Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Release: Blackjack and Fish

My short nonfiction story titled Blackjack and Fish is now on Kindle! 

There are many things that remind me of my father, including Blackjack, syringes and bologna. The anecdotes about him include episodes of communing with a monkey, graphing his belly button, and dancing with a dead lady… but doesn’t everybody’s father do those things? 

Check it out.  It'll make you smile!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recent Reads: MAGS!

I've done many posts about books I've read recently, but it occurs to me that I never mention magazines that I regularly pick-up.   I sometimes spend more time with magazines than with books, so I thought it would be worthwhile to mention a few of my faves. I regularly read (or subscribe to)  the ones listed below, but there are other mags that I pick up from time to time as well (Rolling Stone, New Yorker, etc.)

I just love the six magazines listed below.  Each of them has articles that make me think.  All have terrific fodder for great conversations.  Needless to say, I am always pleased when I find the latest issues in my mailbox.

UTNE is always full of treats!!!  They seem to have a number of science related articles that have to do with the environment, with ecology - always interesting. 

The reviews are looong here, but that's a positive not a negative.  The book selections are always thought-provoking.

A delightful lefty mag!  Lots of neat stuff on social justice.  American point of view, American issues.

Lots of great stuff here on politics (Canada) plus arts, culture and ideas.
MoJo always makes me think!  Great investigative and/or in-depth journalism.

Another great conversation starter.  Lots of stuff on arts and culture.  Canadian.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Guest Blogger Amy Webb talks about Inspiration

Finding your Inspiration

Inspiration (n) an inspiring or animating action or influence

Without inspiration the best powers of the mind remain dormant, there is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks”-- Johann Gottfried Von Herder.  What a fantastic quote!  It sums up inspiration as an overwhelming power that is waiting to be unleashed onto the world, and it can come in many forms.
            Authors and poets can find inspiration in the most obscure and unbelievable places and then it can manifest itself onto the page.   Some sources of inspiration are much more personal than others. A fantastic example would be J.K. Rowling, the woman who made it possible for adults to read about witches and wizards on their daily commute to work.  She found the inspiration for the Harry Potter novels through her depression. During the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” the climactic ending of the series, she let a film crew document a ‘Year in a life’. It was in this revealing documentary that she opened up about her forgotten childhood, the illness that took over her mother and the rocky relationship between herself and her father; she admitted that the Harry Potter series began as an attempt to reclaim her childhood and it was in a small flat in Edinburgh where she turned her life around and Harry Potter was born. 

              Authors have experienced inspirations in other forms, like dreams or epiphanies that have come to them out of the blue, like Stephenie Meyer, the author of the ever popular vampire series ‘Twilight”. 

She was not an author and had no intention of ever becoming one until one night she dreamt ‘the meadow scene’, which would turn into chapter thirteen of the first book. It was this intimate exchange between a young girl named Bella and a vampire named Edward that sparked her imagination and started the phenomenon that is ‘Twilight”. But throughout writing the series Meyer also cited that certain bands caught her imagination, most notably bands like Muse, Blue October and My Chemical Romance.  Meyer also claimed that classic novels like “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” helped contribute towards the themes of the series.

              I have always known that inspiration can be found anywhere; I’m an avid writer myself and I am always hoping to find the spark that will help me write my own novel. One of the best tips I can offer to any writer is to always carry round a camera, a notebook, or both. Nowadays everyone carries a cell phone and usually those have a decent enough camera.  What a fantastic way in capturing a moment or a setting for your novel.   It could be a lonely cobbled street, a bustling metropolis or a cosy high street café.  I like carrying a notebook in my bag; you might hear a young couple arguing about something obscure, or you might hear something endearing being exchanged between an elderly couple.  My point is that a simple exchange of words or a captured scene on a camera could be the starting block for a fantastic novel. My novel is still a work in progress and will take me a while to finish it, but I am always on the lookout for that next event that will shape what will happen next. 
I have always been a fan of seventies era, and glam rock influences like David Bowie, Queen, T Rex and The Sweet  all have a special place in my life and in my IPod.  Bands like these defined an era and shaped the minds of many young. If you have time, look at the lyrics of the most iconic songs during this era, Try to understand the message(s) they are trying to convey.   If we look at The Beatles ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ they were singing about a girl who was in a hallucinogenic state after taking drugs, how would one explain that to grandparents in the seventies?   I want to capture this world in my novel; this is why I have it set in the 70’s amidst all the glitter, spandex and big hair. The seventies was also a time for sexual revolution and domestic change.  Women were no longer trapped in the kitchen and tied to the home.  I want to explore this perspective in detail, this is where my family will come in very handy especially my Grandmother and mother, who I am sure, will give me very different answers. The questions I want to explore are: What was life really like for young people, especially girls, growing up in a suburban part of England during this era? How would this influence their choices growing up? How did the seventies change young people’s views on the world?

In terms of setting my story I did not want to set it in a busy city area like London, because the city is the epicentre of so much action.  Instead, my story is set in a village on the outskirts of my home country of Essex, which is just outside of London. I want to show how my characters struggle with living and growing up in a sleepy village when there is so much going on musically, culturally and sexually nearby. 
To find inspiration you must be patient and sometimes it will not be obvious.  Inspiration will not stand in front of you like a billboard with flashing lights stating “I’m your inspiration!”  That’s just not going to happen. Granted,  I have not been as lucky as Stephenie Meyer and haven’t yet had a wonderful dream to set me on my literary career, well not yet anyway...  But I am hopeful that if I keep my notebook with me, and keep my eyes and mind open I will see my opportunity and I will be ready to capture it,
P.S do not forget a pen!

For more from Amy, check out her blog:
And follow her on Twitter  @amymaryw

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guest Blogger Julia McDermott: Je ne veux pas break le rule...

Dialogue, and those pesky pronoms relatifs!
Dialogue is my favorite part of fiction.

I love to write it, and I love to read it. I love it when (my) characters talk. It accomplishes the “show, don't tell” rule – which we writers must obey – nicely. It also moves the story along and is a good time for conflict to arise. It can be serious, funny, embarrassing, comforting, sincere, deceptive, despairing, upbeat, or –  pretty much anything. 

My novel MAKE THAT DEUX is written in the “first person” point of view, and the main character, Jenny Miles, even talks to herself (not out loud, normalement) – she often uses “internal dialogue” to reflect about life, the French, men, etc. During her year in France, she talks to her boyfriend back in the States on the telephone only a few times, since it’s very expensive. But he also “speaks” to her regularly through handwritten letters mailed across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Jenny talks to her roommates and other friends – usually in English – while doing her best at school and elsewhere to learn to speak fluent French. She's been studying the language for years, and she can understand it most of the time - la plupart du temps. Which is fortunate, since all of her college classes are taught en français, complete with “blue book” written exams and the occasional oral exam thrown in.

Fast forward to the present, and my love of dialogue. Récemment, my French (conversation) class, taught by Madame Marie-Hélène, has been reviewing relative pronouns. You know: those necessary words that we don't think about, but that we use all the time (and that make our dialogue flow more easily): who, that, which, what, whose, whoever, whom, whomever, of which, whichever, where and when. 

Most of which are necessary in dialogue.

Voici des pronoms relatifs en français, which I’ve been trying to use often enough to say

without thinking: qui (who, which, that), que (whom, which, that, what), dont (whose, of whom, of which), and (where, when). For some reason, dont is my favorite; it seems simple, but it's really not, and it doesn’t sound anything like “don’t.”

Some other relative pronouns are used just with certain verbs, and are somewhat trickier (I’ll let you guess the translations): auquel, auquelle, auxquels, and auxquelles. Yet others are used only in certain cases: avec qui, en qui, chez qui, près de qui, à côté de qui; ce que, ce qui; sur/sans/dans/chez lequel (or laquelle); and, of course, simply à laquelle.

You can imagine how many times Jenny, her boyfriend, her roommates and friends use (English) relative pronouns during dialogue scenes. If they didn't, it wouldn't be naturel. However, they often omit the word “that,” which is okay to do in English; it’s not okay to do en français. But when they talk to each other, we get to know them through their conversations, just like we get to know our friends…friends with whom we speak, using whichever words we prefer, where and when we meet, doing what we want to do, together.   

The point is: An author must know the rules 
before breaking them... no matter what language!

Twitter @MakeThatJulie

MAKE THAT DEUX (click to go to Amazon)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Blogger Autumn Birt: Putting the Social Back in Social Networking

 Putting the Social Back in Social Networking
It is not about the numbers. If what drives your marketing campaign is reaching 1000 Likes on Facebook, 5k followers on Twitter, or simply selling 10,000 books, well there are businesses that claim they will get you that. Give them your money and it will happen. When it does, get back to me and let me know how you feel. I’m guessing it won’t be everything you dreamed.

I won’t say marketing doesn’t have anything to do with numbers. Quantitative results are easy to digest. They are driven into us at a young age so that reaching a goal is equated with hitting a number, normally a large number. I understand that.

But would you rather have 100 followers who ignore everything you say or 10 that retweet, talk to you, and may actually read or have read your book? That is an easy answer for me. But then, I would define myself as a qualitative person.

If my goal was simply monetary, I’d probably be at a casino instead of writing. I wonder what the stats are on that: the chance of winning at a gambling table versus making it to the bestsellers list with one book out? My bet is on the chips and not the keyboard!

If you listen to the well established Indie authors you will hear them say that the chance of immediate success is about nil. It takes time to build a following, it takes multiple books, and it takes consistency in quality and originality. The rest is pure luck.

That is about as comforting as hearing the best way to lose weight is to reduce how much you eat and exercise, but they are both hard truths. Swallow it down and get over it.

Then take note that those same established authors are out there beating the marketing pavement and feel that cold seed grow in your gut. The marketing never ends!

Okay, go get a good dose of alcohol to drown that realization in and then we’ll continue.
The interesting thing about the perpetual marketing required of Indie authors is that it means there are well established authors you can watch and learn from. Isn’t imitation the best form of flattery?

Another nifty thing about marketing is that since there is no sure-fire way to get to the top (other than be good, work hard, produce lots of great novels, and find a way to tell everyone without turning them off) is that the potential for you to discover something that works really well is always possible. That smart mouthed shout out on Twitter might just net you a 1000 followers. The person who looks over your shoulder as you scribble plot notes between meetings might be your next big break. In marketing at least, the playing field is pretty level, especially for the inventive. It is also constantly changing. No set strategy will remain productive. Shout the same thing every day and people will tune you out. It is like nagging. I’m really good at ignoring nagging. A good marketing strategy should constantly evolve (this may explain the no tried and true path to success). Hey, at least you won’t get bored with it.

So this has become the slogan of my marketing campaign: quality over quantity. I do set milestones for myself. The next 10 or 50 new followers, reaching 500 will be great! But these just give me a small carrot to run for (and a reason to celebrate. I really like to celebrate). I’m also pacing myself for a marathon of marketing for the rest of my life (after that someone else can take over barring the zombie apocalypse. In that case I’ll keep running the marketing campaign).

The real core of my marketing though is something else entirely. I’m trying to be the best follower that I can. Really. Isn’t it awesome when someone retweets or likes a post? Better yet, comments? Oooh, or reads your book, loves it, and tells the world in multiple ways? I love those people. I love them so much I’m trying to be one. Good karma will come back around and at the very least, it gives me something else to talk about. No one wants to hear a writer talk about their work 24/7. People tend to avoid those sorts of people. Not a good marketing strategy.

So, if you see me online, say hi. Or I might just say hi. If you need something, let me know. I’ll see if I can help or if I know someone who can. I want every Indie author to hone their skills and write awesome books that set souls (especially the writer’s) on fire. Isn’t that what it is really all about?

Follow Autumn on Twitter  @Weifarer or check out her website and check out her books on AMAZON