Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Makes a Hero?

Superheroes have super-powers. Magical heroes have mystical skills. Human heroes stand tall in the face of impossible odds. Canine and feline heroes tackle mysteries and monsters. Life coaching heroes coach great lives. Famous authors pen novels that change lives. And readers read.

I'm not sure what would constitute a heroic reader, but I'm wondering, after reading books with titles like "Heroes of the Earth," "Bloodline," and "Magician's Workshop," just what makes a hero.

Masters of magic in the Magician's Workshop create gloriously entertaining productions... like a mystical Disney perhaps--there's surely more, and many heroes in the coming-of-age celebrations that haunt young lives). I can't wait to read more...

Then the cat in "Bloodline" proves to be a hero out to save the girl. When Heroes of the Earth introduces a great cat too, I have to ask, are cats just natural heroes? But I'm not a cat. And I want to be a hero too.

I've no desire to leap tall buildings, though I dreamed of leaping them when I was small. I dreamed, and decided a long boring life would give me time to live lots of exciting lives through stories and books. And I do. I read a lot (to wit, these reviews). But I also want to write so readers will believe tall buildings and walls are no obstacle, cats and monsters no threat, and real life is well worth living. I want to pen novels that change real lives for the better. Sadly, I suspect, to be a hero, I'd have to have them published and read as well, a task I feel I have no control over. Ah well.

Are you a hero?
What makes a hero for you?

And what kind of coffee will you brew when you read these reviews?

Starting with Heroes of Earth by Martin Berman-Gorvine, a cool novel for middle grade and up, with alternate histories, a mystical cat, and plenty of thought-provoking real-world facts. It's good old-fashioned science fiction in the very best sense of the word--fiction that makes the reader think, fantasy that brings the real world into focus, and science that's believable if slightly beyond the scope of modern knowledge. Add history, bullying, racial profiling and more--it's food for thought and entertainment at its best. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Magician’s Workshop Volume 1 by Christopher Hansen and JR. Fehr, closely followed by Volume 2, breaks the mold of teen dystopian coming-of-age novels, combining the breadth and world-building of Harry Potter with the trials of Divergent. I can't wait to read more of these teens as they learn their powers, break their rules, and maybe end the power structure born of color. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

Bloodline: A Witch Cat Mystery Book One by Vicki Vass is aimed at older readers and builds an intricate world on top of our own, blending Appalachian herbs, Eastern crystals, ancient goddesses and more into a new mythology of witches, covens and familiars. The protagonist has a uniquely intriguing point of view, and the blend of Salem's past with almost cozy modern mystery is clever and cool. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Then there are human heroes. Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves' Blue Lightning, last of the Shetland Quartet, is surely a hero in his beloved's eyes, and in the eyes of those relying on him to find a murderer. His father might once have been a hero in his eyes too. But human heroes fail as this conclusion to the quartet proves so powerfully. Dark, haunting mystery and location, characters and relationships, and more, it's a book to enjoy with another dark five-star coffee.

Deadly Legacy by Daniella Bernett takes the reader to London's coolly civilized streets rather than Scotland's wilds, and offers a mysterious hero courting his heroine through a web of intrigue. It reminds me of a much-loved TV series of my youth--The Saint. An apt reminder on the death of Roger Moore I guess. Enjoy this smooth scary mystery with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Thinking of TV series, The State of Wyoming Episode 1 by Gillian Will is the first episode of an episodic novel that  succeeds in having a storyline per half-hour read. I'm not sure the hero is terribly heroic, but the situations have cool political satire--the Office crossed with West Wing perhaps. Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Finally, Good Enough by Pamela Gossiaux offers a flawed heroine who learns to believe and to teach that we really are good enough, warts, mistakes and all. It's a pleasantly uplifting book, filled with coincidences that are easily excused. Romantic comedy and life lessons all in one! Enjoy with some more easy-drinking two-star coffee.

I think my favorite heroes from these are the magic-weavers of the Magician's Workshop. And my dream is still to be a heroic writer, making heroes of my own. What about you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Will I Ever Release "Faith And..."? Will I ever finish writing it?

I'm working on a non-fiction book--"Faith And..." where I look at how God's relationship to mankind is so much than "faith alone" or "scripture alone." I've been working on it for years, off and on, and just maybe this will the year I let it out the door. Or not. It depends on time and timing--time to write, and the right time to release. Who knows, I may even brave the agent's path--I do so long to have an agent. So I follow authors, read their roads, and dream their victories. Meanwhile I read.

Recently I've enjoyed some intriguing non-fiction books---some that puzzled, some confused, and some even annoyed; but yes, they all intrigued me. I apologize to anyone still awaiting reviews from me, and I promise I'll catch up, some day... (Maybe I'll even have a desk of my own in a space of my own to catch up in, when we finally restore our basement.) But for now, here are reviews of books about success, writing, faith in self and in spirituality, and even getting the kid to bed! Enjoy.

But first, put the water on to brew some coffee.

I'm usually annoyed by Bible Code type books--as far as I'm concerned God guided people to write His words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, not in code. But The Chamberlain Key by Timothy P Smith claims to disagree with the Bible Code, so I thought I'd give it a try. It turned out not to disagree as strongly as I'd have liked, and it reads like a cross between memoir and a spiritual journal, liberally spiced with persuasive argument, unpersuasive math, and many dreams and visions. For myself, I ended up believing that the author believed his tale, but unconvinced by any of his conclusions. Still, if you like the Bible Code I'm pretty sure you'll love this book too. Enjoy with some seriously intense five-star coffee.

Spirit of the Earth, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and Joseph A Fitzgerald, offers a gorgeous blend of full-color photography and Indian Voices on Nature. With text and images beautifully paired, showing wilderness, nature, animals and birds, and classical Indian poses, the book reads like a cross between and song and a prayer, which, perhaps, is exactly how it is meant to be read. "We who are clay, blended by the Master Potter," should all find inspiration in the world's beauty and the peoples' wisdom, whatever our religious persuasion. Enjoy this one with some elegant, richly brewed four-star coffee and keep it on your coffee table.

With even more pictures and fewer words, Uvi Poznansky's The Last Concubine continues her David Chronicles Inspired By Art series - an accompaniment to a wonderful collection of novels that portray the life of King David. The story has inspired art through the centuries, and the art in this collection, as in the others, is both intriguing and inspiring--a really enjoyable visual treat. Pour some elegant four-star coffee and browse some familiar and unfamiliar artists inspired by David.

Goodnight, Jeremy by Stacy White is a more traditional picture book, designed to be read with small children. Technically it's fiction rather than non-fiction, but it feels like real life and it fits in this collection with its very realistic depiction of a small child struggling to fall asleep--and of that minor guilt evoked by failing to do as his mother has asked. It's a sweet tale redolent with everyday life and illustrated in pleasing pastel shades. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Filled with a very different sort of pictures is Puzzle Box Volume 1 by Peter and Serhiy Grabarchuk - a perfect coffee table collection of brightly colored, inviting puzzles of all types and levels, beautifully collected for family fun. A social treasure to be enjoyed with some lively two-star coffee and good company.

The Six Month Novel Writing Plan by Caitlin Jans is more about words than pictures, and offers nice advice on how to start, keep going, and stick to a timetable. Novels go through multiple drafts, but completed novels don't go through infinite numbers of revisions - and they do go from start to finish. With advice on plotting, workshopping, critiquing, character and more... it's well organized, easy to navigate, and good on those so-easily-forgotten details, like who should narrate the novel or the scene. Read, drink easy-drinking two-star coffee, and write!

Then, if success seems slow to come, (ah doesn't it so), read Finding Success In Balance, my journey to the cheerful mind by Apryl Zarate Schlueter. It's a memoir (so I'm bookending this collection of reviews on the same page). But it's also a self-help manual, inviting readers to examine their lack of success or cheerfulness and be ready to "start anew." You might want a more serious coffee with this one, but don't go too dark. Enjoy a well-balanced three-star cup with a book that balances advice and memoir quite pleasingly.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Which is harder, self-publishing or cheering up a child who has a broken leg?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Judith Wolf Mandell to my blog. She's had a long career as a journalist/publicist, and the childrens book,  Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It  represents her first venture into picture books.

With her husband and Cockapoo,  Judith Wolf Mandell moved from San Diego eleven years ago to be near family in Nashville--read the book and you'll see how important family is to her. They live in an absurd-for-their-age three-level house in the woods and have a critter control service on speed-dial. This is  Judith Wolf Mandell's first book and I, for one, really enjoyed. Click here for my review of Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

So, find some coffee and maybe a gluten free brownie (yes, I've been baking!) then sit down and learn enjoy the tale of Judith's road to publication. Thank you for joining us, Judith. And over to you:

by Judith Wolf Mandell, author
Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

Nine years to create a thousand-word, 32-page book? No way! Yet that's how long it took.

I was inspired to write the book when my granddaughter had an "oh, no!" fall that fractured her thigh
bone and landed her in a chest-to-ankle (spica) cast for a mostly miserable month. Searching in vain for a book to buoy her spirits, I vowed to someday write a book to cheer glum, grumpy kids in clunky casts. My granddaughter was two when her world turned topsy-turvy; she's eleven now. Ergo, nine years.

The first draft practically wrote itself. My granddaughter's experience was memory-fresh. The whimsical element of the story -- a troupe of kisses who secretly whoosh into the child's life to cheer for her and inspire patience -- came to me as an "aha." If one kiss heals a boo-boo, then a broken leg needs a bazillion kisses.

I've always loved a line from Cyrano de Bergerac: "A kiss is the rosy dot over the 'i' of 'loving.'" The Kisses were from all the people who loved my protagonist and knew in their hearts she was hurting.

What took so long? Life happens, so I was otherwise occupied for some chunks of time. For other chunks the manuscript sat on the shelf because I was stymied about next steps. My best friend had self-published a novel, so I knew about that possibility. But my book needed art. How would I find an artist? Can an illustrated book even go through the same process as a text-only book? Those questions boggled.

Then I heard a sermon about "living your dream." I knew I was meant to go forward. First step was to send the manuscript to friends and family. Most loved it. A few disputed The Kisses as being unrealistic. Oh, c'mon! I banked on Santa, The Tooth Fairy, Peter Pan as beloved improbabilities.  

Next: send the manuscript to professionals for medical clearance. Mission accomplished, with a bonus of endorsements I used on the book's eventual back cover.

While I was taking these steps to make my book a reality, the self-publishing (now known as "independent publishing") world was growing up, becoming a popular route for would-be authors.  At a Community College course on self-publishing, I learned about CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing arm, a low- or no-cost platform: download its template, input your book, upload said book, have a cover designed or DIY, push the "publish" button and voila, you have a POD (print-on-demand) paperback book. Nifty.

Except that pesky issue of illustrations. By now I had given my book a title: Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It. I had a vision for its art: bright, whimsical, insightful. The Internet brought portfolio samples from around the world. None clicked. In my heart of hearts I wanted someone local for what I envisioned as a collaborative effort. Networking rules: through a mutual friend, I found my illustrator, Lise C. Brown, close by. Her quirky style, experience with juvenile art and knowledge of graphic design made her a perfect fit.

While the art was underway, I was on a mission to find a way to produce a hardback version. Envisioning my book in libraries, schools, children's hospitals, doctors' offices, I intuited the need for a durable hardback. A hardback would also be more likely to be stocked by bookstores; time will tell if I'm correct. My search came to an end with my discovery of IngramSpark, producer of deluxe POD hardback and paperback books.

Then Google found me a local graphic designer who specializes in book formatting and is certified to work with IngramSpark's exacting specifications, as well as CreateSpace. Bonus: she had the savvy to make the book available for Kindle and iBook readers. An eBook version is attractive to my target demographic: youngish parents.

My book was technically finished December 7, 2016...but once again, sat on the shelf. I was stubborn about having a Sammy website before publication. Networking rules again: I found my talented, affable web designer locally. Please visit www.sammysbrokenleg.com to appreciate how worthwhile the wait was until we at last "test drove" the website.

On this March 15, I hit the "publish" button at CreateSpace and IngramSpark, making my book -- nine years later -- a reality. Recall that I set out to help kids cope with the challenge of life in a cumbersome cast. Imagine my gratification to read this Amazon review:

                "This book is perfect for our almost two-year-old who is one week into her spica cast     experience. We're already read it dozens of times!"

Wow, what a perfect endorsement for your book! And thank you for sharing this journey. I run a local writers' group where the speaker will discuss publication choices at the next meeting. It will be good to attend armed with my new knowledge of yours, as I've never got up the nerve to go beyond the Amazon Createspace part. Thank you so much!

Find Sammy's Broken Leg Oh No on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Sammys-Broken-Amazing-Cast-Fixed/dp/0997444908/
and on Barnes and Noble here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sammys-brok%E2%80%8Ba%E2%80%8Ben-leg-judith-wolf-mandell/1125988035?ean=9780997444919

and find the author on her website: http://sammysbrokenleg.com/