January 30, 2015

Building Character with Kate Taylor from Star of the Team

Hi everyone! Welcome to Building Character. I’d like to introduce you to Kate, the main character in STAR OF THE TEAM by Beverly Stowe McClure. Kate, can you tell us a little about you, please?

Hi, I’m Kate Taylor, eleven years old, and I live with my mom and older sister, Zoey. My mom’s also the coach for our basketball team, Angels.  I was all set for the new basketball season and to win a lot of games, then this new girl, Emily, showed up with an attitude, and we’ve had nothing but trouble since.

Uh oh, that doesn’t sound good. What kind of trouble? 

I have two major conflicts. The first is my tooth. It was knocked out at one of the games. The dentist replanted it but Mom’s afraid it’ll get knocked out again and won’t let me play until the tooth heals. By that time, the season will be over. Then there’s Emily. I don’t want to talk about her, but my mom seems to think she’s great at basketball. I guess she is good, but so am I, if I get the chance to prove it.

What are some of the biggest stumbling blocks you’ve encountered trying to overcome these problems? 

Convincing my mom I can protect the tooth if she’ll let me play has been tough. I’ve tried a couple of things to prove I can. She wasn’t impressed. Actually, they didn’t work too well. I need to come up with a way to prove to her the tooth will be safe. As for Emily, everywhere I turn, she’s there, showing off what a great player she is. Sigh. She’s playing. I’m warming the bench.

That must be very hard not being able to play. There must be a bright side, right? What have you learned while trying to resolve your situation?

One thing I’ve learned about the problem of who’s star of the team is that I’m not always right. That’s hard to accept.

Okay, let’s learn more about you. What are your three favorite leisure activities?

Talking to my doll. She understands my problems. Watching sports games live. Hanging with my friends at the ice cream store.

I talk to our bunny. She’s a really good listener. What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’d like to play basketball in college and maybe in the Olympics. I think being a coach would be great.

If you could change one thing in this world, what would you change?

I’d have mothers listen better to their daughters.

Aw, Kate, I’m sure your mom is listening, she’s just concerned for you. Okay, final question. What words of wisdom would you like to share with our readers?

Watch out for elbows when you’re playing ball.

Thanks for joining us Kate. It’s been fun getting to know you. Readers, here is more information about Kate’s book STAR OF THE TEAM.

A girl. A dream. An accident. A dream shattered. Eleven-year-old Kate Taylor dreams of being the star of her basketball team, Angels. When Kate’s tooth is knocked out at one of the games and her mother, who is also her coach, says she can’t play until the tooth the dentist replants heals, Kate’s dreams are in jeopardy. Add Emily, the new girl at school who claims she’s the best, and Kate faces a challenge to prove that she is the star. Will Kate succeed? Or will Emily ruin Kate’s plans?

And here is the 411 on Kate’s author, Beverly Stowe McClure.

Most of the time, you’ll find Beverly in front of her computer, writing the stories little voices whisper in her ear. Other times you’ll find her on long walks, snapping photos of wildlife and flowers. To some of her friends, she is affectionately known as the “Bug Lady” because she rescues butterflies, moths, walking sticks, and praying mantis from her cats.
For twenty-two years, Beverly taught children in grades two through five how to read and write. They taught her patience. Now, she teaches a women’s Sunday school class at her church. To relax she plays the piano. Her cats don’t appreciate good music, and run and hide when she tickles the ivories.
          Beverly has several articles published in children’s magazines. Two of her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul Anthologies. She also has twelve books published for children and teens and is the Gold Winner in the 2012 Children’s Literary Classics, and also the Silver Winner in the 2013 CLC, as well as other awards.  

January 26, 2015

Best & Worst of What I Read in 2014

Last week I posted one reason why it is important for writers to read a lot. So this week I thought I'd recap my 2014 reads.

According to my Goodreads shelf "Read in 2014" I read 105 books last year. I've been able to read more titles each year and I attribute that to my changing reading habits. Well, that and a bit of obsession. I do read a lot, but now you'll also often find me with my earbuds shoved in my ears and an audiobook playing. I really think that expanding the audiobook habit to when I'm cooking, driving (I play it through my stereo, I don't wear earbuds while driving - that's dangerous!), exercising has helped me add many more books to my completed shelf.

I'm not to fond of talking ill of books. Every book has an audience. I'm including these books on my worst list because I didn't enjoy them. Maybe it was the characterization. Perhaps the story was flat or difficult to follow. Whatever the reasons, they are my reasons and might not be your reasons. So if the blurb of a book intrigues you, you should always give the book a chance.

It is always hard for me to pick favorites. Today I might love a romance best of all, but tomorrow I could switch to a dystopian. So I'll share the standout books. The ones that I have overly fond memories of or that make me smile, or my stomach flip when I see the cover again.

There were books that surprised me by how much I enjoyed them. 

And finally, though young adult still makes up the bulk of what I read, I added more variety last year. Books written for adults, new adult, graphic novels, books on the craft and business of writing,etc. Here were some of my faves.

You can browse all 105 titles I read last year on my Goodreads shelf: Read in 2014

Have you read any of the books I highlighted? What were some of your standout books last year?

January 23, 2015

10 Steps to Editing Your Novel by Melanie Hooyenga

Happy Friday! I'm really excited to have YA author, Melanie Hooyenga here to talk to us about her editing process. Ack! Editing is the bane of my existence and I'm thankful for all the tips I can get to make it a smoother process. So, click your fingers on your keyboard for a round of virtual applause to welcome Melanie to Strands of Thought!
You did it! You finished writing an ENTIRE NOVEL! Turn off your computer, read a book—celebrate!

If you’ve ever written a full-length manuscript you know what a monumental feat it is to finally write those elusive words, The End. I’ve written five novels (plus one memoir that we don’t talk about) and typing those six little letters never gets old.

Give yourself a week off, then hunker down in your favorite chair because it’s time to work. Everyone edits differently, and what works for me may not work for you, but hopefully these tips will help you get through the dreaded phase of writing: EDITING.

1: The First Read
The first time you read your manuscript, note where to make the changes you know need fixing, as well as anything small, like typos. This might take a couple passes, but the goal here is to read like a reader -- not an editor -- to catch the places that need to be changed.

2: The Second Read
Now go through more slowly, taking time to fix plot inconsistencies, strengthen dialogue, and restructure any scenes that don’t flow. This can take anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.

3: Send to Beta Readers
Hopefully you’ve already enlisted a crew of beta readers who are eager to shred your masterpiece. This should include fellow writers, avid readers, and MAYBE a family member or two (but only if they promise to be honest). Take a deep breath and just hit send. But don’t send it to everyone at once—you’ll want to save some for later drafts.

4: Cry (Kill Your Darlings)
This part might sting. Because we’re so close to our work, we can’t see the things that are wrong with it—that’s why we enlist beta readers—and while they’ll love some parts, there are others that just don’t work. Ultimately, it’s your decision what you do with their input, but you’ll most likely have to say goodbye to a favorite passage or twelve.

5: Send to More Beta Readers
The anxiety you felt the last time should be gone and now you’re excited to share your newly improved manuscript with the next batch of readers.

6: Cry (Tears of Joy This Time)
Hooray! The changes you made in the last draft worked! The second group of readers found a few more things that need changing, but you’re getting closer. Make those tweaks and...

7: Send to MORE Beta Readers
I often resend the final draft to one of my first readers so she can see how the story has progressed with each round of revisions, as well as a small group of readers who may not know proofreading, but know what works and what doesn’t (this could be a good time for your Aunt Mildred).

8: Polish, Polish, Polish
Now’s your last chance to go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Try reading out loud, reading from back to front, then normally one last time. Now you’re ready to...

9: Submit
When your manuscript was out with readers you should have researched agents or publishers and compiled a list you’d like to query, as well as written and polished your query letter (you should also run your letter by editor friends). Take a deep breath and send to 3-5 agents on your list. Don’t send it to everyone at once—you may need to tweak your query letter after the first round (does this sound familiar?).

10: Celebrate for Real
Some people save a fancy bottle of wine. Others get a tattoo. Whatever you do, be sure you celebrate your accomplishment. You’ve FINISHED a novel. Not just written a novel, you’ve put it through the wringer, shed sweat and tears, eaten more than your share of dark chocolate sea salt caramels (or maybe that’s just me), neglected other responsibilities, all to get to this point where you can call yourself a writer.

This process might take more or less time, but hopefully this gives you an idea what to expect. The main thing to remember is if you’re editing your novel, that means you’ve FINISHED a novel, and that’s always something to celebrate.

Melanie Hooyenga first started writing as a teenager and finds she still relates best to that age group. Her young-adult novel, FLICKER, debuted in November 2012, the sequel, FRACTURE, released in June 2014, and the final book, FADED, will be published in June 2015. When not at her day job as a graphic designer, you can find her attempting to wrangle my Miniature Schnauzer Owen and playing every sport imaginable with her husband Jeremy.

Learn more about Melanie at www.melaniehoo.com.

January 21, 2015

Three Times A Charm with Ann T. Bugg

Welcome to my feature, Three Times A Charm. I love to introduce readers to people involved in children’s publishing. Today we June Kramin with us. Younger readers will know her as Ann T. Bugg. June, can you share a little about yourself, please?

Ann T. Bugg is my pen name. I write women’s fiction under my name, June Kramin, and didn’t want to confuse the two genres. My nieces & nephews as well as my friends’ children have always called me Auntie Bug, so I adapted a variation of that. I’m the self-proclaimed Queen of my castle in northern Minnesota, where I live with my Knight in shining armor (who has come to my rescue more than once) and my own little Princess Valerie, who inspired me to write these tales.

Very cute story behind your pen name. Can we hear more about your children’s books?

My middle grade series is titled Before Happily Ever After. They are familiar fairy tales & folklore with a fun and exciting twist that only Valerie & Samantha can deliver. Each book brings you further into the lives of the unlikely best friends, who could not be more opposite, but each book can stand alone.  If you’d like a fun, new twist on a King Arthur tale, pick up book #3. Want a great twist on Jack and the Beanstalk, #5 is for you. Intrigued by the legend of El Dorado? Give #6 a whirl & find what really makes you rich. My daughter was the inspiration for the character of Valerie, as well as my cover artist. Check them out to see where the tale will take you. You CAN judge a book by its cover. [At signings, I love the shouts of “Rapunzel!” when I hold this book up and ask the children who this book is about.]

I’m a series freak & always have to start at #1. I meet a lot of people who feel the same way. #1 is usually their favorite. Personally, I love #2 and on when they really have to “get their hands dirty” and solve puzzling riddles and such to complete their tasks. #7 is my favorite cover (people have said it looks like a photograph) as well as my favorite story. It was the most complex of all and really put them through their paces (as well as me). It was inspired by and based at the Science Museum in St Paul, MN, where we frequented.

Now it’s time for the threes. Give us your top three answers to the following:

Top 3 tools of the trade you couldn’t live without.

1) My laptop. I can’t even read my own writing. Heaven forbid I have to make a note when I’m not booted up!

My next 2 aren’t really tools, but without them, these books would not have been written!

2) My understanding family! Sometime you’re on a roll & just need to excuse yourself. I’ve bought their love with a Wii many years ago…don’t judge. We do what we have to! ;)

3) The two girls that inspired me. Every writer should be as lucky as I am to have real people to base their books on! Every silly little ditty they’ve done has made its way into my stories. I can’t wait for their children to read these books!

Top 3 favorite ways to interact with readers.

1)      I love Q & A. I’m an open book (excuse the pun) when it comes to anything about me. Go ahead, embarrass me. I’ve learned from my mistakes. Some of them were too much fun to only do once. I share pointers. ;)

2)      Getting fan mail is the best feeling ever! I’ll always write back.

3) Last but not least, signings of course! I love talking to tiny humans who think writers are awesome. (Psst… they’re right. ;) )

Top 3 favorite places.

1)      Disney. Land or World, take your pick. I’m still in awe of everything princess & castles and would go in a heartbeat with anyone at any time if I could.

2) Kihei, Maui. No matter how many times we’ve moved or where we’ve been, that’s home to me.

3) In hubby’s car. Before you give me that O.o look, we do a lot of road trips. We’ve driven from CA to FL, from FL to MN and back via PA (‘cause it’s on the way, y’know) MN to AZ as well as TX. I love road tripping! We usually go to see family. That’s the best reward of all! Someday I’d love to make my rounds through Europe.

Okay, June, where can our readers find you online?

Thanks for having me, Kai!

Thank you, June for visiting with us!

January 19, 2015

Why Writers Should Read A Lot

Me & my daughter - riverside reading
When asked what advice I have for beginning writers I usually include, “Read a lot.” I truly believe it’s an important step to developing your own writing voice. The funny thing is I no longer consider myself a beginning writer – I’d probably classify myself as emerging. Yet I’ve realized the advice is still valid.

Recently I’ve had a run of what I consider lackluster books. The writing is decent. The plots are fine. But in the end there isn’t enough to really make me want to talk about them to anyone. Maybe there is little or no chemistry between the characters. Usually there are no surprises.

I almost always read through to the end of these books, hoping something will happen to redeem them in the end. Then when it doesn’t I’m left feeling like it was a waste of my very precious reading time to have invested in a “formula” story. Guess what. It wasn’t a waste at all!

This is the exciting part…

As I’m reading stories that hold little of my attention, I’m mentally skimming my own works-in-progress to make sure I’m not writing a “formula” book. I’m trying to recognize missed opportunities in my story when the characters can react in unexpected ways or where the results of their actions can become a surprise that will turn the story in a different direction.

See why reading is important? Why reading all you can – the good, the bad, the boring, the thrilling – is crucial to YOUR writing? It’s just pure bonus that it’s also fun. Well, usually.

What have you learned from reading?

Cover Reveal - Southern Fried Wiccan

Today I'm shining the spotlight on an upcoming young adult book, SOUTHERN FRIED WICCAN by Susan Sipal. When this book piques your interest, be sure to stay in touch with Susan so you don't miss the March release date!

About the book

Cilla Swaney is thrilled to return stateside, where she can hang up her military-brat boots for good. Finally, she’ll be free to explore her own interests—magick and Wicca. But when she arrives at her grandma’s farm, Cilla discovers that life in the South isn’t quite what she expected. At least while country hopping, she never had to drink G-ma’s crazy fermented concoctions, attend church youth group, make co-op deliveries...or share her locker with a snake-loving, fire-lighting, grimoire-stealing Goth girl…

…Who later invites her to a coven that Cilla’s not sure she has the guts to attend. But then Emilio, the dark-haired hottie from her charter school, shows up and awakens her inner goddess. Finally, Cilla starts believing in her ability to conjure magick. Until…

…All Hades breaks loose. A prank goes wrong during their high school production of Macbeth, and although it seems Emilio is to blame, Cilla and Goth pay the price. Will Cilla be able to keep the boy, her coven, and the trust of her family? Or will this Southern Wiccan get battered and fried?

About the author:

Born and raised in North Carolina, Susan Sipal had to travel halfway across the world and return home to embrace her father and grandfather's penchant for telling a tall tale.  After having lived with her husband in his homeland of Turkey for many years, she suddenly saw the world with new eyes and had to write about it.  Perhaps it was the emptiness of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus that cried out to be refilled, or the myths surrounding the ancient Temple of Artemis, but she's been writing stories filled with myth and mystery ever since.  She can't wait to share Southern Fried Wiccan with readers in March 2015.

January 16, 2015

Author Angela Brown - Sharing the Why

The other day I was browsing Facebook and saw a post with my buddy Angela Brown's name in the title, so I clicked. Holy cow. I'm glad I did. She's got new covers for her new adult Shadow Jumper books and I'm so in love with them, I contacted her immediately and said something like, "Please visit my blog so I can share them with the world, too!" She graciously agreed to share the why of the new covers. A very interesting story. Take it away, Angela.

Thanks for having me here, Kai, and for the chance to share some of the background for some changes recently made to my Shadow Jumpers series.

Let me start by saying that changing the covers wasn’t an overnight whim.

This originated from me, as an author, accepting that I needed a little help (okay, a LOT) with my brand for my Shadow Jumpers series. I knew something was off so I reached out to a PR specialist for a consultation. She and I did some walk-throughs of my blog, my Facebook and my covers. One of the main things she mentioned was that my covers for my series looked great… as stand-alone novels. Each one was uniquely beautiful, crafted with gorgeous design, but said absolutely nothing, branding-wise, to link them as series books (no, just slapping Shadow Jumpers on the cover didn’t count lol!!!). She suggested I check out some of the more popular series sets for my upper YA/NA paranormal genre and organize what I wanted the books to say in a design-linked way.

Well, um, okay. I checked out several sets, including The Hunger Games, and realized what she was talking about. My mind understood what needed to happen, but my heart was not happy. I had Neverlove and They All Fall Down specifically designed to be unique, yet I hadn’t taken the series angle into design consideration.

First thing I had to do was pray and meditate. Seriously. I’d been loving on the original covers since fall of 2012 for Neverlove and fall of 2013 for They All Fall Down. We weren’t married, but we were in a committed relationship lol!!!

Next, I honestly weighed the consultant’s recommendation of changing covers against keeping them as they were. Changing them would give me a chance to try something new, try a new angle AND add in the series concept so the covers are easily recognizable. Keeping them? Not so much.

Then I had to decide HOW to change. I knew from the jump I’d want to go a more symbolic route. Symbols were a big part of the original covers so I wanted to keep that. My search took days, because I had to find something that both my head and heart could love. Then I found the fiery butterflies and heart. You know that warm and giddy sensation you get when you taste the most decadent dessert to come across your dinner table? THAT’s what the graphics for my new covers did for me. They were simple, brilliant, beautiful, and made both my head and my heart happy.

Heather McCorkle made some wonderful suggestions and put her special touch to them, turning graphics into my new cover babies. As much as I loved the originals, I’m thrilled with the new covers. You can SEE they are a series and not have to be told. Sort of a series cover version of “show not tell.”

So, without further ado, here are the old ones:

And here are the new ones:

The difference is immediate, impacting and wonderful.

Neverlove - For a girl born of privilege and a young man bred for status, life truly sucks. And what was love but a twisted thing or currency to earn from unloving parents? At least, until they meet each other... 

Abigail - Abused to the point of defeat, seventeen doesn't seem a bad age to die. Surviving suicide leads her to a second chance at V'Salicus Academy to become a Cleanser, a protector of lost souls. 

Basil - Perfection is the key to earning his parents' love. A slip of the tongue lands him in service to hell as the devil's newest Harvestor, a collector of lost souls to feed his new master's constant craving. 

As with angels and demons, love is forbidden for Cleansers and Harvestors, yet it is the forbidden that is most alluring. When their paths cross, true love is what Abigail and Basil finally discover in each other. Can they hold tight to their love, or will duty trump all, leaving them both to a fate of Neverlove? 

***Beware, there will be action, light romance and a few moments that will tug at your soul.***

Pick up Neverlove from Amazon

They All Fall Down - Now... 
Abby and Basil no longer cross in between life and death to protect lost souls...or steal them. But their former duties as Cleanser and Harvestor threatens to bring an end to the new path they've chosen. 

In the shadows, the new master of hell, Q, embraces his role as the Devourer. With a crave that refuses to be denied (for souls and so much more), he sets a plan in motion to bring about the fall of mankind and finally take the one woman constantly slipping from his grasp: Abby. 

True love collides with secrets and shame. Salvation is only possible if Abby and Basil choose the right path. Or the world could be destined for, “ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” 

***This new adult paranormal romance contains sexual situations, a few swear words, and is not recommended for readers under the age of 18.***

Pick up They All Fall Down from Amazon

About the author:

Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, Angela Brown now calls Central Texas home. She's a lover of Wild Cherry Pepsi and chocolate/chocolate covered delicious-ness. Author of fantasy/sci fi, paranormal, action for Young Adult, New Adult & Middle Grade

January 12, 2015

Want to go viral? Make your message easy to share

Frustrated that news of your book hasn’t gone viral? If you want people to share your message you have to keep it simple for them. Even if they are willing to, you should never expect them to shorten your links or read through your entire book blurb and come up with a catchy phrase to sell your book. There have been plenty of times I wanted to share info about someone’s book, but I just didn’t have the time to do the work for them. Nor did I have the understanding about their book to come up with a catchy phrase.

If you aren’t familiar with the websites that shorten urls, there are a few out there that are free and very easy to use. I use bitly.com (https://bitly.com/a/bitlinks). I like that they track the number of clicks on your link, show you when people clicked so you can get an idea of the best time to share as well as what kind of message gets the most engagement. They even allow you to create bundles so you can share links to your book series with one shortened url. I’ve even experienced great response from their support department when I was having an issue. Very unusual for a free site.

When preparing a message, think Twitter. Even if you don’t use it, others do and they may only share your message if it can be copied and pasted into 140 characters or less. Also, talk in third person, no “I” or “my” statements. Something like:

Jeff’s sister calls him KING OF BAD, but is he bad enough for Super Villain Academy? http://amzn.to/I0uwpc #yalit #fantasy #SuperHeroes

That message works for Twitter as well as Facebook. All the person has to do is copy it from here, paste it there, and hit send. Go ahead and try it! And if you click on that 21 character link, it takes you to the Amazon page. Look at the length of the original url! No one has that kind of room in their feed.

Even with a catchy tagline and a shortened url there is no guarantee your message will go viral, but the chances are stronger that if you say, “Hey, can you help me spread the word?” and then provide a pre-crafted message, more people will share it. Here I'll test the theory - Can you help me spread the word? 

Coming from  author  an emotional, romantic suspense: FINDING THOR. Don't miss it. Join her mailing list 

There is a lot I don’t know about promoting books, but I do know for a fact it’s far more engaging for readers when other people share your book than when you are sharing it again and again. So make the sharing easy.

I organize a private message-sharing group on Facebook for people who write/illustrate/publish for kids (board books through teen). If you are interested in joining, let me know. The more activity, the greater the reach. It really cuts down on your promo time, all while your message gets shared to a broader audience. That’s what I call a win, win.

January 9, 2015

I Live In A Doghouse by Beverly Stowe McClure

A big congratulations to wonderful author and my precious critique partner, Beverly Stowe McClure on the release of her newest middle grade book, I LIVE IN A DOGHOUSE.

Eleven-year-old Nick Cassidy's stepsister delights in calling him gross names. His half-sister loves for Nick to push her in the stroller, to his embarrassment. What if the guys from school see him? All Nick wants is his father to come back and take him away from this crazy family. Is it any wonder he sometimes lives in the doghouse?
I LIVE IN A DOGHOUSE is the story of a boy's struggles to accept his new family while he longs for the old. When his father finally returns, will Nick's dreams come true? Or will he discover that memories sometimes are faulty, and it’s best to forget the past and treasure the present?
Beverly, tell us what inspired I LIVE IN A DOGHOUSE.
     One night when I was having trouble sleeping, a little voice whispered in my ear. This happens to me a lot. I'm not crazy, though some people that are not writers might disagree. I do listen to what these voices tell me. Sometimes, though not always, it leads to a story. This kid said, "I live in a doghouse." Of course, I was curious, so I asked him why. He didn't tell me any more.
     I did nothing about it for a while, but the words stayed in my mind. What was the boy's story? I started tossing around ideas of who he was and why he might live in a doghouse. I remembered stories my mom and dad told me about my half brother, who was eleven years older than me, and who pushed me in the stroller when I was a baby. I don't know whether he was embarrassed or not. He never said, but I liked the idea, and my story started taking shape. The end result is I Live in a Doghouse for MG/Tween readers.

Ha, that's a great story-behind-the-story. Congrats again, Beverly! Readers, buy your own copy here:

About the author:
Most of the time, you’ll find Beverly McClure in front of her computer, writing the stories little voices whisper in her ear. When she’s not writing, she takes long walks and snaps pictures of clouds, wild flowers, birds and deer. To some of her friends, she is affectionately known as the “Bug Lady” because she rescues butterflies, moths, walking sticks, and praying mantis from her cats.
For twenty-two years Beverly taught children in grades two through five how to read and write. They taught her patience. Now, she teaches a women’s Sunday school class at her church. To relax she plays the piano. Her cats don’t appreciate good music and run and hide when she tickles the ivories.

January 7, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group - Throwing My Hat Into Their Ring

I have decided to join forces with this dynamic group. I've lurked on their Facebook page and through their blog posts for a few years now, but this year I thought I needed to play a more active role in their community. 

First, a little about them. Insecure Writer's Support Group was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. His awesome co-hosts for today's posting of the IWSG are Elizabeth Seckman, Lisa Buie-Collard, Chrys Fey, and Michelle Wallace!

Now to introduce myself:

I'm Kai Strand. I write fiction for kids and teens. I coordinate LIGHTNING QUICK READS, a multi-author short story blog, I'm a mother of four. A wife of one. I hate to touch raw meat, and I'm a Mozart fangirl.

On to the insecurity:

You might wonder why, after seeing the publication of nine books, I'm only now joining a group for insecure writers. It would be a valid question. I assure you that I've gained all sorts of knowledge and confidence in regards to my writing career. However, I've also gained some new concerns and insecurities that other authors are likely to understand. I want to share my experiences and I invite others to share theirs as well. I'd love to hear any suggestions people might have to address my neurotic thoughts, too!

So it turns out, after four years as a published children's author, I'm finding it difficult to stay motivated because of the amount of NON-writing work that goes into a career. I spend a lot of time and energy on keeping my books in front of people, through social media, email, USPS, shaking hands, kissing babies...oh, maybe not that last one, but I feel like a politician sometimes! Slimy and constantly 'selling my agenda.'

When I lighten up on the promotion, books sales drop. It's that simple. With each new title I hope it will be the one that 'resonates' so readers start talking about my books more and I can finally talk more about the weather, or my favorite movies, or boots - gah, how I love boots. However, it gets more difficult to keep that enthusiasm high when resonation hasn't happened. Insecure thoughts, such as, If readers aren't gushing, they must not like my work, sneak into my head. I imagine my husband eyeing the electric bill and thinking, The least she could do is pander her books in the Home Depot parking lot.

Then I consider focusing on something else entirely. I'm sort of an all or nothing type of person. So if I'm going to spend a lot of time writing novels, I'm going to want to provide them the opportunity to be discovered by seeking promotional opportunities. If I decide it is time to stop seeking those opportunities, then I may as well stop investing all my time in writing and go back to corporate America and get paid for all my hard work.

Writing is my career. Since I don't have a boss giving me a performance review, I measure my success on things like, the number of books sold, the number of reviews (hopefully, mostly positive) posted, the size of my royalty checks, my engagement with readers. And I'm wondering if I should fire myself.

For the record, I do recognize my own successes such as, I've SOLD nine manuscripts to publishers and self published two. I'm not all doom and gloom, you are only getting a look at a current gloom. I'm sure I'm not the only author to feel this way. I invite others to commiserate. I'd welcome thoughts on ways to retrain my brain to look for other signs of success. What do you do to re-inspire your career?

If nothing else, thanks for listening. It always helps to 'share' my concerns. If been battling with this one for awhile now and really hope I'll be able to get beyond it.

Three Times A Charm with John S. McFarland

Welcome to the 2015 version of Three Times A Charm. Each year I add some new questions to freshen up the interview and keep some of the old favorites. Our first guest of the year is John McFarland.

Thanks for joining us, John. Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

My first novel, an historical horror story, The Black Garden was published in 2010 to universal praise. My work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley, and in the anthology, A Treasury of American Horror Stories. I have written extensively for magazines and newspapers on historical and arts-related subjects and have been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis. I admit it, I am a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, or at least I have been since the age of ten when I discovered a story on them in one of my grandmother’s magazines. Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom is his first novel for young readers.

Please tell our readers about Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom.

 Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom, is a richly illustrated, slightly ironic young reader novel in the best tradition of Roald Dahl. It is funny, poignant, wry and character-driven, as well as quickly-plotted and suspenseful.

A little boy lost in the woods is saved by a sasquatch mom suffering from empty-nest syndrome…

Evan Nestor Bettancourt, is a small-for-his-age eight year old slow to realize he is not a little kid anymore. He is imaginative, curious, and warily fascinated by the monsters in his story books. He is also particularly selfish and spoiled. His father, a high school biology teacher in a mountain town in northern California, encourages his son to see the practical, scientific side of life, and not worry about the fanciful creatures which live in his imagination. On a family outing, Evan Nestor is lost in the woods, and just as he starts to wonder if he will ever see his parents again, he meets one of those creatures: Annette, a sasquatch mom curious about the odd ways of humans, and missing her own child who has grown up and gone off on his own.

Pursued by a sweets-loving cryptozoologist who wants to reveal Annette’s existence to the world, and a hungry mountain lion, the unlikely pair make their way to a spot where Annette knows Evan Nestor will be safely found by his own kind. What they learn about sharing, empathy, and each other along the way, prepares them for many adventures to come.

Annette's illustrator, Brenna Vaughan’s picture book with the interesting title, All About Poop, was be released by Pinwheel Books last year. Brenna’s work may be seen at brennaillustration.com

The website is; www.annettethemom.com 

My historical horror novel, The Black Garden was published in 2010 by The Patrice Press, and was universally well-reviewed both nationally and internationally. It is also available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Now it is time for the three’s. Give us your top three answers to the following questions so we might get to know you better.

  • Top 3 books you recommend reading and why you recommend them. 
Hmm, just three favorite books. I would say Frankenstein by Mary Shelley because it is a horror and metaphysical masterpiece which teaches valuable lessons about compassion and responsibility. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain because it is the seminal American novel, and understands the souls of this country perhaps better than any other. The Little Stranger By Sarah Waters because it is a modern classic ghost story.

  • Top 3 most admired people and why you admire them. 
First, Malala Yusefsai, the young woman shot by terrorists in Pakistan for wanting an education for girls. She is so much braver and more honorable than those who would hurt her. Second, Shakespeare. An incomparable genius who held a mirror up to human nature. Third my son Evan who at 19 travelled alone to Africa to volunteer in an orphanage, and at 20 moved alone to New York to study acting.

  • Top 3 leisure activities. 
Movies, reading and dinner out with friends.

John, where can our tech savvy readers find more about you and your work?

Thanks for joining us on this week’s Three Times A Charm, John. Best of luck to you and your books.

GUESTS WELCOME!  I’m always looking for guests for Three Times A Charm. If you are an author, illustrator or book reviewer, an agent or an editor. If you have something related to children’s publishing that you’d like people to know about, feel free to contact me about a future appearance.

January 3, 2015

New Year Project

Happy New Year!

Hope this post finds you happy and healthy with warm fuzzies about 2014 and big plans for 2015.

This year I'm joining forces with several other authors to bring you a new short story blog. LIGHTNING QUICK READS is a themed blog. Every month each author interprets the theme their own way and presents it to you in a shiny, pretty, and original short story. I can't wait to discover the differences. My first story MAY THE SMARTER VILLAIN WIN is up for your reading pleasure. I hope you'll read and enjoy. Subscribe via email while you are there and the pretty posts will show up automatically. Plus, we'd love for you like our Facebook page.

Cheers to new projects in the New Year. What new things are you tackling in 2015?