Dynasty OShea new cover 7(2)Title : Dynasty O’Shea

Author : Clarissa Cartharn

Length : 389 pages

Genre : Fantasy

Jack and Rachel O’Shea and their children are ordinary people living ordinary lives – or so it would seem. But everything changes when Jack turns up at Rachel and the kids’ home with a mysterious jewel. One of the kids accidentally creates a portal to another world, Spassenia, while messing around with the jewel, and Jack and Rachel are thrown back into a world they thought they’d never see again. While the children struggle to comprehend their newfound status as royals, their parents must battle to regain the throne of Gammalion. Through many incredible adventures through magical kingdoms complete with their own legends, peoples and fascinating creatures, the O’Shea family learn some vital lessons about themselves and become closer than ever before.

This is a promising debut novel. It includes everything you might expect from an epic fantasy – mythical creatures, incredible landscapes, bloodsoaked battles, heroic characters and even some romance. The various realms of Spassenia are richly populated with diverse and fantastical tribes and animals. Each member of the family is uniquely characterized and learns much about themselves and their family.

From the epilogue of the book, I gather we can probably look forward to a sequel, so those readers who have fallen in love with the world of Spassenia will surely be delighted to have another chance to explore that world with their favourite characters.

 

NightBuddiesStickerCover300dpiThe content of this book is spot on for a young audience. John Degraffenreidt has exciting adventures at night-time when, of course, adults think he’s in bed and asleep. Outwitting grown-ups is always appealing to kids! John’s buddy, the red crocodile Crosley, is in a bit of bother. Some imposters that look like him are causing trouble so Crosley and John need to stop them.

This book offers likeable and intriguing characters, with the larger than life, irrepressible Crosley, a crazy, imaginative plot and plenty of fun. However, it’s the presentation that’s the controversial element in this book. I love the way different typefaces are used to make each page look as lively as story it’s telling is. That’s a nice touch and it works brilliantly. Less so, in my opinion, the language. Most of the characters have their own dialects and what they say is spelt how it sounds, at least to the author’s head. As Crosley says in the introduction: “If there’s a word ya can’t understand, just say it out loud an’ then ya’ll get it. Hey, just don’t spell it that way at school or in a spellin’ test! If ya want, make a game outta findin’ all the misspelled words in the story!”

A touch of over-eagerness there to make it acceptable to spell words wrongly? Maybe. Confident readers won’t have any problems with it but kids who find reading more of a challenge may be a little perplexed. The danger with writing in a dialect is that it becomes annoying after a while. It’s a fun, well-intentioned ploy that would work perfectly with an older audience, but can be very hit and miss with younger kids.
Also, fermez la! isn’t something French kids would say anywhere near an adult! Teachers don’t tolerate it in the schoolyard either. (I live in France and have three bilingual French-English kids.) I’d have preferred to see ‘Taisez-vous’ so a bit more research there would have been good. My last minor moan is that there are rather too many very long dashes around the place too. Any mannerism used more than moderately becomes irritating.

However, pedantry aside, this is a lively, fast paced book that is fabulously illustrated by Jessica Love and makes for entertaining read.

You can buy the book here:

 

I recently worked with Don Rush on his delightful and very unusual children’s books which wife Cathy has been involved with too. Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound are about a group of courageous birds. We have Robins, Sparrows, Mourning Doves and a Blackbird making up a small loyal flock who find themselves facing very big adventures for such little birds. They face long journeys, nasty cats, lost children and natural disasters. But this tight-knit band of feathery friends overcomes adversity through sticking together and using their ingenuity. Kids will learn a little about birds without realising as they read these lovely adventures.

I talked to Don about his stories.

robbyquestTell us briefly about Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound

Robby’s Quest for Seed is a story about a close-knit group of birds that decide to migrate south from Ohio for the winter. Everyone in the group has a role; Robby is the leader and Benny makes sure none of the little birds fall out of the formation. They are diligent about performing their responsibilities. The birds vote on most of the important issues they must decide.  During the trip, Joy is lost and nearly becomes lunch for a cat names Hershey. Ultimately, the searchers save her. Later when the birds arrive in Florida, they find that a hurricane has destroyed the entire area. The birds get some advice from a Dalmatian and they head west. After some drama on the way, they finally arrive in Arizona, safe and sound. Ricky steps up his role and becomes a leader.

Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound is about the same flock with a couple additions, Ruby and Josie. Ruby is Ricky’s new girlfriend and Josie is Joy’s new best friend. This time Ruby suggests the flock fly to San Diego because the Arizona summer is too hot. Again, they have their roles and a specific formation. They arrive in San Diego and split up to investigate their new home. Ricky and Ruby fly to Coronado Island, the Doves fly to the pier and Jay and Josie fly to the beach. Later Joy and Josie fly out to a cruise ship where they fall asleep and end up lost at sea. They get some help from Wanda the Whale and eventually are found in Mexico.

What’s the story behind these stories? Why did you write these books?

I tried a couple times writing books about management styles but the words escaped me. I’m medically retired and on disability. I had too much time on my hands. My wife and I would sit outside in Arizona and watch the birds. We put up a birdfeeder and the little birds would kick the food to the ground so the bigger birds could eat. The other birds would sit on the block wall and patiently wait their turns. We really enjoyed watching them and one day decided to write a story. We finished the first book the day Riley, our grandson in Minnesota, was born.

Were they easy stories to write?

Once we began writing the books things went fairly well. My wife and I would kick around ideas about the birds and what they might do on a trip like this. Once the characters had a personality it seemed to go pretty well. We tried to come up scenarios that a child would enjoy reading about. We modeled the birds and the other characters in the book from people and household pets. We had a blast writing the books.  I published the first story on Amazon KDP. Several people suggested they wanted a paperback so I self-published on Createspace. We learned some hard lessons like don’t ever publish a book until you are ready. I’m not a patient person and that’s probably why I have health issues. I wanted to publish the books to leave something behind for our kids and their kids. After getting some help from yourself editing these books and building new covers we re-published a nicer looking product than previously.

robbyoceanWhich character are you most like? Robby? Benny? Naughty Joy? Hershey the cat?

I’m more like Robby because I always liked being the manager or leader.  and our daughter in her younger years was like Joy, high-maintenance. Benny was created after my real brother Benny, somewhat grumpy but actually friendly once you get to know him. The cats Hershey and Nomi are our household pets. Hershey actually is a big, fast and strong cat with a mischievous streak. The Dalmatian Sammy was my daughter’s favorite pet.

The covers are fun. Tell us about them.

I was looking for an illustrator on the internet and found Kaui on Craigslist. She actually only lives about an hour from me so I liked the idea of having a local do the drawings. Kaui made some sketches and we agreed on the appearance. She came up with the idea of the U.S. map in the background with Robby and the others on the cover. We were talking about a picture with the maple tree and bird feeder but this cover seemed appropriate. The illustration was actually the front cover of the first book until I learned how to make a cover. Then I inserted the illustration in the cover so it looked more professional. I really liked the covers especially the watermark on the back cover. Our thought is to have a different color cover on every book we publish.

What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?

We are writing Robby’s Quest: Return of the Cat. Hershey and his family decided to move to Nevada. At the same time, the birds are traveling to Las Vegas for a few days. At Lake Mead near Vegas, they run into Hershey once again. After they escape (a near miss once again) the birds fly to Vegas and meet a Pink Flamingo named Penelope or Penny for short. Joy wants to see the world and Penny tells the birds where to see the sights like the Eiffel Tower, pyramids of Egypt, skyline of New York with the Statue of Liberty, all right down the street. Joy is excited to be able to visit all these wonders of the world all in one town.

We are not doing very well marketing tour books and with the illustrator, book reviews, editing, promotions, the cost is making publishing the third book more difficult. I’m trying for spring 2013. I already have a sketch for the third cover from another artist. I think she captures the Lake Mead scene very well.

Why do you think there are so few books with birds as their characters?

I’m not really sure. I never paid much attention to birds until I had the time to admire them. I’m hoping to change that if I can get our product in front of the kids.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

I don’t think I’m an author just yet. To me an author is someone that can write a novel. I like Stephen King and I really liked the style of Capotes “In Cold Blood”. I can see myself writing crime novels someday. I love CSI, Criminal Minds and other similar shows. I think my books are mainly just short stories for children. Personally, I think my vocabulary is somewhat limited. Even though I took three semesters of English in college, I still struggle with my words. Over the years, I thought about writing a story but never felt I had the ability. I wanted to prove myself wrong. If nothing else, I managed to publish something and I’m proud of that effort.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

I think self-publishing is the way to go. I hate the thought of sending my work to a publisher. These people live in their own little worlds. They are unresponsive and generally difficult people to get in with. A publisher won’t read your work without submission from a literary agent and literary agents won’t even call you back.

OK, I’m stepping off my soapbox. The new author should make sure their product is ready, edited properly and looks appealing. Then get the social media thing going like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, etc. Building a website is critical. The website serves as the hub to everything. Once you have the hub you can direct traffic to it and the reader can learn where to buy the books or what you are working on, all at one site.

OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favorite bloke’s gadgets and why?

I like my cell phone, especially since I learned how to send texts and pictures. I’m like a kid in the candy store.

rushpicI’ve always been partial to computers. Cathy and I use to build computers back in the day. We ran a bulletin board from our computer called the Dawg Pound where people could call into our computer, leave messages to each other, play games or download files. We learned a lot about computers as a result. We had three phone lines and would take 50 to 100 calls a day. This was all before the internet. We just bought a new computer with Windows 8. I hate learning new software!

We love our car. We bought a 2012 Chrysler 200 and it’s awesome.

Can’t forget our pets. Hershey crawls up on my lap and lies across my chest. He is a cool cat.

What food can’t you resist? Probably not seed I imagine!

I like popcorn and that starts as a seed! I really like shredded beef tacos and steak with hashbrowns. I am a diabetic so I have to watch what I eat. I love pie and cake but don’t touch them anymore.

Please describe your perfect day away from writing.

I enjoy taking day trips and driving to San Diego for a couple days is my favorite. I love the area. I use to live there back in the early 80’s. I certainly couldn’t afford to live there anymore but I love the ocean. Coronado Island is probably my favorite stretch of beach in the world. I can watch the ocean for hours and forget everything going on in my life at the time. We use to enjoy driving to Laughlin, Nevada to spend a day or two but gambling just isn’t much fun anymore. It’s very difficult to win anything.

And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?

I never expected to make a million writing and selling our books. I would be happy if we could cover expenses. I really enjoy doing this and it fills my day. I told my wife that even if we won the lottery I would still write and market these books because it’s been so much fun and I feel good about leaving something for the kids. Our books can stay on the market forever and hopefully our children and their children will keep these titles up and running.

Where to find Don, Cathy and their books:

His website is here.

 

Here’s his Smashwords page.

Twitter: @dcrushbooks

And you can buy Robby’s Quest for Seed here:

And Ocean Bound here:

Enjoy the story and please feel free to substitute ‘Caitlin’ with the name of the little angel in your household!

 

Caitlin and the Christmas angel

The Christmas tree looked lovely — except for the silly gold star that mum insisted on putting at the top every year.

Caitlin sighed. A proper Christmas tree should have a beautiful Christmas angel on top. Her best friend Nicky’s did. Grandma’s did too, and so did the huge tree in the square outside the town hall.

“Mum, can’t we get an angel for our tree?” she asked as she put the last garland of tinsel onto the tree’s prickly branches.

“Whatever for?” said mum, surprised. “We’ve got a pretty star. It always goes on top. It represents the star of Bethlehem that told the world where Jesus was born.”

“I know, but the Christmas angels told the world about Jesus too,” replied Caitlin.

“You’re right,” smiled mum, “but the star stays.”

So that was that. Caitlin was so busy over the next few days, getting ready for Christmas, that she more or less forgot about the tree. It wasn’t till Christmas Eve that she thought about it again.

Mum was in a panic. She couldn’t find the Christmas pudding she had made months ago. She knew she had put it in a safe place, but she couldn’t remember where.

“We’ll have to make another,” she announced. “I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find it.”

“Can I help?” asked Caitlin. She loved helping mum bake.

Between them they measured out the ingredients and stirred them all together.

“Remember to make your wish as you stir the pudding,” said mum.

This was Caitlin’s chance! She shut her eyes and without a moment’s hesitation she silently wished for a Christmas angel.

But almost before she knew it, it was bedtime and there was no Christmas angel to be seen. It looked as though her wish was not going to come true.

Full of disappointment she put out a mince pie and glass of milk for Santa and trailed sadly to bed. She didn’t even feel excited about the presents she might get. It didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all.

She was just dozing off when she heard a tap-tap-tapping at the window.

“Must be the wind,” she muttered sleepily to herself.

But then it came again, only this time a lot louder. It was more of a thud-thud-thudding!

Caitlin sat bolt upright. Could it be Santa at the window? Perhaps he couldn’t get down the chimney?

She hurried to the window and dragged open the curtains. She gasped in astonishment. There, looking cold and tired, was a real, live Christmas Angel!

Caitlin stood staring at her until the angel called through the glass. “Well, are you going to let me in or not?” She sounded a bit cross for an angel, Caitlin thought.

Caitlin leapt into action. She heaved on the catch and slowly swung the window open. In came the angel with a lot of cold air.

“Here I am, one Christmas angel as wished for,” she announced with a flourish.

Caitlin just gaped at her.

“What’s the matter?” snapped the angel.

Caitlin jumped. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare,” she said. “It’s just that, well, you’re a real angel. I only wanted an angel for the Christmas tree.”

“Well, why didn’t you say that in your wish,” sighed the angel. “Honestly, what a mess. Here I am, I’ve just flown all the way from the North Pole and I’m not wanted.”

“North Pole?” echoed Caitlin. “I thought Christmas angels came from Heaven.”

“Not Christmas pudding Christmas angels,” explained the angel. “We’re Santa’s department.”

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry about the muddle,” sighed Caitlin. “Will you have to fly all the way back to the North Pole again?”

“No, I’ll get a lift back from Santa when he calls here. I’ll just have to wait until then.” The angel adjusted her halo. “By the way, I’m starving. It really is a very long way from the North Pole. Have you got any food?”

“There’s the mince pie and milk I put out for Santa. Will that do?” asked Caitlin.

“Yum!” said the angel, brightening up at once. “Santa won’t mind if I have them. He’ll get millions of mince pies and glasses of milk tonight, after all!”

Caitlin led the angel to the lounge. The ashes were glowing in the grate and the Christmas  tree lights were twinkling daintily.  The angel perched on the fireplace and happily munched her way through the mince pie. Then she drained the glass of milk and absentmindedly wiped her mouth on her sleeve. Caitlin tried not to giggle.

“I see why you wanted an angel for the tree,” said the angel, nodding towards the star that sat wonkily and dully at the top of the tree. “It is a bit grim, isn’t it.”

Caitlin nodded in agreement. “Yes, but mum says it’s got sentimental value so I think that means it’s worth a lot. You wouldn’t think so, would you?”

The angel shook her head and she Caitlin stared sadly at the star for a moment or two. Then Caitlin had an idea. “Angel,” she asked shyly, “will you play with me. I’ve got these lovely board games that I never get the chance to play with. Mum’s always too busy, and dad thinks they’re boring. They’re not,” she added quickly, “they’re really fun!”

“Oh, yes please,” said the angel, hopping down from the fireplace at once. She was a lot more cheerful now that she’d had a rest and some supper. “I love playing games. I’m brilliant at picture lotto and dominoes. I always beat Santa. Let’s see what games you’ve got.”

They hurried back to the bedroom and Caitlin lifted down some games from the shelf. Then she and the angel settled down on the floor and opened the first box.

Caitlin didn’t know how long they played for, but they got through all her games. They did some jigsaws too and listened to some story tapes. The angel wanted to read books next, but Caitlin’s eyes kept closing.

“Oh dear, I’m going to have to go to bed,” she yawned. “Thanks for a really great time, Christmas angel. And I really don’t mind about you being real, I mean, I’m glad you are. You’re much nicer than a pretend angel. Thank you for coming.”

“That’s OK,” smiled the angel. “I’m very glad I came. Now, quickly, off to sleep before Santa comes. I’ll tidy up.”

That was the last thing Caitlin heard. Or did she hear a deep, booming chuckle a bit later the night — the happiest chuckle ever? And was she dreaming, or did she catch a glimpse of a large, round face surrounded by lots of whiskers peering round the bedroom door? And did she hear the angel saying goodbye to her and wishing her a wonderful Christmas?

Caitlin couldn’t be sure. But when she awoke next morning, she knew at once that she hadn’t imagined the angel. A few of the games were still on the floor. And Santa had been — there was a big sack of presents at the foot of her bed.

Caitlin dragged the sack into the lounge where she could hear mum and dad chatting.

“Morning!” she called happily. “Happy Christmas!”

“Happy Christmas!” said mum, and dad gave her a big hug.

“Look,” he said. “There’s an extra present for you under the tree.”

Caitlin rushed over. The label on the present said “To Caitlin.”

“Who’s it from?” she wondered. The paper on the parcel was the loveliest she’d ever seen. It had pictures of tiny reindeer all over it. Caitlin carefully unwrapped it, and gave a cry of delight. Here was her Christmas angel at last! And it was a beautiful angel. It looked very much like her visitor from last night.

Dad and mum looked very surprised.  Then mum said: “We’d better get dad to put that lovely angel on top of the tree. I have to admit, it’s a lot prettier than my poor old star!”

“Thanks mum,” said Caitlin. “And thanks Santa and the Christmas angel,” she added under her breath.

She watched as dad stood on a chair and put the angel — her angel — at the very top of the tree. She smiled happily.

The angel smiled too.

 

We all know how important a cover is for a book or ebook. Well, so is the title, but this doesn’t always get as much time and effort put into it as it should. And especially, authors don’t seem to be doing much if any research to see if the title they want has been used. It’s not a great idea to give your book the same name as one that’s already out there.

Recently I’ve read across the following books with titles that turn out to be very popular:

Scorpio Rising: I read the book of this name that Monique Domovitch had authored. But amongst many others, Alan Annand, R. G. Vilet, Daisy Denman, Rosie Orr, Alex MacDonough, Richard Katrovas, Ms Scorpio N and Mark Sheldon have also written books with this title.

The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson (excellent, by the way): Oral Roberts, Richard Copeland, John Mulinde, Penny Dawne, Edythe Draper, Kristen Bretweiser and Jeff Gunhus have their versions too. Again, that’s only some of the authors who had the same idea. There are a lot of Wake-Up Calls (plural) out there too that could get confused.

Passion in Paris: Rusty Blackwood, Adam Carpenter, Helen Hardt, Robyn Grady all have versions.

Losing It by Simon Lipson (do read this guy) has rivals by Zaria Garrison, Melanie Douglass, Lindsay Rech, Laura Fraser, William Miller, Valerie Bertillini – and those are just from the first page of results on Amazon.

The danger with using a title that’s already been employed is that it makes it harder for readers to find and buy your book. They might be looking up your Gardening with Nail Scissors but come across someone else’s tome of this name and buy that instead, not realising their mistake. Or, when they call up the title on Smashwords, they find six other books with the same name, all of which have snappier covers than yours and so one of them gets the sale instead. Heart-breaking isn’t it?

But other people have the same idea as you do, and sometimes at the same time. And there’s nothing you can do about that. My ‘The Witch’s Dog’ came out pretty much alongside Frank Rodgers’. And I’d checked to see if there were other ones out there before I settled on my choice. The stories are completely different, but they’ve got the same name. There’s an ‘Escape from the Volcano’ out there now, very similar to my ‘Escape the Volcano’. My ‘Oh Dad’ of 1999, has been followed by one in 2000 and another in 2008. ‘Oh Santa’, again the only one at the time, is the name of a Christmas collection of songs by Mariah Carey’s. OK, not a book, but the same title which gets in the way when folk are looking for my masterpiece. And ‘Beat the Hackers’ as a search term pulls up CDs by Beat Hackers, a rap group!

So, you can’t avoid the problem happening completely, but I would strongly advise you to come up with as original a title as you can to keep your book totally unique. Maybe others of the same name will come along later, but at least you got in first!

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

This week has seen the holiday whirlwind book blog tour by Lauren Clark for her smashing book Stay Tuned. (I reviewed it here.) Here’s a fascinating and inspiring interview with this energetic writer.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. For as long as I can remember. Of course, my parents always remind that I also wanted to be an Indian princess named Tiger Lily, but that dream was more short-lived. On a serious note, I do have fond memories of spending my summer days toting stacks of books back and forth from my house to our town’s library. It always seemed like a magical place, with endless stories to get lost in.

You worked as both an anchor and producer after graduate school. How did that influence the writing of Stay Tuned?
So much! It was an accident, really, getting into broadcast journalism. I always thought of myself as a behind the scenes kind of girl, but after my first day on the job, I loved it and stuck with it for the next 6 years. Working in television is never boring. There’s always a story, always the next show. The camaraderie in the newsroom is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like living in a big, loud, mostly happy, very dysfunctional family every day.

What gave you the idea for Stay Tuned?
True story:  A few months before I took my first television job as a part-time health reporter, the two main anchors at one of the local television stations (who were romantically involved) got into a fistfight. They were outside the building, in the station parking lot. Shortly thereafter, they were both fired. In the months that followed, the two of them bantered back and forth in newspaper editorials, threatened lawsuits, and fueled all sorts of crazy retaliation stories. I never forgot about that incident and always thought about what might happen if such a fistfight happened on air, during a newscast. What would happen? How would it be handled? Who would fix this kind of mess?

What did you learn from being on air?
It’s very humbling, really. As a producer, especially, you are in charge of what’s being put out there—the news stories people watch and talk about each day. It’s a big responsibility to get it right. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. There were many sobering days—car accidents, house fires, school shootings—and those stories should be told with sensitivity and care. It’s someone’s son or daughter or parent. Everyone matters.

What was your most memorable experience as an anchor or reporter?  
I was on set during 9-11. I remember sitting there with our weatherman and waiting to be cued to go back on air after the commercial. CBS cut in and showed footage from a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. It was surreal and awful. We were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.

Was it a difficult decision to leave television?
Yes and no. I loved so many parts of broadcasting. I was able to meet fascinating people – Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then-New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer among many others. I adored the people I worked with, especially the folks behind the scenes. I was also fortunate enough to win several AP awards for anchoring and reporting.

On the flip side, I worked crazy hours (2 am – 10 am) and, as is typical in the industry, I received very little vacation time. I anchored every holiday (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, you name it) and wasn’t able to spend much time with my young son. After more than six years, I “retired” from TV news. It was then that I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

How long did it take to write Stay Tuned?
About five years, all said and done. I wrote several other novels before that—and those manuscripts will never see the light of day! When I began Stay Tuned, I had just given birth to my second son, so my writing time was very limited. After putting it away for several years, I picked it back up about 12 months ago, brushed it off, and had an editor-friend look it over. We made some changes, tweaked the story, and fine-tuned the plot. A few months back, I was offered a contract with a small publishing company. Another friend introduced me to the talented and fabulous Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity, who helped guide me through the entire publishing process. It’s been a wonderful journey!

What’s next? A sequel or a stand-alone novel?
Dancing Naked in Dixie is next (stand alone title) and I’m so excited to share that it’s been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Chick Lit Writers “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” Contest (Winner will be announced December 20, 2011).

Dancing Naked follows the story of a talented but scattered travel magazine writer who returns from overseas only to find out she’s on the verge of getting fired. To save her job, she reluctantly accepts an assignment in the Deep South. She’ll be writing an article about Eufaula, Alabama’s annual Pilgrimage event, which is a long-standing spring tour of antebellum mansions (the location is featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Sweet Home Alabama). Upon arriving in Eufaula, Julia falls in love with the area, its cast of charming characters, and her handsome tour guide. When she discovers that a developer has big plans to buy up many of the historic homes and turn the area into a tourist site, it’s up to Julia to save the day.

What is your writing schedule like?
With two growing, active boys and a busy husband, finding time to write is like looking for a missing Lego piece in a houseful of toys (Moms should appreciate that!) I often get up very early and write while everyone else is asleep or go to the lovely campus of our local university and shut myself in a study room. I love it there because I have to shut off my phone and I don’t have the password for an internet connection! No distractions! Of course, I do frequent two or three local coffee shops and draw inspiration from my daily dose of caffeine and good friends!

Who are your favorite writers? Favorite books?
Gosh, there are so many! My all-time favorites include Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Lisa See. I also love Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. Favorite books include: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (this is a children’s book that I’ve read over and over to my two boys).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Revise. A lot. I’m not joking.

Anyone can write. Writing well is different. It takes focus and tenacity and determination. I’ve heard Stephen King quoted as saying, “The first million words are practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says, “It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything.” Just to be clear, at 4 hours a day (28 hours a week), that’s 7 years. I’m not quoting the experts to scare anyone or be a harbinger of doom. It’s the truth.

Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant and so true and funny in so many sections. If you’re serious about becoming an author, learn as much as you can. Read blogs and books about the craft, network with other writers, or go to a writer’s conference. Above all, write!

 

Don’t Miss Out!

Extension to the photo competition: Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions. You now have until Sunday 4 December to upload your photo.

I noticed a Tweet the other day that said: “Someone should write a properly informative article about turning backlisted titles whose rights have reverted to authors into ebooks”.

Well, I’ve done that with quite a few of my books now so I decided to take up the challenge and put together an article about it.

My kids’ books were published by Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland between 1998 and 2006. My O’Brien titles are still going strong but Mentor pulled out of children’s publishing in 2007 and remaindered all their stock. The rights reverted to me. I bought a truckload of my books – actually, just a palletload – at a bargain price and have been giving these away to visitors to our gîte and fishery.

Coming soon!

Then in January of this year I got a Kindle and very quickly become a total convert to ebooks and indie publishing. I began writing a non-fiction travel memoir, Heads Above Water, about moving to France from Ireland and our experiences in the first few years here. I also got cracking on a racy fishing mystery story. But those were going to take time and I wanted to get something out there in the ebookiverse quickly. So I turned to my backlist. I figured it would be good practice to learn about formatting and epublishing using those, and it would also get my name out there before the new books came out.

I have nearly thirty children’s books to my name and the majority of these are Mentor books so I had plenty to choose from. But having changed computers several times since writing the books, tracking down the files containing them was proving tricky. So, nothing daunted, I retyped the first one. I chose Beat The Hackers. These needed a lot of updating since I’d written it in 1998. (It began its life as Beat The Millennium you see but I was overruled by my editor and had to change it.) Anyway, there were references to floppy disks that needed to be changed to USB keys and I had to move the action into the future. It had been set in 2004/5, but since that hand now passed I rescheduled it for 2013/14. This took some time since it was a 30,000 word book, but it was good typing practice and I enjoyed it.

However, if you face the same problem of missing files, I would suggest you scan the text of your books in. I got my eldest son onto doing this over the summer for me. He was cheap, and it saved me a lot of time. Luckily I’ve since come across some back-up CDs with my stories on them, so that’s speeded things up even more. There are plenty of OCR programs out there, many free to download, and they’re easy to use.

Caiti's cover design

So, the text was taken care of. What about the cover? The artwork for the book belonged to Mentor. I could have contacted them to ask if I could use it, and hopefully for free. It’s always an option to talk to the publisher and negotiate to use the original artwork. They may or may not co-operate. However, I wanted a new look for my updated book, and I’m lucky in having a daughter who can do very cool things with computer graphics. She created a super new cover for me. I’ve also had some lovely new covers drawn for me by a family friend, the talented illustrator Roger Fereday. I admit I’ve been very lucky in having such artistic family and friends.

But if you’re not a designer and don’t have access to one, and can’t afford an artist to draw you a new cover, don’t despair. You can create a perfectly acceptable cover using a photo and some nice typeface. I have done several using Paint, which isn’t very high spec as graphics programs go. Aim for 600 x 800 pixels wide and you can’t go far wrong.

Next I got to grips with converting my files into a format suitable for uploading to Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t as tricky as I feared, but first time round it took a while. I went for Kindle first. Files need to be in web page filtered format. This isn’t hard and if you follow the instructions on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, it’s very straightforward. I make use of MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer to check that the finished product is going to look good on Kindle. I convert the file I have ready for Kindle using MobiPocket which leaves you with a .prc file. The Kindle Previewer opens this and simulates how your book will appear on a Kindle so you can go through and spot any layout or other errors and correct these before submitting to KDP. Both MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer are free downloads. The ebook takes around 24 to 48 hours to appear on the Amazon websites.

Formatting for Smashwords looks a bit scarier since there are more instructions, but basically, get your file into .doc format – not .docx – and you’ll be OK. The Meatgrinder, the conversion tool, tells you if there are any ‘Autovetter’ errors that you need to put right. I only ever got those the first time I formatted a book for Smashwords. Since then, I’ve been spot on every time. A tip – go for what Mark Coker calls the ‘nuclear approach’, i.e. you paste your original Word file into Wordpad to strip out all the underlying formatting that Word loves to shove in, and then you repaste into Word and start from scratch. Once you get the hang of what to do, it’s a piece of cake. I’m no techno-junkie, but I cope fine. Your ebook appears on Smashwords’ site very quickly.

You can create a great cover with a good photo

Smashwords will distribute to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony providing there are no Autovetter errors in your book. It also distributes to Kindle, but this is an extremely slow process so I always publish directly myself to KDP.

Pricing is an issue to consider. I have made most of my ebooks free. I’ve made money out of them already and I want to get my name known. Plus it’s sad but true that many readers are reluctant to shell out even 99 cents for an ebook! There is a lot of free content out there at the moment. I think this trend will die down eventually, since it’s unsustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon in the meantime to get out there.

So, in a nutshell, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to turn your backlist book to which you retain rights into an ebook:

  1. If you don’t have an electronic version of your book, retype or scan it.
  2. Update the text if necessary.
  3. Proofread it carefully yourself and get at least a couple of other people to read through. Since it’s already been published there should be a minimal amount of typos etc – in theory!
  4. Commission / create a new cover if you can’t get permission to use the old one.
  5. Ditto for any illustrations if you intend to include these.
  6. For steps 3 and 4, consider using photos instead of illustrations to save money.
  7. Create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP if you don’t already have them.
  8. Convert for Smashwords and Kindle. This is very straightforward and quite achievable with a bit of time and effoet, but there are folks out there who will do it for a small fee for you (such as me!)
  9. Upload your files and then get busy with publicising your book!
  10. Tell EVERYONE how clever you are.

So go for it, and good luck!

How well and for how long can you realistically expect a Christmas book to sell? I have a children’s Christmas ebook out, Oh Santa!, so this is a very pertinent question for me! However, I haven’t been able to find many concrete facts and figures on the Net.

Printed copies of Christmassy books will have been selling for a month or so now. The publishers brought out their books aimed at the Christmas market back in October to allow time for word to spread and sales to pick up. But ebooks aren’t quite the same. You don’t have to wait a week for them to arrive in the post or plan a trip to town to buy them so you don’t tend to purchase as far in advance. You get them within seconds of hitting the ‘buy’ button. Also, ‘word’ is spread via instant social media rather than via slower newspaper articles or magazine reviews and so that happens quicker.

When is the best time to launch a Christmass ebook? November still feels too early, and it would seem a lot of people share that feeling since I’ve only sold a handful of copies of Oh Santa!, which is priced very reasonably at 99 cents! So I’m going with December. You can’t avoid Christmas once kids start opening the windows on their Advent Calendars. Tomorrow I’ll make available a Smashwords  coupon code so that folk can get the book for free, but just for 24 hours. I can Tweet and Facebook that to get some attention. I’ve come across a couple of Christmassy virtual book tours scheduled to take place in December, and that seems a nice idea too. I’ve probably left it too late to organise one for Oh Santa!, but we’ll see.

Ebook sales can in theory continue right up to and including Christmas Day itself since those shops won’t shut and you’ll get the goods immediately. But how can you give an ebook? Well, with Kindle books it’s easy. You gift a book to someone. You buy it and specify where it is to be delivered. And Smashwords? You can choose and buy a book and download it in the suitable format, and send that as an attachment to the recipient via email. Please don’t abuse the system and send it to loads of people though. Think of us poor starving authors! I’m not sure what the Nook system would be. Barnes and Noble refuse to sell me anything, including ebooks, since I don’t live in the USA so I don’t have a lot to do with them!

In the next few days, I’ll be suggesting some ‘book bags’ you can put together to go with some of my ebooks as Christmas pressies to make them more fun. Most of my ebooks are free, by the way, so they’ll make budget-friendly pressies! I’ll also come up with some lists of great ebooks for anyone and everyone you might need to be buying for.

Well, I’m taking part in a book blog tour for the first time. The book in question is Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark. Here’s my review of it:

It’s not often I can’t put a book down, but Stay Tuned came into that category. I read it one go. The turkeys were waiting mournfully for me to put them to bed, the llamas were left thirsty – I got lost in the story and remained glued to my Kindle till I finished.

Why? The story really caught me. It was fascinating to get an insight into life at a TV station, delightful to meet characters like Melissa, Chris and Candace, and there was plenty of excitement in the plot. The relationships between the people in the story were gripping. There were attractions and hatreds, tensions, frustrations, misunderstandings and real affection. Several punches got thrown, there were clumsy passes, lots of tears but just as much laughter. And the ending is bittersweet without being mawkish or implausible.

Reality is very much the key of this book. We could all so easily find ourselves in Melissa’s shoes – juggling career and family life, trying to keep the communication channels open with a workaholic husband, striving to be fully committed in every sphere of your life.

Every single character is rounded and interesting. There aren’t any cameo roles or stereotypes. This story is peopled by a truly human set of people.

It’s a very readable book. The author has a flowing, natural style that sweeps you along and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely worth reading.

 

How to win

Now, as part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Stay Tuned eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 2nd, so you don’t miss out.

To win the prizes you need to:
1. Purchase your copy of Stay Tuned for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (You’ll need it for the big contest on Friday)
2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!

…And I can win too! Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

 

The events

Monday, Radio Interview with Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We interviewed Lauren on our radio show Sunday night and have embedded the full podcast and blogged about its highlights. Give it a listen and then leave a comment on the blog post. This is a great chance to get to know more about this fun and bubbly author. One commenter will win an autographed copy of Stay Tuned. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet:  Take a break from the holiday frenzy, and read Stay Tuned. It’s fast, fun, and reduced to just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/7zA1e #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions.

 

Extract

To whet your appetites further, here’s an extract from Chapter One.

 

Alyssa Andrews was missing.

Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.

“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.

“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.

She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.

This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.

WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.

I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.

Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.

The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward.

Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…

“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”

Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.

Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”

Still, no Alyssa.

Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.

At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”

“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.

Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.

This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.

Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”

On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.

While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.

Not now.

Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.

“What?” </em>Joe finally snapped.

The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.

Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.

9:58:09. Less than two minutes.

Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.

“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.

Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.

Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.

I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.

“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”

Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”

I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.

With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.

Time to get started.

I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.

Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.

I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.

“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.

Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.

“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”

Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.

Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.

My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.

Here we go.

Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.

“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.

“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”

And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.

Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.

Commercial break, check.

Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.

We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.

The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.

The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.

Yikes!

I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.

The phones started to ring five seconds later.