Friday, June 29, 2012

Will there be time to read on July 4th?

I'm only one and a half books behind on my reading schedule now, unless you count that strange plan to read one book a month just for myself. Maybe I'll read something quickly tomorrow. Meanwhile, grab your coffee mugs if you want some recommendations for books to enjoy during the long weekend.

Aaron Paul Lazar's Essentially Yours is second in his Tall Pines series, set in the Adirondacks, filled with great characters and genuine heart, exciting, intriguing and thoroughly entertaining, it's a perfect read for sitting on your deck before dinner... with a dog, preferably, and maybe a parrot too. I've read several for Aaron Lazar's mysteries now and enjoyed them all, so having one available on my review list is always a treat. Drink some 3-star well-balanced coffee as you follow the tale.

Faces Behind the Stones by Fran Lewis is a set of short stories which tell  their mysteries from the points of view of the dead. The stories are all based on fact, and the mix of serious lessons and curious horror is a little unsettling. Best to drink some 5-star bold dark intense coffee as you read.

Next comes a set of short essays rather than stories. The Uncommon Thread by R. Scott Anderson M.D. is compiled from his columns in the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association, but don't worry--this isn't a learned medical tome. It's laugh-out-loud fun with touches of serious heart-searching, savvy political considerations, squirrels and African lions! Thoroughly enjoyable, and best paired with a 4-star rich and elegant cup of coffee.

My last two books are both the beginnings of young adult series. The Binding, by L. Filloon, takes an American teen across the country on her way to a curious portal which might lead, in book two, to her destiny. Secretly betrothed at birth, the young protagonist tries to learn about love, responsibility and commitment while elvish monsters threaten. Meanwhile her young friend escapes real-world monsters of the real world to stay by her side. It's a slow read, so plan on two or three cups of 1-star mild crisp coffee.

Finally Suffocate by S.R. Johannes is a thoroughly enjoyable novelette, first in the Breathless series. The story's pleasingly complete in a first-episode kind of way. The sci-fi world's well-drawn and quickly portrayed with no long backstory. Characters are convincing and hints of the future are very nicely scattered with no neon warning signs. I'm looking forward to more of this series. Enjoy with a 2-star lively easy-drinking coffee.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time, balance, writing and life

I'm delighted to welcome author Kristy James to my blog today. I have her book Enza on my reading list and am very much looking forward to it. But my reading list is long (all the way to November now!) and my time is in urgent need of balance. Kristy's post gives me a nice reminder that it's okay when other things come first, once or twice, or even always, maybe... as her novel might also reveal.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog Kristy, and now I'll pass it over to you.


If anyone bothers to check publishing dates on Amazon.com, it would appear as though I wrote several books last year. That's where looks can be deceiving. Those were all first drafts (AKA dust collectors) that I wrote over the past six or eight years. And then I discovered self-publishing. At that point I spent months editing and polishing, and finally, put them out there for the entire world to see.

I'm in awe of authors who can crank out novels every two or three months though. How they manage it, I'll never know. It often takes me that long to develop my characters and outline. In fact, I won't even begin writing until all of it seems real to me.

There are a couple of other things that prevent me from being that productive, too. The first is just life in general. My house is not self-cleaning. My laundry doesn't jump into the washer - and then fold and hang itself after it's dry. Meals don't magically appear on my table. And, alas, the dishes would sit in the sink for eternity if I didn't roll up my sleeves and wash them myself.

But there is one thing that takes priority over everything else. The little thing some of us call 'motherhood.'

When the kids were tiny, my writing life was non-existent. There is only so much energy to spare, and it was all spent on the kids. As they got older, I was able reclaim some time to be creative. Yet mothers always have to be prepared to mediate arguments, fix broken toys and deliver the poor little darlings from starvation by providing them with regular snacks...and I was no exception. Moms are always on call.

Trust me, no matter how deep into a scene you might be, when you hear your seven year old gasp (from two rooms away), "Oh no! It's on fire!" it will grab your attention. After jumping up from your desk and running to the kitchen at the speed of light, dousing the aforementioned fire, and explaining very clearly that all cooking will be supervised from this moment on....you tend to lose your train of thought. You also wind up needing a nap because, when your heart eventually stops pounding, you just kind of deflate.

Now they're older still, and even more of my time is my own. But not all of it. They continue to find various reasons to interrupt me. Although my subconscious must be able to weed out the important stuff from the topics that only require a nod of the head...or a distracted, "Okay."

Of course there are moments when it suddenly dawns on me that I just had an entire conversation with my son...and I don't remember a word we said. I must be fairly skilled at it since he walks away satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. Usually I will feel a little guilty, though, and have to go in search of him to find out exactly what we talked about. And sometimes, I admit, there isn't a bit of guilt involved. I just like to assure myself that I didn't give him permission to clean out my wallet. Or toilet paper the neighbor's trees...

Basically I still struggle to find a balance between writing and the mom thing. But even if I never do, that's okay. Because the mom thing will always come first.

Thank you Kristy.

Want to know more about Kristy's new book? Then see below, and don't forget to follow the links at the bottom of the page...
Enza by Kristy K. James

It is a time of innocence and prosperity. The Women's Suffrage Movement gains more attention with each passing day. All across the country housewives and young ladies harbor hope that they might finally win the right to vote. Patriotism is at its peak as the war to end all wars rages an ocean away.

On the homefront, in a small town in Michigan, life is being lived out like the pages of a Mark Twain novel. Until an unseen enemy, deadlier than any human adversary, threatens Mankind's very existence.

Elliot Owens - The only thing in the world that matters to Elliot is his wife and their five children, and he will do everything in his power to protect them.

Daniel Pullman - When his plans to join the Army are dashed following an injury, meeting the love of his life makes the disappointment easier to bear.

Colby Thornton - A devoted minister whose congregation loves him nearly as much as he loves them, Colby struggles with bitterness toward the wife who doesn't love him at all.

Marcus McClelland - One of the local funeral directors, Marcus lives his life avoiding close relationships because if he doesn't care about anyone, it won't hurt when he loses them.

Jonathon Owens - At ten years old all Jonathon dreams of is to be a war hero...by proving that his German neighbor is a spy.

Like wildfire death spreads across the plains, will any of them survive?

Authors Links:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chess Today!

Help! Today's the day I get to help out at the church daycamp and teach some kids to play chess. Please wish me luck! The thought has inspired me to think of another book I'd like to write, but first I'd like some time to write it in--a Bible book of chess where creation leads to the board, with the center like the mountain where Noah landed; pawns are Abraham and Lot's tribespeople fighting over water rights: rooks are born of those battles on the return to the Promised Land where cities, towers and the high ground made it hard for Joshua to prevail; bishops are like the prophets and priests who listened to God and sent out sneak attacks at just the right time; queens are like Deborah; knights represent the time when Israelite learned to use horses; kings can never be put in danger or killed, just like David refusing to kill Saul; and more... Well, I'm working on the more.

Anyway, I'm also working on the reading so here are a few more reviews. I think I need some coffee to keep me going!

Intended for Harm by C.S. Lakin sounds a good place to start, a wonderful modern-day allegory of the story of Jacob and Joseph in the Bible. It's sufficiently different to be completely original, with each Biblical reminder bringing a promise that despair will lead to hope. I really enjoyed it. A long, beautiful read, it demands a complex elegant 4-star coffee.

Hym and Hur by Philip Frey is a short story taking a much more tongue-in-cheek approach to spiritual issues when two curious imps negotiate the possibilities and disasters of a deal with death. A really fun short story, best enjoyed with a 2-star bright easy-drinking coffee.

The Magic Fault by Paul Mohrbacher continues the mildly religious theme with a tale of the theft of the Turin Shroud. Muslim, Lutheran, Catholic and Jew come together, as does faith, violence, magical thinking and big business. It's a fast-action thriller with some intriguingly thoughtful touches, best enjoyed with a 3-star well-balanced full-flavored coffee.

Poseidon's Children by Michael West brings ancient mythology into the present day as a possible shark attack leads to monsters, horror and disaster in a small coastal town. Gripping, intriguing, full of terrors and imagination, this was one I could hardly put down. Best enjoyed with a 5-star bold, dark, intense coffee.

And finally, even Amped by Douglas Richards, could inspire questions of faith--this must have been a good week for preparing to teach chess in church! Amped continues where Wired left off, with scientists trying to balance amplified intelligence with amplified scorn for humanity. At the same time, they're trying to save humanity from disaster, and the darker legions of human greed are trying to steal the secrets of how it's all done. Well-balanced and smoothly told, but pretty intense as well, perhaps you should start with a 3-star full-flavored coffee and keep a 5-star darker brew to hand.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Smashing those words: a guide to help me remember

The first book took two hours. The next one took one and a half. And I've just finished getting the third book ready in one hour. I suspect converting books with pictures might take an awful lot longer, but I have three ebooks available on Smashwords now so I've finally joined the world of Smashwords authors!
 
If you want to review one of them, please let me know--the pictures should be linked to the smashwords page so you can view samples online, and I might even learn how to offer Smashwords coupons sometime. Meanwhile I've copied them to my kindle since my kindle-for-PC has suddenly stopped working. I'm checking through all the contents links, web links, spelling, references, etc..., a minor task that will doubtless take many more hours but I don't want to submit the books for distribution until I'm sure they're right.

Meanwhile I've been putting off catching up on life, the universe and everything. If I wait much longer the universe will explode under the weight of my expanding email folders, so I probably ought to stop writing and converting, just for a while.

Since stopping just might mean forgetting, my memory being what it is, here's my quick cheat sheet for converting Word docs to a suitable Smashwords format.

1. Remove formatting
  • Control A control C to copy everything in the doc.
  • Open notepad and Control V to paste.
  • Control N to create a new word document.
  • Control A control C in notepad to copy everything.
  • Control V in my new word doc to paste.
2. Show formatting and remove tabs and page numbers
  • Click on the backwards P at the top of word to show formatting. All newlines now appear as backwards P in the document.
  • Control F to find all ^t in the doc, replace with nothing. (^t is apparently code for tab.)
  • Remove all page numbers from the contents list and add some newlines as needed to tidy it up.
 4. Define "normal" and other useful styles.
  • Check that the whole document is currently in "normal" style.
  • Click on the arrow under styles to open a style dialog box. Normal should be highlighted.
  • Find the button (bottom of the style box) to modify the format.
  • Text size 11 is okay. Indent paragraphs by 0.3. Single spacing. No spaces before or after paragraphs.
  • Now define heading 1 and heading 2. Both bold. Heading 1 centered. Nothing larger than text size 12. No colors.
  • Another button on the style box lets me add a format. Add centered, based on normal.
5. Edit section titles making them Heading 1. Make chapters titles Header 2.

6. Fix the references and images because notepad doesn't keep pictures or footnotes and endnotes.
  • Center images by changing style to centered then adding them.
  • Move to the next chapter title and check it's the same in the original document
  • Copy the footnotes from the original
  • Paste them in italics and in brackets under the chapter title in the new document.
  • Repeat, making sure of the the formatting and titles as you go.
7. Relink the contents list.
  • I like to do my contents in capitals
  • Select entry, right click, hyperlink and press the "Place in document" button and choose the appropriate heading from the list. Don't change any chapter titles after linking.
8. Add reviews at the front, tidy up the title page (no large fonts!), make sure I've got the copyright and publication dates right. And add the Smashwords blurb about not copying other peoples' work.

9. Add the about me stuff and links to where to find me at the end.

10. Add writing to the cover picture, and make sure it's size is right--1400x1860 pixels. Make sure the small version looks readable (note to self, don't use red backgrounds as writing really doesn't want to show up), then you're ready to go...

Ah well. I hope that will help me with the next conversion, and if you're planning on moving your print book to Smashwords, I hope my notes help you too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing on Createspace and Lulu. Reading on the sofa

I'm considering republishing some of my childrens' Bible stories on Createspace so they'll be available on Amazon. I'm still not sure how it will work, but it's going well so far. The cover creator's not as nice or as flexible as Lulu's, and they won't write on the spine if you've got less than 135 pages, which is a bit of a shame. There's lots of information about distribution that I've not read yet--will I ever get these books in bookstores or libraries? I'm hoping maybe an ISBN will at least help with the local library who refused to even look at them when I started self-publishing with Lulu. Ah well, I'll let you know. (The reason I don't just use Lulu distribution is the higher Lulu print costs plus the wholesale pricing structure would make at least some of them cost too much.)

I do like the interior template on Createspace. It's kind of a bind shifting my text across but the formatting's nice, the choice of font (Garabond for the text and a cleanly different one for headers etc.) is good, and they make it very clear which extras - copyright, dedication etc - should go where. I wish they had docx as well as doc of course, and I miss the easily downloadable final pdfs provided by Lulu. Proofreading on a small screen is a pain.

Of course, it all takes time, which is time away from reading and writing. Still, I have read a few more books this week, so here are a couple of free reads I'm planning to buy and some quick reviews...

Free on Amazon kindle today:
7th Star Press's Cinema of Shadows by Michael West, at http://www.amazon.com/Cinema-of-Shadows-ebook/dp/B005I57L18/--an abandoned cinema, a band of parapsychology students, and terrors that aren't confined to the screen.
And, also from 7th Star Press, Stephen Zimmer's Exodus Gate, at http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Gate-Rising-Dawn-ebook/dp/B001W6QKCI/--first in an epic urban fantasy dystopian series. They both sound good to me.

Meanwhile, here are the books I've read:

I got a copy of Mary Neal's To Heaven and Back from Waterbrook's Blogging for Books program. Written by a well-qualified medical doctor, I couldn't resist finding out how she'd tell her story of returning from the dead. And it's truly a well-written tale with its facts carefully presented and its emotions powerfully human and engaging. With so many return-from-heaven stories out there, I highly recommend this one, to be enjoyed with a well-balanced 3-star cup of coffee.

Kimberley Brock's The River Witch is a lovely literary novel of loss and redemption. The story flows as beautifully as the Georgia river where it's set and resounds to the music of alligators, Baptist singers and memory, as a woman who's lost her child and career meets a child who's lost her mother and found some seeds. There's nothing simple in the landscape or plot, but the characters are achingly, vividly real and the story's beautifully told. Enjoy it with  4-star elegant complex coffee.

Love in Lone Creek, by Mary Manners, is a thoroughly engaging lunch-time read with Lone Creek working its romantic magic on two wounded souls who learn to forgive themselves by tending to others. My review should appear in Nights and Weekends on July 3rd. Enjoy with a light crisp 1-star coffee.

Shadow of Reality by Donna Fletcher Crow delights with shades of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, twining two mysteries into one as a mystery themed vacation proves to hide secrets of its own. The author has a pleasing touch with faith, mystery, history and characters, and the novel's a thoroughly enjoyable curious read, best enjoyed with a 4-star elegant complex cup of coffee.

School of Lies, by Mickey Hoffman, is a mystery set firmly in the real world of an inner-city high school where the special ed department vies for scant resources with a vice principal who doesn't seem to care. When the police are called in to investigate a possible crime, the mix of lies, politics and blackmail has everyone keeping secrets, but young teacher Kendra Desola finds inner strength and solves more than one mystery in the end. A grittily plausible tale with a nice ray of hope, enjoy this one with a 5-star intense cup of coffee.

Finally, to lighten the load, there's the sparklingly different fairytale, Tangi's Teadrops by Liz Grace Davis offers an African Cinderella the chance to save a fairytale world if she can learn the meaning of love. Share this one with your children and enjoy a 2-star easy-drinking coffee as you read.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Reviews that inform and encourage

My second Bible story book has just been reviewed at the Dubious Disciple, and it's a lovely informative review, for me as the author as well as for potential readers. It tells me what's right, what's wrong, how the reviewer views it, and why it's not as good as the first book (also reviewed at the Dubious Disciple). Plus the reviewer gives me ideas how to market the book--WOW! Now I'm feeling really inspired, and eager to start work on the next one--perfect timing I suppose since my novel's out of my hands.

Meanwhile, thinking of marketing ploys, here are two books I "bought" free on Amazon today, so if you like free kindle reads you might like to follow the links:

House Haunting--like house hunting but with ghosts, http://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Estate-Paranormal-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0054N7CTA/

and Tango Trajectory--CIA experience informing the novel of a woman flying "spook" missions and locating a terrorist base, http://www.amazon.com/Tango-Trajectory-ebook/dp/B0087SFBV0

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ethos, Morning Star, and the Importance of Writing Book Reviews

I love YA novels, and paranormal, urban fantasy, action adventure... so I was delighted to add Desiree Finkbeiner's Ethos series to my reading list. Morning Star (book 1) was released on March 28th and already has lots of great reviews. It's even been a bestseller in recent weeks with over 21,000 downloads last month! If only I could dream that kind of readership for my novels... Ah, but dreaming is fun, as are reading and writing too.


Desiree's asked me to review Morning Star, which I most certainly will as soon as I've read it. She's also sent me a wonderful guest post on the importance of writing book reviews, so please read on... then read Morning Star (links below), and then review it. Here's a blurb to entice you.



When a mysterious stranger interrupts Brianna’s mundane routine, her eyes are opened to the dark underbelly of reality… immortal rogues, ancient conspiracies, prophetic revelations, savage tribes, mammoth dragonflies…

She’s thrust into a race for her life when Kalen, a warrior from Ethos, discovers that she is harboring a secret… a secret that he’d give his life to protect.

There’s just one little problem… they are tempted by a forbidden romance, which threatens to compromise a divinely appointed mission. They are faced with a choice… love eternal, or the end of the world…
 
That's certainly a big enough choice to make me eager to read. And now I'll hand this post over to the author, Desiree.


The Importance of Writing Reviews: by Desiree Finkbeiner

So you’ve just read a great book and you’re about to move on to the next title in your kindle library… but wait! Did you really enjoy the book you just read? Then why not write a quick review?

What’s that? You’re not much of a writer, and you don’t think your review would do the book any justice? I couldn’t disagree more! Authors work hard to create the worlds you fall in love with. They sacrifice time, sleep, resources and other activities to bring entertainment to your kindle or library shelf. Why not give them a pat on the back for their efforts? Believe me, it means a lot for writers to hear from their readers.

First, it gives them encouragement to keep writing. Second, your feedback lets them know what they’re doing right, and what they can improve on. There’s nothing more discouraging for a writer than to feel that their work is not appreciated by someone out there. Even if there are already fifty reviews on their Amazon or Goodreads profile, your voice is unique, and they want to hear from *you*.

Not only are your reviews important to the author, but they are important to other readers too. Your review is social proof that the book is worth taking the time to read. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or written like a New York Times review. It could be a simple statement like, “Great read! My favorite part of the book was the first kiss. I can’t wait for the next book in the series. I highly recommend!”

Customer testimonials are the number one way of convincing other consumers to purchase new products. If the author wrote something you liked, then make it your mission to tell the world! You might be saying to yourself, “But there are already a bunch of reviews for this book. What difference can I make? There’s nothing I can say that other reviewers haven’t already said.”

On the contrary, the more voices that laud a product, the better. Seeing those review numbers builds the confidence of other consumers who only have so many dollars to spend, or so much reading time to devote to new books. So your voice, joined with the voices of others, only sing a louder refrain which reaches more ears.

Post your reviews where it counts: Amazon, Goodreads, your personal blog etc And be sure to share the book on your social profiles as well. There are people out there that are hungry for something new to read, so why not be the messenger bearing good news? Recommend books you like to your friends and they will be so glad you did… and so will the author.

No matter how small your network, your voice matters in the grand scheme of things. Even if only one more reader picks up on that book because of your efforts, you’ve done a great service to the author who worked so hard to deliver that work into your hands.

But if you’re interested in writing a more in-depth review, here are a few pointers that might help. There are six main points to a review that will earn you ‘helpful’ votes by other readers. If you’re not familiar with what I mean, take a moment to look at reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. You can see where people can vote or ‘like’ your review. You can even earn ranks on Amazon as star reviewers or ‘vine voice’. That means your reviews were helpful to other readers and they voted you up with points. Not only is that an honor worth bragging about, but you might even start getting free books from authors who want you to review their books! Who wouldn’t love getting FREE books?!

Better yet, why not devote a blog to your book reviews? Then post them to Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari etc. It won’t take long before word gets around that your reviews are honest and helpful, and you’ll get flooded with review requests from authors and publishers… and that means FREE books!

Here are the six components of a good review:

1. First, start by describing why you chose to read the book. Did someone else’s review influence you? Did you see a post about it on a blog, or see a book trailer online? Was it recommended by a friend? This lets the author and/or publisher know where their promotional efforts are working.

2. Describe what hooked you. Was it the hero or the plot? Did a single unique element jump out and grab you? What kept you reading? This helps the author know what they’re doing right, and helps them develop the quirks that reeled you in. You might be inclined to reveal some spoilers here, but that is up to you.

3. Without getting too much into spoilers, try to describe what your favorite aspect(s) of the story was. Could you relate to the characters? Did the plot flow well? How was the world-building? Were there some good surprises, or was it predictable? 

4. Was there anything that bothered you about the book? Was there any repetitive word use, shallow characters, a hole in the plot, a scene that left you hanging? Or was it written to perfection, enough to make you eager for the next installment? This is your chance to give constructive advice to the author on how, in your opinion, the book could have been better. 

5. Sum it up. Is there something you think other readers need to know? Was there a lot of swearing or graphic content? Do you feel it’s your duty to give people a ‘head’s up’? Was the romance a sweet romance or steamy with lots of skin? Think of the summary in terms of movie ratings. Was is PG or Rated R? Why? The summary will help other readers know what to expect so they don’t get half way through the book and find that there is content they’re uncomfortable with.

6. Finally, your recommendation. Who do you think will enjoy the book? Think demographics: age, sex, genre. Why would enjoy this book? 

Now what are you waiting for? Go review that book you just read!

Thanks Desiree, then I would add, go read another one!

LINKS:

ASIN # B007PSUV2W
Publisher: Hydra Publications (March 28, 2012) www.hydrapublications.com
Author website: www.finkartstudio.com
Author facebook fanpage: www.facebook.com/finkartstudio
Action Adventure Fantasy Book Trailer #1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlrpPaNqWBo&feature=relmfu
Paranormal Romance Fantasy Book Trailer #2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wRBiwi7MDA&feature=relmfu