, write, write. Then polish your manuscript. Have someone go over it who knows something about mysteries and writing. Whether submitting to an agent or publishing house, follow the guidelines exactly. Once you’ve sent off your work, get started on the next book.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review An Axe to Grind

By: F.M. Meredith
Published by: Oak Tree Press
ISBN 978-1-8923343-78-9

This review is based on a review copy provided by Marilyn Meredith in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

An Axe to Grind is another winner by author, F. M. Meredith. Ms. Meredith has been fortunate to have police for neighbors and a son-in-law who is a police officer. With these types of contacts, it's no wonder her mysteries have a ring of truth. She has done her homework and every detail is well researched from the blood spatters on the wall to the condition of someone who is living on the streets.

An Axe to Grind takes place in Rocky Bluff, a small community located along the Pacific Coast. While it's obvious the main characters have been introduced in earlier novels, Ms. Meredith quickly brings the reader up to speed through dialog and action. We are taken on a fast-paced ride as Detectives Doug Milligan and Frank Marshall follow the clues to find out who decapitated Kenneth Buchelo.

As the clever detectives interview the suspects, we find any one of them has motive and all seem to lack a suitable alibi. Kenneth was a stalker who lived in a fantasy world. As such, his victim's family and her fiancé are all prime suspects. Could Rachel's father, a large and easily riled man, be capable of murder? What about her brother, Mike? He has a history of assault. Or, could it be Rachel's fiancé, a possessive man who clearly had a grudge against Kenneth Buchelo.

Then, too, Kenneth's own foster father had words with the strange young man shortly before his death. Oddly, the dad doesn't offer the detectives an alibi, but gets angry when pushed for his whereabouts at the time of the murder.

Underlying the search for the murderer and the weapon are subplots cleverly interwoven into the story. Detective Milligan is engaged to Stacy Wilbur, head of Vice for Rocky Bluff PD. They're having their own problems trying to get married since another officer, Gordon Butler, is living in Doug's house and seems to have no where to go. Ryan Strickland, the Department's Public Relations Officer, also encounters problems at home when his wife's son discloses sexual abuse.

Read An Axe to Grind to see if the detectives find out who killed Kenneth Buchelo before the murderer can strike again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview with Author Kelly Brigham

Today my guest is author, Kelly Brigham. Ms. Brigham wrote Demon Legacy which I reviewed earlier in the week. Kelly has agreed to talk about her writing process today.

1. How long have you been writing, and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve only been writing for a couple of years. I’ve been reading horror since I was about ten years old when I first picked up Edgar Allen Poe. I loved it. I wanted to try writing after reading The Stand by Stephen King for the hundredth time.

2. Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I write part time right now. I organize my writing time around family. Sometimes early in the morning, sometimes late at night. There have been times where I’ve worked all through the night and slept all the next day. When I am in the middle of a book, I become obsessed and will practically live down in the cellar, which is where I write, amid the cobwebs and wet stone walls.

3. What draws you to the horror genre?

I love the horror genre because it sets my imagination on fire, pumps the adrenaline through my veins, and allows me to express the darker side of my nature.
4. As a woman, what do you feel when you write about women being tortured and raped?

In Demon Legacy, when I wrote those scenes, they actually scared me. It was what I pulled from the back of my mind, deep and dark. My worst nightmare.

5. What kind of research did you do before crafting Demon Legacy?

I researched sociopathic behavior very extensively, read psychology books, articles and watched movies that revolved around sociopaths. Lewis was the product of all that research, he is a true sociopath, including his attachment to Monica. I researched pagan religions, ancient Babylon and demon lore. The research on witchcraft was fascinating.

6. What is your process for world building?

My process for world building is probably unusual. I begin world building around the characters. I formulate the character’s bios first, then outline a storyline/ plot and then begin working on the characters more closely. My bios are pretty extensive. I think that is the most important thing. The characters have to be likeable or hate-able. You have to be able to connect with the characters as an author; they are the tools of your expression.

7. How did you determine the rules of magic which you use in Demon Legacy?

I researched paganism, witchcraft, Wicca and many ancient religions. The magic inn the book is a basic mixture of all those ideas. I looked at magic as a gift.

8. Do you write in any other genres besides horror? Which do you prefer and why?

I write some erotic romance under a pseudonym, but not much. I definitely prefer horror, it moves me. Horror fascinates me. Horror movies, books, anything scary. I love it.

9. Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary? Why?

No, at this point I do not have an agent. At this point for me an agent is unnecessary. I don’t feel that I have had enough success to warrant an agent. When I am offered a more complicated contract, I will probably pursue that avenue.

10. What is your marketing strategy for Demon Legacy?

My strategy is pretty in line with what Damnation Books has done. I am on Facebook and MySpace. And I have my own website.

11. How did you find your publisher and how long did it take from acceptance to publication?

Submit, submit, submit. That’s how I found my current publisher. It was several months from acceptance to publication. Don’t forget the editing process, which can be very grueling. It takes time. My advice for anyone looking to get published is to research publishers, be careful you don’t submit to a romance publisher if you are writing horror. Also, each publisher has different guidelines, you gotta pay attention to that

12. Any tips for writers wanting to write horror?

First, make sure you love horror, you will have to go to some very dark places. Don’t be afraid to go to those dark places in your mind where all the horror is crouching, waiting to be written. And do NOT write bloody gore and violence solely for the sake of it. It must be integral to the telling of the story, it can’t BE the story.

Kelly, thank you for being my guest today.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review Demon Legacy

By: Kelly Brigham
Published By: Damnation Books LLC
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-046-0
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-045-3

This review is based on a review copy provided by Damnation Books in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

WARNING: This book contains graphic violence, rape and incest.

Demon Legacy is a horror book and not intended for the faint of heart. Ms. Brigham pits good against evil in this fast-paced, heart-pounding tale. Here is the story of three siblings, Jared, Monica, and Lewis, products of a dysfunctional family. At a young age, Jared is rescued by a kindly witch who raises him away from the trauma of his biological family. His other siblings are not so lucky. We enter the story soon after Jared learns his foster mother is dying.

When Millie, dies she leaves Jared a legacy fraught with evil and mayhem. He inherits not only her home and money, but her sacred trust to contain a malevolent demon, Malice. Malice stalks Jared through his dreams in an attempt to gain freedom from the prison where he has languished for hundreds of years. Jared's nightmares become reality when he wakes bruised and battered from his struggles with Malice in the dream world.

Fortunately, Jared is not alone in his struggle. He is aided by a powerful young witch, Belle, and her talented aunt, Phoebe. Coming also to Jared's aid, is the lawyer who tended to Millie's estate. But what about Jared's siblings? Have they been able to overcome the darkness of their childhood, or are they tainted by evil? This is a story not only of good versus evil, but of siblings, loyalty, and trust.

Follow Jared's trials as he battles the evil that threatens to take over the world. Feel his pain as he learns of those who betray him. Rejoice with him when one he thought was lost is returned to him. Cry as he loses two of those dearest to him in the final battle against Malice.

If paranormal horror intrigues you, pick up a copy of Demon Legacy.

Reviewer's Note: The copy I was given to review contained several printing errors. I spoke with the publisher, and she assured me she would look into the matter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview with author, Sandy Lender

My guest today is author, Sandy Lender. Sandy, thanks for taking the time to visit with me again. I’d like to ask you a few more questions about your writing.

1. What made you decide to become a writer?

Sandy Lender: I don’t think I had any choice in the matter. I became a writer because I always “did” it. One of my bios, which I think is still active on my www.filedby.com/sandylender profile, talks about me writing little stories for my great grandma when I was a little girl. That kind of thing just always pleased me. I couldn’t stop! Even when I was out in the “real world” writing articles for trade magazines, I had to have that fiction outlet. I had to write my fantasy stories and build the world that the Choices trilogy would pop out of.

2. Describe your typical writing day/week.

Sandy Lender: I don’t have typical writing days or weeks any longer, much to my disappointment. My day job is hectic and flurried and involves writing and editing construction-related articles, and traveling quite a bit. My promotional activities for the fiction-writing career involve quite a bit of online activity and more traveling, morphing presentations to fit specific audiences, etc. Writing is something I have to steal time to do these days. Once the day job settles a bit, I think the writing will see a better schedule.

3. Do you ever lose the focus of your story or writer’s block, and how do you overcome them?

Sandy Lender: I have no trouble with writer’s block, but my characters are constantly trying to get me to lose focus. They have a direction they want things to go, and it’s not always viable. It’s not always right. I can sometimes overcome that by letting them have their way while I go on a writing binge and then edit while they “sleep.” I can also push them aside and give other characters and other stories my time. This typically gets fussy characters to settle down and cooperate.

4. How do you keep yourself organized and on task?

Sandy Lender: What?

5. What is your process for keeping track of your characters and world through a trilogy?

Sandy Lender: I have one of those huge, multi-page desk calendars that I bought at OfficeMax. I write in the squares and stick post-it notes to it. Without that “map,” I’d lose track of when the moons are full and waning, etc. It’s got LAYERS of white-out built up on some squares… I also have spiral notebooks of old histories and legends from this world. I have a recipe box of vocabulary words and place names. I have a big map that the award-winning artist Megan Kissinger created for me (printed in the front of each of the books of the trilogy). I also have a couple fans who read for me and freak out if I write something incorrectly.

6. What is the difference between traditional fantasy and romantic fantasy?

Sandy Lender: Romantic fantasy gives me hives. He he he.
Seriously, traditional fantasy focuses more on the plot and the world and the devices and what’s driving the storyline. What’s making the dragons all lose their power…What’s making the suns turn green…What’s bringing such-n-such king into power…Romantic fantasy, to me, tends to focus more on who ends up in bed with the damsel who was in distress over something she probably could have solved without the too-perfectly-muscled hero.

7. What is your marketing plan for this series?

Sandy Lender: Lottery tickets and prayer.

8. What are your plans after you finish the Choices trilogy?

Sandy Lender: I’m letting Nigel Taiman write a sequel and I’m working on a prequel to the trilogy. But I also have a young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel out with an editor right now, a paranormal holiday romance out with another editor, a young adult fantasy that I’m working on…I have a ton of plans to keep driving myself mad with the writing and marketing game. I seem to be addicted to it.

9. Where can people learn more about Sandy Lender?

Sandy Lender: Google the name “Sandy Lender” and see what happens (you need the quote marks because mortgage lenders have figured out how to use my name in their marketing schemes to get “up” in the search engine listings). It’s insane. But I do have a lovely Web site at www.authorsandylender.com that gives some insight into the mind of a fantasy writer. I also encourage people to do a search for “Sandy Lender” at www.amazon.com. I’m on twitter, facebook, goodreads, http://www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com, authorisland, Authors Den, and tons of other sites. It’s marketing insanity.

10. Any words of wisdom for new writers?

Sandy Lender: I always suggest that new writers keep at it. There are plenty of stumbling blocks and brick walls out there (commonly referred to as “literary agents”), but I would hope that the will to write and the desire to have your characters shine before the world will outweigh form rejection letters. I got my contract by doing a face-to-face, in-person pitch with my publisher. He was a real person with real questions and the real power to accept my manuscript. That’s what you want to do. Get your work ready and find the right person who can make your dream happen. Go after it. Don’t let someone stand in your way if it’s something you want.

Thank you for being my guest today. It’s always interesting hearing how other writers tackle the job of creating stories.

Sandy Lender: It’s been a joy, Penny! Thank you for taking the time and sharing your space with me!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review Choices Meant for Gods

Choices Meant for Gods
By: Sandy Lender
ISBN-10: 1-59507-166-0
ISBN-13: 978-159507-166-8
ArcheBooks Publishing Incorporated

This review is based on a review copy provided by Sandy Lender in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

Choices Meant for Gods is the first book of a planned trilogy written by fantasy author, Sandy Lender. Ms. Lender is relatively new on the scene, but has already garnered an impressive following of dedicated fans. She can now count me as one of those fans.

A couple of months ago, I reviewed the second book of the series, Choices Meant for Kings. You may recall I was impressed with both Ms. Lender’s writing and the quality of her world-building. I regret now that I didn’t read the books in order. Choices Meant for Gods does an excellent job of setting the background of the story. Here the main characters, Amanda Chariss Derdriu, Nigel Taiman, Hrazon, and Master Rothahn are introduced to the reader. The land of Onweald is vividly brought to life through the author’s creative talents. Here, too, the reader learns why Drake pursues Chariss, what a geasa’n can do, and what the prophecy holds for Chariss and Nigel. The reader also learns of the growing attraction between Nigel and Chariss, but is left wondering who the young dragon is that visits Chariss in the hours between sunset and daybreak.

Ms. Lender weaves a vivid tale, peopled with characters made all the more real by their short-comings and their human desires. The reader is caught up in the tale from the first page and is compelled to keep turning pages to learn more of Chariss’ battle against Julette, a goddess who has turned to evil and Drake a sorcerer intent on taking over all of Onweald. Will Chariss succeed in her quest? Can a twenty year old woman fulfill her destiny as protector of the active god of Onweald, Master Rothahn? Will Nigel find a way to share his dark past with Chariss without alienating her? You will have to pick up a copy of Choices Meant for Gods to find the answers to these questions and others. You won’t be disappointed if you are a fan of fantasy. I know I wasn’t.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review of Emily at the Zoo and Interview with Monica Holtz

By Monica Holtz
Photos by Shane Opatz
Published by Holtz Creative Enterprises
ISBN: 13:978-0-9817247-5-1
ISBN: 10:0-9817247-5-2

This review is based on a review copy provided by Monica Holtz in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

Emily at the Zoo is a delightful book for children that can grow with them. It contains both a rhyming story for young children and educational facts about zoo animals for older children. The animal facts contained in the book were gathered by the author from a number of resources including the Irvine Park Zoo, National Geographic, and a number of online web sites sponsored by animal organizations.

Monica Holtz based her story on her own granddaughter Emily, a photogenic child who obviously is delighted by her trip to the zoo. The rhyme is easy to read and takes the listener around the zoo, stopping to see the different animals from the monkey behind a fence to a big black bear walking behind thick glass.

The photography in the book is the work of a professional news photographer, Shane Opatz. Mr. Opatz vividly captures the animals with close-ups and shows Emily interacting with several of the tamer species. Children will love both the rhyming story and the full color animal photographs.

Ms. Holtz is donating a portion of the proceeds from her book to the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.


Monica Holtz has agreed to answer some questions about her work.

1. Monica, please tell me how long you've been writing and why you decided to become a writer.

I have been writing since third grade, when an enthusiastic and supportive teacher praised my story about a scary visit to the dentist. Throughout grade school, middle school, and high school, my teachers encouraged me to continue writing, so I did. Because I have a very practical side to me, I chose journalism over creative writing when I attended college. I figured a career in journalism would allow me to pay my bills regularly and provide plenty of writing opportunities. I was right. Writing suits me perfectly because I enjoy expressing myself. I also love to interview people, research topics, and acquire new bits of knowledge.

2. Is Emily at the Zoo your first published work? What other types of writing have you done?

I have written thousands of newspaper articles since 1975, when I landed my first full-time job in journalism at the Leader-Telegram daily newspaper in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Some articles were lengthy, and others were quite short. Over the years, I worked for one weekly and two daily newspapers before moving to a career as a book publishing consultant in 2005 and writing my first children’s book, Emily at the Zoo, in 2009.

3. Why did you choose to write a children's story?

I have always loved children’s books, especially picture books. My favorites are Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books. The colorful illustrations and simple messages in children’s books remind me to slow down and enjoy life. I had thought about writing children’s books for many years, but it wasn’t until my granddaughter was born in 2007 that I began creating rhymes, jotting down ideas, and pondering story lines.

4. Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I am a part-time children’s author, full-time wife and grandmother, and full-time businesswoman. There are never enough hours in a day. I carry pens and small notepads with me everywhere so I can write down ideas or lines of verse as they occur to me, day or night. This usually means I end up with a purse full of notes. I store the notes in a folder, and when I am ready to write a first draft, I sort the pieces and put them together like a puzzle. Then I spend several weeks revising, tweaking, and polishing the story during spare moments. My on-the-go writing style suits my hectic lifestyle.

5. What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?

Emily at the Zoo started as a family project and grew into a community project. I wanted to record my granddaughter’s visit to Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. At first I thought this would only be a nice family memento, but I soon realized it could be much more. Because many people love the zoo, I had an immediate market for a zoo book. My photographer, Shane Opatz, spent a morning following Emily from one animal exhibit to the next, recording her expressions and taking stunning photos of the animals. I sorted through more than 200 photos to select the perfect ones for my book. Next I fit my rhymes to the photos and made sure the story flowed well when read aloud. I researched and collected information on each animal, wrote animal summaries to fit each page, and then designed the layout and color scheme for the book. I did all of the graphic design, as well as the writing and editing, and I hired an experienced, local printing company to create the book I envisioned.

6. Why did you decide to self-publish this book?

I help other people publish books, so I decided I should publish my own book, too. Having total control over the look of the book, as well as the words, was appealing to me. I also wanted to retain the regional Wisconsin flavor of the book, and I was pretty sure I would have a hard time convincing another publisher that this was a good idea. As it turns out, the regional angle is a good selling point. In addition, children outside the region love the book. I received an e-mail from a New York mother who said Emily at the Zoo was her 2-year-old son’s favorite book, surpassing Thomas the Tank Engine.

7. What is your connection to the Irvine Park Zoo and why are you donating a portion of your proceeds to them?

My family has always loved to visit Irvine Park Zoo. It is the closest zoo to my home. More than 20 years ago, I took my two children to Irvine Zoo, and now I have the pleasure of taking my young granddaughter there. The zoo director and the city of Chippewa Falls have done a wonderful job of updating and improving exhibits over the years, thanks to donations from many sources. When I decided to publish my book, the zoo director responded enthusiastically. He provided information about the zoo and helped me set up a photo shoot. I, in turn, am thanking him by donating a portion of my proceeds to the zoo to help with future expansion and maintenance.

8. Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

To learn more about me and Emily at the Zoo, please visit my Web site, http://holtzcreativeenterprises.com; see me on Facebook and LinkedIn.com, or contact me via e-mail at holtzbooks@yahoo.com. Emily at the Zoo can easily be ordered through my Web site.

9. Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children's literature?

Go to your local public library or a bookstore and become familiar with the most popular children’s books. Figure out why they are popular, and apply this research to your own writing. Usually, the most popular books have a spark that sets them apart from the rest. Each writer needs to create his or her own spark.

Monica, thank you for giving me the opportunity to review Emily at the Zoo and talk with you about your writing.

Interview with Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Today, my guest is author, Shane Jiraiya Cummings. Mr. Cummings wrote Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, which I reviewed this week. He has agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

1.How long have you been a writer, and what made you decide to become a writer?

I began writing fiction in a serious manner in 2003. At the time, I was climbing the corporate ladder but I didn't appreciate the view from my rung. Writing had been a lifelong passion, and so I quit my job to tackle my first novel, which I'd been dabbling with for a couple of years, even though I was a complete novice. I also obtained writing and editing qualifications.

2.Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing life?

Right now, I'm a full-time writer and editor (I'm taking time out from the workforce to complete a novel trilogy and some editing projects I've had in the works). My regular routine consists of taking a long walk along the lake near my home first thing in the morning. I then work on my novel for four to five hours. After a break, I spend two hours on editing and another hour dealing with emails. Well, that's the theory, anyway!

3.Please describe your writing process from initial idea to completed story.

I usually envision the ending of a story and build the story around that. In my earliest work, I allowed the muse to take hold and wrote with planning toward that end, and that tended to work pretty well for short stories. However, with my longer work, I write a synopsis and plot out the major arcs, which then helps writing the story. I'm still not much of a planner – certainly with the finer details – but I'm becoming more meticulous as I get older.

4.How did you research details for Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves?

I've experienced a number of bushfires in my lifetime. Once, in the 1990s, my hometown of Sydney was completely ringed by bushfires. From the top of a nearby hill, you had a panoramic view of the entire city. The sky was dark from the smoke and orange from the fire. For days, the city was trapped in an apocalyptic haze. That imagery stayed with me as I was writing Phoenix. Also, my family has a tradition of serving in the volunteer bush fire service, so many of the details were familiar to me. Aside from that, I've always harbored a love of mythology, and so slotting in elements such as monsters and druids was relatively seamless.

5. What is your formula for your rules of magic and how did you determine it?

I'm fascinated by runes and therefore I wanted to incorporate a physical element (drawing runes) into the story. I believe magic in fiction should be more than simply waving a wand and saying a magic word. Magic users should be required to muster willpower and make sacrifices to draw on their power, and this so was a central tenet of the magic in Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves.

6.How did you create the world your characters inhabit?

The novella is set in Western Australia, the state I've lived in for fourteen years. It's a vast, isolated, dry, and empty place, which is why I believed it would be an excellent location for a post-apocalyptic story. Adding an element such as the Fire made the location even more desolate. However, the characters and setting are, in fact, part of a cycle of stories. A novelette in Robert Hood's Daikaiju 2 anthology entitled "Beneath Southern Waves" introduces the concept of giant monsters with Bill (one of the main characters in Phoenix) as that story's protagonist. I've also had a story entitled "Colossus of Roads" published on Ticonderoga Online that features a small colony that survived the Fire in the distant, post-apocalyptic future. However, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves is completely a standalone story. These other stories only enrich peripheral details of the novella.

7.What other types of writing do you do, which genre do you prefer, and why?

I primarily write subtle horror (or what I prefer to term 'dark fiction') – stories that explore the darker emotions of fear and despair. I feel stories should do more than simply entertain, I feel they should evoke an emotional reaction in the reader, which is why I write dark fiction. It elicits the most profound emotional reactions when done correctly. I've written a number of fantasy and science fiction stories, too, and I have a Japanese fantasy novel trilogy in the works. I like these types of stories because they evoke a sense of wonder.

8.What are your thoughts about a writer having an agent?

An agent is essential if an author is seeking to have a novel published by a major publisher. Personally, I have a good understanding of contracts and rights, but I know a good agent will lobby on my behalf for a better deal. Getting an advantageous deal as a first time novelist is a challenge, and without an agent, a first time novelist is negotiating from a position of weakness. Of course, agents are completely unnecessary for small press sales and short stories – and besides, the agents' margins are so low, I don't see why they'd bother.

9.What was your process for getting published with Damnation Books?

A novella is a tricky length to have published. Novels and short stories have well established markets but novellas fall somewhere in the middle. I tried a sympathetic publisher in Australia but the novella just couldn't fit into their schedule. I was reticent to submit Phoenix outside of Australia as it is a very Australian story and I was concerned Americans wouldn't really appreciate in the same way. However, when I saw Damnation Books open up, I thought I might give them a try, and lo and behold, they accepted. Kim and the Damnation crew have been a pleasure to deal with.

10.Where can people learn more about Shane Jiraiya Cummings and your work?

The best place would be my website (www.jiraiya.com.au), where I have plenty of biographical info and quite a few free fiction downloads. I also maintain a page over at the Australian Horror Writers Association (www.australianhorror.com) as I'm the current Vice President. For up-to-date news, I maintain a blog at http://jiraiyanews.blogspot.com.

11.Any tips for new writers?

1.Dedicate time to write every day, even if it's only a modest amount.
2.Spend some time understanding proper grammar and story structure. Very few writers seem to understand that writing requires as much training as other jobs (although the training for writers is largely self-driven). If your sloppy work is published, your mistakes are enshrined for all to see (and ridicule).
3.Read as much as you can – within your genre and outside of it.
4.Perfect your skills by writing short stories and submitting them for publication. Having short stories published and working with magazine and anthology editors is a good litmus test for if you want to publish novels.
5.Have a thick skin (and drink a cup of concrete if you need to). Don't be a haughty princess when it comes to accepting rejection, bad reviews, or editorial changes.

Shane, thank you for being my guest today; it’s been a pleasure having you here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves

By: Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Published by: Damnation Books LLC
Digital ISBN 978-1-61572-055-2
Print ISBN 978-1-61572-054-5

This review is based on a review copy provided by Damnation Books in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

In Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, Shane Jiraiya Cummings has crafted a dark novella teeming with evil and magic. His main character, Damon, hails from a long line of druids. When monsters from abroad threaten to consume his peaceful existence, he creates magic to protect his family from himself and from the powerful druids attempting to stop the monsters.

Mr. Cummings has created a story intense with emotion, action, and imagery. He takes the reader on a journey across a ravaged country turned to ash by a fire elemental out of control. Damon's family is trapped in the form of shadow wolves, and Damon's own soul is lost to him. He believes he is the last human alive and desperately seeks to bring his family back to him. His quest is to reclaim his soul and hopefully restore the family he so desperately misses.

As he travels the ash-covered countryside, Damon's family comes to him in the short hours between dusk and twilight. As the days pass, the line between human and animal grows thinner and Damon is in peril from the ones he loves best. Can he find his soul and the lost magic which will right the wrong? Take the journey Mr. Cummings has prepared, and I know you won't be disappointed. As a long time fantasy reader, I found this page turning novella, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, quite satisfying and recommend it as an enjoyable read.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Long Should Your Children's Book Be?

Are you thinking about writing for children, but you're not sure how long the book should be? Here are some general guidelines to steer you in the right direction.

Picture books for ages one to six are actually broken down even further into books for one to three year olds, three to five and five to seven. In general, however, these books are mostly pictures which carry at least half of the story and supply descriptions and character details. These books should be anywhere from 25 to 1,500 words.

Ages Seven to Ten - these books have more text and fewer pictures with lots of action. These can run from 1,000 to 10,000 words. These are often read to children by adults. Some children, however, will read these themselves so keep the words to the proper age level, but not oversimplified.

Easy to Read books are for ages six to nine and are read by children. The words should be easily recognized. Keep the length from 500 to 2,000 words. Most publishers prefer 1,000 to 1,500 words.

Middle grade readers are aged eight to twelve. At this stage, there are books aimed for girls and those aimed for boys, but mixed characters are always welcomed. Kids this age are interested in everything. Keep these to between 20,000 to 40,000 words.

Teen books are aimed at kids between the ages of twelve to sixteen, but can also be read by kids younger. These stories are longer and more complex and often deal with more serious issues. These stories are 60,000 words and above.

Keep in mind the word lengths listed above are general guidelines. Once you've crafted your story, be sure to check the listed guidelines of the publishers to whom you want to submit your story. They may have very different requirements - follow those guidelines and edit your story accordingly before submitting.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interview with author Robert Appleton

Today, my guest is author, Robert Appleton. Mr. Appleton wrote Godiva in the Firing Line, which I reviewed this week. He has agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

1.How long have you been a writer, and what made you decide to become a writer?

I was always a strong writer in school, but was never encouraged to pursue it. Talent is confined to the classroom; I quickly found, when I left, that motivation and ambition are far more marketable assets. So, being a shy lad, I was stuck in limbo for a while, doing anti-creativity jobs like serving popcorn or ::shudders:: administration. Thank God I woke up! In 2004 I started writing poetry, improved rapidly, and was soon published. That was the catalyst for my return to storytelling, what I should have been doing all along. But I’ve heard that from so many writers—it’s more of a calling than a canny career choice, and it finds you when you need it most. I consider myself lucky to have realized this dream while I’m still (relatively) young.

2.Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing life?

I’m between jobs at the moment, so I’m able to write full-time. But when I’m in a day job, I try to work as few hours as possible. I know from experience how destructive a 9-5 job is on my creativity—I’m dead when I get home. So I don’t mind scraping by financially so long as I can write often and unhindered. The rewards are worth it.

3.Please describe your writing process from initial idea to completed story.

That initial story idea has to be a survivor, because it has a LOT of competition. I come up with a compelling story arc first, then divide it into chapters, using the chapter headings as cues. I then flesh out each chapter until I have an outline a few pages long. At the same time, I agonize over character profiles, backgrounds. Those tools become my road map for the first draft, and it’s surprising how little the end result, even after multiple drafts, varies from the initial outline. Guy Fawkes should have hired me as a plotter. He’d never have been caught.

4.Do you have a military background, and how did you research Godiva in the Firing Line?

I don’t have any military background. The research for Godiva mostly involved conversations with my brother, who’s something of an amateur military historian. We decided that the relationship between soldiers and politicians fundamentally hasn’t changed since man first picked up spears. When it comes to recruitment, the soldier is made to believe he/she is indispensable; once the fighting starts, governments prove time and again just how little they care for their troops. Insufficient equipment, politically motivated rules of engagement, and, worst of all, a criminal lack of regard for veterans. Godiva’s story hopefully sheds a bit of light on that relationship.

5.You seem to easily slip into your female character. Was this easy for you and why?

I always enjoy writing female characters. It feels like exploring new territory after the reams of male-dominated stories I read growing up. And writing women in what are traditionally men’s roles—soldiers, survivalists (my Eleven Hour Fall trilogy), secret agents, etc—is even more fascinating. I have to try to imagine the differences in how a man or a woman might perceive the same dilemma, and then respond in character. It’s not always easy, but it’s always fun.

6.How did you create the world your characters inhabit?

I went for a kind of rough SF allegory of the Iraq War, but only because that’s the most modern scenario. One of the most interesting parts of the story, for me, is Celiba-C, the sexual neutralizing drug that all combat soldiers must take. With it being a mixed gender armed forces, the potential for irrational behavior under duress is deemed too high. The ideal soldier is a robot with human intuition, and in effect that’s what the top brass are trying for here. But Godiva worries about the knock-on effect of her “sex” being removed from the equation; will that affect her friendship with Dash, or even the camaraderie of the squad as a whole? Without that, her corps will be fighting unit without a heart. Maybe it will be better that way. Maybe.

7.That other types of writing do you do, which genre do you prefer, and why?

I’ve tried everything from space opera romance to a WW2 crocodile thriller (based on true events), horror, fantasy, time travel, historical, steampunk. But science fiction is my preferred genre because it addresses my favorite question of all time: “What if?” It’s limitless in scope and imagination. I’ve also written hundreds of poems, mostly metric verse, and many of those have speculative elements.

8.What are your thoughts about a writer having an agent?

I haven’t tried for an agent yet, but for e-publishing, you don’t need one. From what I hear, they’re harder to catch than Bigfoot, and they’re possibly as endangered.

9.What was your process for getting published with Damnation Books?

I knew the owner Kim Richards when she was on the staff at Eternal Press (before she bought it as part of her empire!!!), and was impressed with her work there. So when she announced her new publishing house for dark fiction, I knew it was going to be a class act. I first submitted a short, twisted horror story, Val and Tyne, which she accepted. The editing on that was first rate and the artwork intriguing, so I subbed something a bit longer— Godiva in the Firing Line. Kim really seems to like “different” in a story, because each of mine, and pretty much every title I’ve seen at Damnation, has its own unique flavor you won’t find anywhere else.

10.Where can people learn more about Robert Appleton and your work?

My author website is at http://www.robertappleton.co.uk and my blog is http://robertbappleton.blogspot.com Recently I’ve been busy promoting The Mythmakers, my new space opera romance at Samhain. I wrote a fun blog piece for that over at SFF Insider.

11.Any tips for new writers?

Take small steps for a while. Learn your craft through feedback, revision and practice. Read as much as you can, not just your favorite authors but other aspiring writers as well. See where they’re going wrong and where you can improve. Don’t try to break the rules of craft before you’ve learned them thoroughly. And finally, when you think you’re good enough, and others (who should know) agree, aim high and keep writing. Don’t gamble all your hopes on one project. Waiting is a killer in this game, so always have something to be working on, no matter how small.

Robert, thanks for being my guest today and sharing your road to publication.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blog Chain

Yvonne Perry, owner of Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services http://writersinthesky.com, has put together a blog chain for St. Patrick’s Day March 11 through 17 and this blog is participating in the fun event.

You may be wondering, "What is a Blog Chain?" A blog chain involves about a dozen people who have a blog and want to participate in a fun group activity. Each participant visits the blog of every person on the chain within one week of being sent the list of URLs. When visiting each blog, participants read and comment on one post they find interesting. When you leave a comment on the other eleven blogs you will in turn receive eleven comments on your own blog. And, the search engines smile upon you because this kind of activity increases your blog's popularity and raises its ranks in search engines.


Who's Blogging?

Below is from Yvonne Perry, giving the line up of blogs we'll be visiting. These bloggers will also be stopping by here.

If you'd like to play with us and get in some great reading this week, simply visit each blog and leave a comment along with the URL to your own blog. You may also want to follow these people on Twitter.

Just like her book, Blast Off!, Allison Maslan's blog is about self-empowerment in body mind and spirit. Learn how to make the changes you want in business, career, relationships, and your body when you visit http://www.myblastoff.com/blog. Be sure to follow Allison on Twitter: @AllisonMaslan

After much debate about which of my blogs to feature in this blog chain, I've decided to introduce you to my book, More Than Meets the Eye. Learn about the process of death and dying, find green burial info, consider activity in the afterlife, and talk about spirit communication at http://deathdyingafterlife.blogspot.com/. You'll recognize my constant tweeting as @writersinthesky.

On Writer's Journey is a blog owned by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz. Visit her at http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com/ to read author interviews, book reviews, and all things writing related. She is so generous that she reviewed two of my books and interviewed me twice! Penny is @pennyehrenkranz on Twitter.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a long-time networking friend of mine. She and I have done multiple joint venture projects like this blog chain. She has several blogs, but we have chosen http://warpeacetolerance.blogspot.com/ to honor our soldiers during this blog chain. Carolyn is on Twitter as @frugalbookpromo.

After 15 years of working in the industry as an ASE-certified automobile technician, my son, Robert McCurley, has started his own Nashville business, Wheel Fix It Mobile Vehicle Maintenance and Repair. His rates are much lower than the cost of taking a car to the shop; plus, he comes to your location! Find auto care tips and information about how to contact him for a local repair when you visit his blog at http://wheelfixit.blogspot.com/. Follow @WheelFixItNow on Twitter.

Tisha Morris is a new WITS client and I am thrilled to be helping her promote her new book, 27 Things to FengShui Your Home. Her blog http://www.mindbodyom.com/ has some great tips for declutter your life, home, and workspace. I've been cleaning like a fiend ever since I got hold of her book! She's on Twitter as @mindbodyom.

If you are looking for something to do outdoors or some new place to go for vacation, you'll love Loretta Leda's blog http://www.newoutdooradventures.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @FloridaSpaGirls.

Schall Adams is a new girlfriend and networking partner I found when working on Allison Maslan's Amazon book launch. Schall's blog http://www.mygirlfriendmentors.com/blog is all about women empowering women to live happy, successful, passionate lives! Schall is @SchallAdams on Twitter.

Another WITS client, networker, and dear friend has joined this blog chain. Janet Riehl and I were virtual friends for years before we met in person when she came to Nashville for a recording session with my son-in-law, Scott Kidd. When you visit her blog, http://www.riehlife.com, you may read about the audio book they created! You'll want to follow Janet on Twitter as @Riehlife.

http://bethtrissel.blogspot.com/ Historical and light paranormal romance author. Gardening with a focus on herbs, heirloom plants and old Southern recipes. Please follow Beth Tissel on Twitter: @BethTrissel.

Denise DeMaras is a women's health coach, artist, and writer whose medicine is change. She helps women process emotions, reduce stress, and increase creativity, to make changes or cope with them. She is a board-certified nutrition consultant, Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor, Chapman University Certified Art for Healing Instructor, Columbia University Certified Holistic Health Counselor. I love her fabulous blog at http://blog.denisedemaras.com/ ! Follow Denise on Twitter: @ddemaras.

http://folkheartpressblog.blogspot.com/ is about folklore and family stories, mythology and more. Follow Folkheart Press on Twitter: @Folkheartpress.

http://iwritesome.blogspot.com/ features the musings of Dennis S Martin: poet, playwright and novelist from Baltimore, Maryland. Follow Dennis on Twitter: @dsmartin49.

http://leedesign2.blogspot.com/ Tips on Mac computers and graphic design. Follow Jessica Galbraith on Twitter: @leedesign.

http://nancykellyallen.blogspot.com/ This blog is all about writing tips for writers and teachers of writing. Each week I will address one aspect of writing. Occasionally, I will post tips about no-fee contests and calls for submissions by publishers. Follow Nancy Kelly Allen on Twitter: @NancyKellyAllen.

The book publicist, Scott Lorenz, is president of Westwind Communications, a public republic relations and marketing firm with a special knack for working with authors and entrepreneurs to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Scott is a regular contributor to WITS Newsletter.  http://thebookpublicist.blogspot.com/. Follow Scott on Twitter: @aBookPublicist.

Tom Vancel is a retired pharmacist and now does dentistry in third-world countries to help less-fortunate children. Read his blog about his adventures at http://tomvancel.blogspot.com/ .

Long-time WITS client Linda Ballou is about to introduce another book. Find out more about her first book, Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawaii-Her Epic Journey, when you visit her blog: http://wwwlindaballouauthor.blogspot.com/. Follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaBallou.

Happy networking, everyone.

Yvonne Perry,
Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review Godiva in the Firing Line

By: Robert Appleton
Published by: Damnation Books, LLC
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-043-9
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-042-2

This review is based on a review copy provided by Damnation Books in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

Godiva in the Firing Line is an interesting mix of science fiction, soft romance, and hard-core war. Mr. Appleton brings his characters to life with all their flaws and their romantic ideals. He cleverly crafts an alien world where humans are pitted against giant monsters. This is a story sure to entertain.

Godiva is the daughter of an influential politician. She grew up knowing the machinations of politics, and when her elite paratrooper unit is shipped off without adequate equipment to guard a mining outpost, she smells the stink of back-room politics. One of Godiva’s team-mates, Dash Collingwood is a sensible young man. He isn’t interested in Godiva because of her beauty or her father’s affluence. He loves her for who she is.

The 57th Airborne is shipped off to Scimitar B and instructed to take Celiba-C on a daily basis. This drug inhibits all sexual desires; a drug which is necessary to keep team members from reacting foolishly in dangerous situations. Godiva is torn. Dash is more than a sexual interest; he is her best friend and confidant. With Celiba-C, she sees their relationship deteriorating and she misses it.

What could possibly happen if Godiva and Dash stop taking Celiba-C? Certainly they could be court-martialed for refusing to obey orders, but wouldn’t it be worth it? Read Godiva in the Firing Line to see what happens to Godiva and Dash on Scimitar B. You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Interview with author Katie Hines

Today, my guest is Katie Hines, author of the young adult novel, Guardian.

Hi Katie, I’m pleased to have you as my guest today and know you have lots to share. Thank you for be willing to answer some questions.

1. How long have you been writing and what made you decide to become a writer?

I’ve been writing on and off ever since I can remember, but most notably since 8th grade. I had some poetry published in an anthology is high school, and kept extensive journals of my early 20s. The desire to share the story of my turbulent 20s led me to writing. An editor kindly pointed out major flaws in my memoir, and I set out to learn the craft of creative writing, and that process led me to my first published book and several newspaper gigs.

2. What is your writing process?

I begin with a lot of thinking. I decide what kind of book I want to write, what the initial premise should be, and what kind of characters I want to write my story. Once I’ve come up with that information, I do a lot of research into pertinent facts, and then finally begin to craft the story. I do know the beginning, and the ending, and have ideas about the middle, but those are not solidified until I actually get to the middle. Once the story is finished, I go back in and layer in more conflict and adventure. To be honest, I go through several drafts before the story is completely finished.

3. Do you do any other types of writing besides writing for children? If so, what do you prefer to write and why?

I do. I write for an online catholic magazine, and have done a fair amount of newspaper writing. I really don’t like to do the newspaper writing, but it helped me a lot in editing my book because newspaper articles have a set word limit, and you have to know how to cut to get within the word limit. I do have a young adult novel I’m working, which I don’t consider as writing for children. It is about the murder of a girl’s sister and the things the family goes through in coping with that tragedy. I also maintain a blog on which I post three times a week.

4. Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I am a full-time stay-at-home person. As such, my day is filled with writing related activities, but not always writing itself. I get a lot of emails every day, many of which require action on my part. I find it difficult to switch from organizational mode to creative mode, so I don’t get as much writing done as I would like. Unlike some writers, I have the ability to spend all day writing, but I actually make sure that I take care of myself as a person and wife and mom, all of which are more important to me than writing. If I don’t do those three things, then I can’t write effectively.

5. How and why did you decide to incorporate the quest for the Holy Grail into your story?

When I was doing research for the Oak Island treasure story, I came across quite a bit of speculation about whose treasure it was that was buried on Oak Island. One group thought was that it was pirate treasure, another group thought it was the work of Mason’s, and actually several books put forth the supposition that it was the missing treasure of the Knights Templar. One of the things the Templars were supposed to have was the Holy Grail, so it kind of evolved and was natural that I included the Grail.

6. What kind of research did you do for this tale?

I did quite a bit, actually. I read about 5-6 books about Oak Island and the treasure shaft, about the Templars, and Perceval and the Fisher King. I read books about the armor of that time, and some about pirates in the area. I also contacted the Nova Scotia tourist society and they sent me brochures and pictures of their lovely country. I searched online for pictures of Nova Scotia, Maine and Oak Island. I contacted people who had been to those places and picked their brains regarding small details, like the weather, about boats, and so forth.

7. Do you have an agent, and do you believe children’s authors should have one?

I do not have an agent. In the present publishing climate, children’s authors can directly contact publishers. Not the major ones, but there are many fine smaller publishing houses that take unagented work. 4RV Publishing is one such traditional publisher, and it has been my pleasure to work with them.

8. How did you find your publisher, and how many publishers did you approach before your manuscript was accepted?

While I was writing “Guardian,” I kept my eye out for publishers who published my kind of story. When I would come across one, I would go to their website and check them out. Then I printed out a page with their information and put it in a file. When I was done with “Guardian” I pulled that file out and chose my top three publishers. The first passed on it, but the next publisher, 4RV Publishing, picked it up.

9. What is your marketing strategy for Guardian?

Today’s marketing strategy for writers requires a strong internet presence. While my book was under contract, I developed a marketing plan. Part of that plan resulted in me creating my own website, creating a blog and posting on both Facebook and Twitter. There are more places you can go online, but any online work has to be manageable on a daily basis. I am going on a virtual blog tour the first ten days of March, and I have also hired a publicist to help with some of the large-scale marketing. I also plan to attend some book festivals and do school visits. I also guest post on other’s blogs and try to get my name, the name of my book, and the name of my publisher “out there” as much as possible.

10. What tips do you have for new authors wanting to break into the children’s market?

Believe in yourself, realize you need a critique group, or at least one honest person to look at your work, edit and then submit, not letting rejections depress you. And, of course, write, write, write.

11. Where can people learn more about Katie Hines and your work?

Folks can visit my blog at http://katiehines.blogspot.com, my webpage at http://www.katiehines.com, order from the publisher at http://4RVPublishingllc.com, through Amazon (enter: Guardian by Katie Hines), or order from their local bookseller.

Thank you Katie for visiting with me today.

Thanks for having me Penny!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review of Guardian


By: Katie Hines
Published by 4RV Publishing
ISBN# 13:978-0-9840708-8-6
ISBN# 10:0-9840708-8-5

This review is based on a review copy provided by author, Katie Hines, in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

Katie Hines draws her audience into the story on the first page of Guardian. The reader knows immediately this tale offers adventure, intrigue and danger. What else could a “tall, broad man carrying a sword” mean? This isn’t a typical sword and sorcery adventure for teens, however, but an urban fantasy.

Guardian takes place in a modern world and incorporates the normal with magic, fantasy, and the quest for the Holy Grail. Drew lost his mother, but before she died, she told him he has a destiny, and he must use a magic journal to find a treasure and fulfill that destiny. As a child, this same magic journal marked him with a magic symbol. It soon becomes clear to Drew, and his friends, Mattie and Javon, the tall man with a sword is somehow part of that destiny.

Shortly after someone breaks into Drew’s house, his father decides to send Drew and his friends to his grandfather’s home for safety. After a harrowing ferry ride to Canada, the youngsters are met by Grandma, Grandpa and Drew’s cousin Zea. Drew quickly determines Zea has changed, but no one will tell him why. Unfortunately, Drew’s pursuers follow him and Drew and his six companions soon find themselves prisoners of people who are the stuff of legend.

Ms. Hines keeps the story moving forward with fast paced action sure to delight any fantasy lover. Obstacles are placed in Drew’s path at every step. Hanging over all is the knowledge that Drew has been marked by the magic journal as a grail guardian candidate. Drew wants nothing to do with this, and he constantly fights his destiny. When he meets a member of the Brotherhood who shares his magic mark, he is relieved someone else can be the new guardian. But is this person from the Brotherhood worthy to be the next guardian?

Ms. Hines has done her homework and deftly weaves in the traditional Arthurian legend of the quest for the Holy Grail, the story of Perceval and the Fisher King, and the tale of the Knights Templar and the Brotherhood. Follow Drew, his family, and his friends as they seek the treasure and follow the clues.

Katie told me she will randomly choose someone who comments during her blog tour to win a free copy of Guardian. Please be sure to leave a way for Katie to contact you should you be the lucky winner.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Review The Bowdancer and Interview with Janie Franz

By: Janie Franz
Published by: Breathless Press
ISBN: 978-1-926771-20-5

This review is based on a review copy provided by Janie Franz in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

In The Bowdancer, Janie Franz has created a believable story with full-fleshed characters brought to life through the magic of her imagination. Jan-nell is the Bowdancer, a woman whose life is dedicated to her people. From a small child she was raised to pass on the lore of her people to their children. It’s her job to call the children to lessons, to heal injuries, and to sing newly weds into their life together. She dances the sacred dances and dedicates her life to the One.

While Jan-nell hopes someday to be a wife and a mother, she cannot forsake her duty until a new bowdancer is born. Years come and go, yet Jan-nell still seeks her replacement. Jan-nell is different from the other villagers. She is curious about life. She uses her mind to think, to heal, and to teach. Did she choose the life of the bowdancer because it was her destiny or because no other choices were available to one such as her? Different in size and stature, she purposely chooses to set herself apart both in looks and her abode.

What will become of her when a stranger enters their village? Will long buried needs and desires take hold, or will her duty keep her moving forward on her chosen path? If you enjoy a tale which blends romance and duty, read Janie Franz’ The Bowdancer. You won’t be disappointed.

My guest today is author, Janie Franz. Janie has agreed to answer some questions about her writing life.

1.How long have you been writing and what made you decide to become a writer?

I have been writing stories since I was in grade school. I have a couple of those I saved. I also drifted into fan fiction and romance as a teenager, some of those stories were never fully fleshed out. I took a creative writing course as a junior in high school and was encouraged to get something published. Only, my first paid published piece was an essay. Perhaps that was foreshadowing what my later adult life would be.

I had dreams of being a published fiction writer, but never actively pursued it until college, which I started as night school courses when I was in my twenties and declared a creative writing major. Even then, I took all of the required literature and composition courses but never did any creative writing. I wrote as a young woman and finished my first short novel when I was carrying my first child. I continued off and on for many years, completing more short stories and novel-length works. Twenty-something years later, I finished my degree, but it was in Anthropology with a concentration in English, and soon after I established a successful career as a freelance journalist.

I think that I wrote because I could. My parents didn’t have very much education so I knew that what I wrote would probably be private. And, my mother was diligent about not prying into our stuff when she cleaned. I think that writing then was part creative exercise and a way to write down my daydreams or work through adolescent angst. Today, I write fiction because it completes me in ways that non-fiction doesn’t.

Journalism, for me, has been writing about someone else, usually promoting someone’s work or their unique story. Fiction, on the other hand, allows me to write my stories with characters of my own creation, some who are part of me and some who are parts of people I’ve known or would like to know. The stories deal with issues I am discovering are deeply personal to me, themes of not fitting in and the desire to belong, themes that play with gender, women’s roles, and concepts of family. And, of course, the arts and spirituality are ever present no matter what worlds I am creating.

2.What types of writing do you enjoy most and why?

As I explained, fiction is really my obsession lately. The Bowdancer launched a whole fantasy romance series—that I think is more fantasy adventure than romance, though the books deal with relationships. I’m enjoying the characters I have created and how they are discovering more about themselves through their experiences.

I also write in other genres —- horror, time-travel futuristic romance, contemporary adventure, etc. They all deal with relationships of some kind.

3.If you do different types of writing, which do you find most successful and why?

Certainly, I have a steady income with journalism, writing about a wide variety of topics from music to art to pavement contracting. I’ve also written about beauty, health, medical issues, landscaping, food, wine and spirits, travel, weddings, and relaxation. Trade publications writing has been the most successful. I tell people that copper and asphalt have been good to me!

For fiction, it is really too early to tell how successful it is. I am been selling books. In addition I am finding that The Bowdancer Saga is garnering a lot of interest, and readers are asking for more. I’m currently waiting on official word from my publisher for the second book in the series, The Wayfarer’s Road. What is curious is most romance is being read by a young female audience, while most of the interest I’ve seen in The Bowdancer Saga is coming from women over 40 and young men! For some reason the strong women character and the mention of music that is interwoven in the books has some appeal.

4.Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How do you organize your writing time?

I’m a full-time freelance journalist, but the novel writing is encompassing that. Right now, I’d call myself a full-time (maybe overworked) writer who is juggling two writing careers. I try to handle interviews, transcriptions, research, and other computer tasks on the journalism side during the day —- that recently has included marketing and networking about The Bowdancer Saga. I try to write fiction in the evening and into the wee hours of the morning. I feel the pull of my characters so strongly during the day even when I’m writing other things. Then when I open up my laptop and dive into the story I’m working on, I’m home and the hours fly by.

5.How do you find ideas for your stories?

That’s a good question. Jan-nell, the bowdancer, came to me in a meditation. Other story ideas just popped into my head. Often, it’s the characters who appear first. Then I try to figure out who they are and what their conflict is. Sometimes, they come from something I’ve experienced. For example, I got a horror story idea from a neighbor who was always knocking on my door. Ideas come from anywhere.

6.What is your writing process?

I don’t spend a lot of time filling out character sheets and world building charts. If I did that the story would never be written. I will usually have a general idea what the story is about and jot down a short outline that is located at the end of the story I’m working on. As I write and new ideas occur to me, I add them to the outline and it expands, often adding more chapter numbers to the list in appropriate spots. I also jot down research points I want to add. This just gives me a guide.
And I try not to write out of sequence. I find that writing the book in sequence builds momentum and pace like a live stage play. When I was writing the third book, Warrior Women, one scene in my head was driving it. It was a pivotal scene —- or I thought at the time. I forced myself NOT to write it. When the scene finally came up to write, it was a totally different animal because of what had had preceded it.

I broke that rule in the fourth book, The Lost Song, because the book is much larger. What happened was the writing of those scenes then colored the behaviors of the characters and kept me pointed toward those two scenes I wrote.

I write it through once, read and edit, and then give it to my husband to read. He finds typos I missed and tells me when he doesn’t understand something. I’ll make changes that I deem necessary and then we format it and send it off.

7.What comes first your character or your plot?

Characters usually come first. In fact, I am finding now that some of them have stronger personalities than others and they will shout to be heard. Plotting is harder for me than most writers, I think. I write from a very lose outline that is embedded in the work and often add notes as I work through dilemmas.

8.How did The Bowdancer come into being?
I first discovered Jan-nell, the bowdancer, in a meditation. I saw her shooting a flaming arrow across the night sky. As sometimes happens in active meditation, you can ask questions and I did. The story just unfolded from her about who she was and what her conflict was.

As I wrote the next books after The Bowdancer was published, I realized that the whole Bowdancer Saga plays with gender, roles, concepts of family, as well as spirituality, the arts, and culture. So, it isn’t your typical romance book.

9.Why did you choose to publish The Bowdancer as an eBook rather than submitting to a magazine?

That’s interesting. I had tried to sell the story as a novelette (it was just under the novella word count) when it was first written several years ago. I never could find a good fit for it. Then as the publishing industry began to reduce the pages of their magazines, there was no place for such a long story. When Breathless Press picked it up, a few minor editing tweaks tipped it into novella size. It is still small. But the other books in the series are near novel size and the fourth one, The Last Song, looks like it will be a good sized novel.

10.How did you find your publisher?

I like to think that an act of kindness got me published. I sent in a pitch to the Muse Online Writers Conference last October because I wanted to help Lea Schizas, who founded the conference and runs it. She needed more appropriate pitches for the slots she had set up with publishers. I didn’t have anything novel length so I looked at the publishers’ guidelines again and found that some took shorter works. I sent in two and got a slot for each of my pitches.

The first pitch asked for a rewrite and to resubmit. I did that, and it is still pending at the moment. The second, Breathless Press, asked me to send my work to them. They liked it and sent me a contract. I’m just thrilled that they like my work.

11.What is your marketing strategy for The Bowdancer?

I plan to use as many digital resources as I can. I have been working with a friend of a friend who has helped me coordinate the two-week tour I’m currently on. We have reviews, interviews (including this one), articles, and even a live radio show scheduled. And, we are tweeting and posting to other social sites. Also I have drafted a mailing list where I send fellow writers, friends, and relatives news about the Bowdancer Saga. And, I actively participate in it all.

Before the current intensive tour, I was a guest on on Barbara Ehrentreu’s blog Barbara’s Meanderings (http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com). I will be on her live radio show in June, Red River Writers Live, Tales from the Pages. (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/robinfalls) I have another interview scheduled with Jozette Aaron (Jozette’s Desk http://jozette.webs.com) and Katie Hines’ blog, Walking on Water, http://katiehines.blogspot.com, both in May. And I have a few more pending. When the next book comes out, we’ll schedule more dates.

There is a lot of work in arranging these tours, but it is usually done before the tour begins, and I can enjoy those who stop by the websites and comment. I think that alone puts virtual touring on an equal footing with face-to-face touring.
I am also working with a young singer/songwriter in Minneapolis and a local computer wizard who is very experienced in visual media. We are trying to get out a book trailer for later in the spring for The Bowdancer and the launch of the Bowdancer Saga. When the next book comes out, we hope to have another one ready. And my husband, who also is a singer/songwriter is working on a song cycle for the Bowdancer Saga, and he may be collaborating with the young man in Minnesota. Eventually, we will be offering a couple of additional downloadable companion books that will be related to the books in the series. But those will be offered as incentives for buying the book. We’ll tell you more about that when the second book is released.

12.I understand The Bowdancer is now a “bestseller” for Breathless Press. How did that come about?

I set up my first interview as a published author this month on Barbara Ehrentreu’s blog, Barbara’s Meanderings (http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com). To announce that first interview, I drafted a mailing list and sent out a mass email to writer friends, other friends, and family. The response was amazing. After the first day or two the interview was up, we still kept getting comments. That’s when I went to my publisher’s website to check out reviews posted there, and I saw the list of Top Five Best Sellers. Mine was fourth on the list. Last week it was up to third but has returned to fourth. I’m just happy that my publisher is seeing the result of all of this hard work!

13.Do you find it more difficult to market an eBook or a traditional print book and why?

Actually, it’s been a lot easier to market my ebook than it’s been to market my two print wedding how-to’s (The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Book and the Ultimate Wedding Reception Book) that have been out there for awhile. One of the reasons for that, to be honest, is that those books fall into a very narrow niche. But my co-author and I have saturated the internet with reviews and posts at just about every book selling site out there. And the books are on Amazon.

But in the case of The Bowdancer, I have found that though some people still want to hold a printed book in their hands, many people are buying ebooks for the new ebook readers out there. I know I was that way even though I reviewed a lot of ebooks that I had to print out on my computer. When I got my Sony Reader, it made my life so much easier, not to mention my suitcase lighter when I traveled!

The Bowdancer
also is not available in a Kindle version —- and I am happy that it’s not. The books that Breathless Press offer cost less than Amazon’s, but the quality is still first rate (and they are a great bunch of folks to work with). By buying directly from the publisher (or some online retailers that my publisher works with) authors retain a larger piece of the revenue pie.

Marketing for any book is hard work. With the popularity of virtual book tours, though, we can actually reach far more readers than the handful who might come to a booksigning. It’s been reported that even hot authors may only sell a few hundred books doing a traditional book tour at brick-and-mortar bookstores, while they can sell thousands with a virtual tour. And, ebook sales have risen from $2 million nationally in 2002 to an expected $100 million for this year.

I’m very content having an ebook for my debut.

14.Do you have any tips for new writers wanting to be published?

First, read everything you can. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in your genre or not. You can learn from writers who tell good stories. After awhile, you’ll be saying: “I can do this as well as this.”

Next, write often, daily if possible. Though you might be doing other types of writing as I have done for the past ten years with freelance journalism, you will be honing skills. When you apply those skills to the story you have in mind, it will be a lot easier to write. You won’ be afraid of the blank page, and the search for words won’t be so hard.

Finally, submit your work. Don’t be afraid of rejection, especially if you have submitted your work properly. Most of the time that rejection occurs, it may not be because you are a bad writer or have a bad story. It’s because it just doesn’t seem to fit what the editor is looking for. Different editors have different tastes. And sometimes they reject something that they regret years later. An editor friend of mine still is kicking himself for rejecting “Buying My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

15. Where can people find out more about Janie Franz and your work?

You can read all about the Bowdancer Saga at my website: http//:thebowdancersaga.wordpress.com

Janie, thanks for being my guest today and sharing such great information about your writing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Catholic Writers Conference Online

This week, I've had the pleasure of "attending" the Catholic Writers Conference Online. While I was raised Catholic, I am not a practicing Catholic. This doesn't mean I can't gain some useful information from this conference. In their promotional materials, The Catholic Writers Guild specifies you don't need to be Catholic to attend. While there is some preference given to Catholic writers, such as first choice for certain pitch sessions, there is something for everyone here at this free conference.

Many of the presenters here also present at the Muse Online Conference in the fall. While the CWCO is a much smaller conference, it has the potential to grow. For those of the Catholic faith, there are morning prayer chats and chats relating to how faith connects with one's writing. There are many more chats dedicated to the general population with chats about query letters, Twitter, blogging, newspaper writing, writing historical fiction, and finding a literary agent. The chats are run on EST and go from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily for a week.

In addition to the chats, there are a number of workshops available 24 hours a day where attendees can post homework assignments, chat with the presenters and ask questions of the presenters. Several editors and agents agreed to do critiques for a limited number of attendees based on first to apply for the privilege.

I found out about this conference from a post on a writing forum to which I belong. I checked out the website and decided it was an opportunity worth taking. Keeping oneself educated and being open to new experiences is important to writers. If this information comes at low or no-cost, all the better in this tight economy. Of course, the presenters ask for a donation to help defray costs, but in return people who do give money are sent a PDF of the chats and forum handouts.

If this sounds like something you might find worthwhile, check out the website and bookmark it for next spring. You can find information at http://www.catholicwritersconference.com/