Category: Uncategorized.

*I was given an advance read copy of this book for a fair and honest review.*

 

I like to write book reviews as soon as I finish reading the book, while it’s all still fresh in my mind. Though it’s been a few days since I’ve finished this one, I’m am not worried about forgetting it’s intricacies. This is one of those books that stays with you for a while. The characters, their trials, the love, the heartache; choices made by fictional characters that by the end of the book are all too real.

The Edge of Nowhere, a historical fiction novel by C. H. Armstrong, that will take you on a journey of what it was like for a young widow and her combined fourteen children and stepchildren to survive in the 1930’s dust bowl era.

Spoiler Alert!

 

The beginning of the story starts with a letter written by grandmother, Victoria Hastings. At the end of this prologue there is a line that sums up the entire book so beautifully.

“Remember me not as your hostile and overbearing grandmother, but as a woman who refused to be a victim.”

Indeed, Victoria Hastings, refused to become a victim. Through harsh circumstances, Victoria survived to become a woman, almost emotionally unrecognizable from her youth. This story will make you feel the love, hate, and everything in between that Victoria felt.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 stars! And would recommend it to anyone who likes women’s fiction, or historical fiction.

 

Hi Eric! As you may have noticed from my website, I like to interview writers. From what you’ve told me, you like to write sci-fi fantasy stories, but also write some business and finance works as well. I’m happy to chat with as fellow writer like yourself, but I’m not going to ask you about your writings today.  Instead, I’d like to pick your brain regarding your passion for helping writers figure out the business side of being an author.

Before jumping into the main questions, can you tell us a bit about your experiences that lead you to want to help writers?

I have always had a passion for writing and storytelling but like many prospective authors I felt that writing for a living was just a pipedream and I went to school for business instead. My love of books and the overwhelming fines I had racked up at the local library led me to become a manager of a bookstore. Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to speak directly with many authors and gain priceless insight into their mind. My experiences have led me to speak with authors just starting out, as well as, others like Larry Correia who have achieved the hallowed, NYT bestseller status.Eric Headshot

As I stepped into this larger store 6 months ago the requests to do author signings and questions about how to publish a book has grown exponentially. From my countless conversations with new authors it was apparent that many authors lack the experience, resources, and knowledge to get their books to their readers hands. I realized that it was selfish for me to hoard the knowledge I had gained through my unique ability to directly interact with successful writers.

I decided to put more of my effort into understanding and overcoming the struggles of new authors. It then became my crusade to help my fellow writers understand the business of books so that they can see the fruits of their labor.

I can name off a long list of struggles, writers go through when trying to publish and market their books. What do you see as being a major reason why a lot of authors fail to get the exposure they are seeking for their books?

This is a bit of loaded question so I will give you a short and long answer for it.

Short: Supply and demand…

Long: Writers often are creative people who would prefer to not have to get their hands dirty with the business side of things. This is why the industry model has been one driven by writers, agents, publishing houses, and bookstores all playing the same role for decades. Writers need agents, who need publishers, who need bookstores, and bookstores need writers, who need… I think you get where I’m going with this.

This model has recently, if you can call almost a decade recent, been altered drastically with the advent of the e-reader. Due to the lowered cost of print self-publishing partnered the ease of e-book publication the market was taken over by people who may never have written a book in the old system. With the a few hundred thousand new titles flooding the market agents have a test market to cherry pick budding authors from. They choose the authors who have the quickest and most likely chance of selling X number of books. By removing the middleman from the equation many authors are left with a voice but no microphone.

The author is forced to pick up the slack and market themselves. The fact that many authors have worked their entire lives on the right side of their brain they lack the experience and business acumen to become the marketer they need to be in order to get their message out there. The writer in today’s over saturated market has to build their own platform so they can stand out to readers, agents, and publishers.

Can you suggest a few things, which you think, a successful store book signing has?

The first thing I would suggest is that the author have a built in audience. Without a built in fan base it is likely that anyone who is shopping the store will not think you are very interesting if nobody has shown up to see you. People think they are missing something if there is a crowd.

Another thing you should have is an engaging topic you plan on discussing. It is great to start by reading a passage from your book but the people who’ve traveled to see you want more. They want to know what the passage meant to you. Let them in on your secret thoughts that led you to write the book. Sharing this content will help the person have a deeper connection to you and your book. These people will sell your book for you.

The last and most important thing you should have is candy. People love chocolate and it may just sweeten the deal and encourage them to purchase your book.

If people would like to find out a bit more about you and your works where can they find you?

Twitter: Twitter.com/EricAyles

Facebook: Facebook.com/WhatAylesYou

LinkedIn: LinkedIn.com/in/WhatAylesYou

Website: WhatAylesYou.com

In your experience as an Assistant Store Manager for a large US bookstore, what advice do you give authors wanting their book on the shelves? Is it the same advice for both indie and traditionally published authors?

Indie:

The primary piece of advice I can give you is to make sure your book is returnable. The management and staff at a bookstore love literature and also love helping new authors get their book to people. With that said they are also running a business that they need to ensure is profitable. If the book is non-returnable then it is not likely the bookstore will be able to carry the book. Some independent bookstores may allow you to do a consignment where you sign an agreement that you will purchase back the books at retail cost.

To my knowledge Lightning Source is the only Print On Demand (POD) publisher who allows you to set up your book as returnable. Keep in mind that this option costs more for the author and there is no guarantee that you will recoup the cost if it doesn’t sell. The author typically has to pay the shipping or destruction cost.

Traditional:

More often authors who have gone the traditional method for publication typically have returnable books so my primary advice is different…

Get your book on Edelweiss.

This website allows publishers to put the book up for bookseller, reviewers, and other industry professionals to download for free. There are over 74,000 people in the bookselling industry who have accounts on this site. These are the people who can and will be the champion of your book. If they like your book they will order it into their store and handsell it to your readers. Partnering this with a well defined social media strategy and you have a great chance of success.

Can you give us an anecdotal story about an author who’s come in to your store? Maybe they were a great example of what to do right – or wrong.

Hmm…That’s a hard one too.

I would prefer not to conjure up the thoughts of failed book signings and although Ronda Rousey and Greg Gutfeld come to mind, I think a more pertinent example would be Andrew Welsh-Do you reviewHuggins. He is a local author of the book Slow Burn and has done a few signings at my prior store. With a Twitter following of only 3,000 he can always pack the store with people. He is brilliant at marketing himself and relating to his followers. When you talk to him you can tell he genuinely appreciates his fans and enjoys connecting with them. This is why I have witnessed him have a successful signing on a Tuesday and do equally well at the Ohiana writer’s festival on Saturday even though it is just a few miles away.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! I’m glad to have gotten the opportunity to connect!

My best wishes for all your endeavors Eric! Katherine

Inspiration from Mediocrity

I came across this blog on www.firetok.com, written by Gordon A.Wilson. Gordon and I have had many chats about writing, life, and what inspires, but I feel this blog hit the nail on the head when it comes to talking about inner motivation. Some of us who strive to write a best seller will never reach that goal because perhaps (amongst other reasons) we choose to be okay with mediocrity. Gordon has found the inspiration in this. Read on, and be inspired.

I started this blog writing about things which inspired me. The inspiration has come in so many different ways. Seeing someone trying to get somewhere is always inspiring. When I see an honest effort to get something done it just makes me feel good. When I can see this effort being made it inspires me to want to put anything I can into supporting their effort.

I work with a lot of different students, and I see every level of dedication and commitment. I have a student who I never need to prepare for because she never practices. She can make excuses for anything and everything and believe me she does. I could teach her the same stuff every lesson and I swear sometimes I do because she puts no effort into growing.

At the other end of the spectrum is a student who devours everything she comes near. She worked on learning the chords to a song so she could play and sing it. I wasn’t sure what to expect. She returned a couple days later able to play and sing the song almost all the way through. Let me explain, to the non instrument players- playing and singing anything at the same time is not the same as playing or singing. It typically is something most people really have to work at to synchronize and get right. She pulled this off in couple days. She admitted that when she got home she was so excited she played it over and over until she got it right. Talk about self motivation.

So what does this have to do with anything? I was considering asking the same question. In the course of my exhaustive research for something I was working on yesterday  I came upon a video entitled something like, why you suck at guitar. The gist of the video was what kind of guitar player do you want to be? He drew up this great analogy about being alright with and accepting mediocrity. He explained more about the amount of effort and preparation it would take to get there which is not much. He also went on to explain how much effort and essentially practice it would take to become a really good guitar player. It is an entirely different level of commitment and a completely different mindset as well. Have I answered the question what does this have to do with anything yet? No. Not really but it’s getting closer.


What does the whole mindset aspect have to do with anything? Enough that it deserves a volume on its own. A champion in any field cannot have the mindset of a failure. A champion cannot even have an average mindset. Most of the champions I admire are humble so we are not talking about braggadocio.  I am talking about confidence and vision.There are a few things I would like to be much better at. One of them ironically is playing guitar and singing. But I really desire to become a better writer. In  a sea overflowing with writers, what could possibly separate my writing from anyone else’s? I don’t know that it could. But I can tell you for certain bad writing is not the path. Writing worse or accepting mediocrity is not on the path. Becoming a less interesting storyteller certainly won’t separate me from averageness. (I realize it may not be a real word but it so fits in with the point I am making.) Mediocrity. Being OK with mediocrity. Think about that one for a minute. This is where the whole playing guitar blends in with being a writer and as far as I am concerned being a person.

I can choose to not practice. I can choose to not learn. I can choose to be petty and small. I can choose to hold onto a self destructive grudge. I can choose to substitute judgement for understanding. I could fill my days with excuses for not accomplishing any given thing. When I get done I could ask someone to tell me what it looks like from where they stand. My guess is it would look just like it did before I made all my excuses. Why wouldn’t it? Nothing changed.  I didn’t really look at the things that make my writing less than interesting. I didn’t really practice that part I am having a hard time with. I made excuses and got nothing done.


The bottom line is this. The phrase “being alright with mediocrity” is offensive. It makes me cringe. I know the sea of writers is overflowing, as is the sea of entrepreneurs, singers, songwriters and about any other group I could list. Do I think the ones who have risen to the top of their field were the ones who were alright with their own mediocrity? Absolutely not.

What is inspiring about any of this? Everything. Look I know I will never be John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway nor will I wait for an invitation to go on tour with the Stones. But I can make choices to take steps each day to separate myself from mediocrity. I can learn from these greats and the not so greats. I can practice at being a more patient person. I can make efforts to spend more time listening and less time talking or assuming. I can make decisions to improve that which is improvable. Working to move away from mediocrity is inspiring.

Great Things

Hello all,

The last blog I wrote was about the bits of me that made it in to my first novel, Harmless. Sticking with that theme, I’d like to share with a short piece that inspired my main character, but didn’t make it in to the book. For those of you curious as to what my novel might be like, this short story is a good example of my style of writing. It’s also one of my favorite bits I’ve written. I hope you like it.

Cheers,

Katherine

 

Great Things

 

Sometimes, you just have to hold your breath and jump right in. That’s what I’ve done. Part of me feels like I haven’t come up for air yet … and then there’s another part. There’s definitely another part now.

The screech of metal rubbing on metal. My bed creaks and grinds as I flop all my weight onto the mattress, held up by the old cast iron frame. The smell of rosemary and lavender float up from my pillows and blankets. I breathe it in deep. My grandma washes everything in lavender scented soap and the rosemary … I bring a pillow to my face, covering it. The rosemary is everywhere in my grandma’s house, growing unruly, in clay pots strategically soaking up the sun from every south facing window. The scents bring me back. Back here. To my home. To my bedroom. To my bed. To a safe place.

I let the pillow fall off to the side as I glance around my room. It looks the same as it always has. My worn wooden desk and soft pink computer chair sit beside my bed. My laptop open on top of it, it never closes. The potted gerbera daisy my mom gave me sits by the edge in its terra cotta pot sprouting seven blooms. My four-drawer dresser sits underneath the window dressed in yellowing lacy curtains. And one cardboard box sits crammed into the corner of my bedroom, hiding from the world, refusing to be unpacked. Yep, my bedroom looks exactly the same as when I left it, and at the same time a whole world different.

I slow my breathing in an attempt to filter the rush of senses. My senses are exploding. I can smell the stale air between the cogitated folds of the cardboard box. I can hear the tiny legs of an aphid crawl on the leaf of the plant beside me. I can pick out the tiny flaws in the lacy pattern of my bedroom curtains from ten feet away.

I’d like to say the room is spinning but it’s not. Maybe I’d like it to be or I wish it was, because then maybe I could still convince myself this is all just a dream. But it’s not. Everything’s crystal clear. My mind, my body … clear. Perhaps even perfect.

I grab the edges of the quilts on my bed and wrap them around me tight, covering every inch of me from head to toe. It’s a small comfort, more like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. I’ve been trying so hard to look the other way, live here in the spaces between reality and … this. But it’s undeniable. I’ve made my choice. I chose to become this … this thing. How long have I spend fighting against this devil I know, only to discover the world is not as black and white as it seems. And good cannot exist without – evil. I know now, with absolute clarity, that God and the Devil are as real as you and me. Can’t say I’ve formally met either but I’m beginning to think the Devil might beg to differ.

A single tear rolls down my cheek. I can smell its salty brine as it hits my pillow, mingling with the rosemary and lavender.

This isn’t the way things were supposed to end! My voice is screaming in my head. So loud, I can’t stand another minute inside this quilted cocoon. I burst from my tight wrap kicking the covers off me in a heated tantrum. This isn’t how things end!

A house fly scratches at some dirt crowded in the corner of my bedroom window. I close my eyes and try to silence the world.

You know … I had this feeling once, that I was destined for great things. But that pinnacle – that tuning point, where I’m faced with my choices, I realized – great things can be mixed with equal parts of terrible. And no matter what I choose, it won’t change what terrible things I’ve already done – or what I will become … a true monster.

It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Catherine Armstrong, author of the Historical Fiction novel The Edge of Nowhere.

So tell us Catherine, is this a first novel for you or have you written others?

The Edge of Nowhere is not only my first, but my first strong attempt at fiction. Though I’ve written for years, I wasn’t sure I had the imagination to write fiction. And then this story got stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave. Since then, I’ve written a YA novel and have started three other novels that are in various stages of completion.

C.H.ArmstrongI’ve always found Historical fiction fascinating. My favourite title in this genre is The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. Did you find that writing a fiction book that stayed true to historical events difficult? How did you do most of your research?

LOVE that book! In the United States, it’s sold under the title of Someone Knows My Name! But to answer your question, staying true to the historical events depicted in The Edge of Nowhere was fairly easy for me for two reasons: First, because the Dust Bowl lasted a full ten years, so there was a fluidity of timeline to work with. Second, because I grew up on the stories of hardships from this era. While it’s a work of fiction, The Edge of Nowhere was actually inspired by my own family’s struggles during this time, so I grew up hearing about the poverty and sacrifices. As a result many of the events depicted actually happened either to someone in my own family, or to another. I think the fun thing for readers will be trying to discover which elements of the story are fact-based, and which are a product of my imagination. And, frankly, some of the answers may surprise them.

Your book cover is very nice. Can you tell us a bit about who designed it and why you chose those images?

Thank you – I admit that I’m really happy with it! The cover was designed by Steven Novak, of Novak Illustration, and was a combined effort of the design artist, my publisher and myself. The inspiration, though, definitely came from the artist. The two things I love best about it are the background and the woman. If you’ll notice, behind the woman on the front cover is a background image that depicts the devastation of the era. Everything you see is a landscape covered several feet deep in dust and dirt, which is very true to the history of the era. The dust storms would sweep in and cover everything in dirt, much like a Minnesota snowstorm buries the landscape in snow. It was very similar, and that’s really what the main character does – constantly. As soon as Victoria overcomes one battle, she has to gear up for another. I love that we were able to find an image of a woman whose entire demeanor says, “Give me a second to regroup, then come at me! I dare you!” Incidentally, the main character was loosely based on my own grandmother, and I guarantee that’s exactly what she would’ve said: “Come at me – I dare you!” She was a strong woman who backed down for nobody.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Website: www.charmstrongbooks.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/catherinehedrickarmstrong
Twitter: @C_H_Armstrong
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charmstrongbooks

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ch_armstrong/

Amazon Author Page: Coming soon
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+CHArmstrongbooks/posts

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14251172.C_H_Armstrong

Did you always dream of becoming a writer? How you pursued other careers in the past?

Yes. I’ve always written because it’s always been the one thing I felt accomplished at doing. With that said, though, I always thought my first book would be a work of non-fiction because, until recently, it was what I mostly wrote.

I have a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and have almost always pursued jobs related to writing. I’ve been fortunate to stay home to raise my children these last 19 years, but I’ve used that time writing for non-profits and charities, and most recently for a local magazine.

Give us a quick synopsis on your upcoming novel The Edge of Nowhere.

The Edge of Nowhere is based during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and tells the story of a young woman’s struggle – first as an orphan and then after the death of her husband. The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression have just begun to gear up when Victoria’s husband dies, leaving her with a farm that cannot produce, a mortgage she cannot pay, and nine children she cannot feed. To provide for her family, she does (arguably) reprehensible acts in order to secure the basic necessities for her family. It really begs the question, “Is there anything at all a parent won’t do to provide for her children?”

While it’s not a “romance,” it’s definitely a love story. It’s the story of Victoria’s love for her deceased husband and their children and, in return, their children’s love for each other.

As a writer myself, I think about this all the time. If your book ever became a TV show or movie, who would you cast as the main characters?

I think Deborah Ann Woll would be perfect for the role of Victoria. She not only looks the part (height and stature), but I think she has the acting chops to go from a somewhat naïve young woman to a kick-butt, get-out-of-my way, leading character.

I haven’t given a lot of thought to who would be good as the peripheral characters.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far in publishing a book?

I’m surprised at how incredibly fun it is! My publisher, Penner Publishing, has made nearly every step of the process fun. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but the pure fun is not something I expected. That, and the friendships – I’ve made some incredible friends along the way with other authors going through this same process alongside me.

Is The Edge of Nowhere written as a series? Can you tell us what your working on next?

No – it’s completely stand-alone. With that said, I enjoyed writing about the era and may return someday to tell the stories of some of Victoria’s children. Currently, though, I’m in the process of searching for an agent for a Young Adult novel I recently wrote about a homeless family. It’s a piece I’m really proud of and I hope to find a home for it soon. Beyond that, I have a couple of other manuscripts in the works, but none are really far enough to give much information on them.

One last question . . . Tell us a bit about the person you feel supported you most in your writing career.

I wish I could name only one person. At the top of my list is my husband and children, who have been so incredibly patient while I ignored literally everything around me to get this book in the hands of readers. Beyond that, I’ve had no end of support from my extended family and my “Facebook Family,” as well as many residents in the town of El Reno, Oklahoma (where this novel is set) who have been with me and encouraged me every single step of the way throughout this process.

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The Bits of Me

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, and I think it’s time I did. I’ve been hiding in my office, trying to crank out the last of the edits, needed on my manuscript and I can finally say … it’s done. Three and a half years, and the book I’ve worked so hard on is polished to a point I can see my face in it. There’s still lots of stuff for me to do while I wait to hear back from agents, like – watch way to much Supernatural on Netflix, and start writing book two of course.

So, I wanted to write this blog, before I get too far in to writing book two, too share with all of you the ‘bits of me’ that made it in to my first manuscript. A friend of mine said to me. “Katherine, you’re telling all your secrets!” But I don’t think so. Someday, if my book ever goes big, this blog will be a nerd nugget for super fans! I writing this cuz I’m a nerd too and appreciate stuff like this. So here goes …Rosemary

  1. Rosemary: That’s right, the herb used to season poultry! I have huge pots of unruly rosemary plants growing in the south facing windows of my house, and so does the character, Grams, in my book. The sent of rosemary can be used to enhance memory. I used rosemary symbolically in the book. Gram’s granddaughter, Rachel, is always trying to forget what happened in the past, the sent of rosemary brings clearer memories, that were once foggy.
  1. Leather Jackets: I have what I consider to be, a very cool leather jacket. And, when I’m feeling particularly ‘bad ass’ I like to wear it. In my story, my main character, Rachel, also has a leather jacket. Her late brother, a rebel without a cause, gave it to her. My jacket was bought at the mall, but the same as my character’s jacket, it gives her a sense of becoming someone different.Katherine (8)
  1. Turning emotions into analogies about the weather: Long ago, a friend once told me. “Don’t let other peoples weather, effect your weather.” Which basically means, if others are in a bad mood, don’t let it become your mood too. I liked this, ‘emotional weather analogy’ so much, that I created a whole character around it called, Dr. Doppler, aka The Weather Lady. The Weather Lady is a psychologist, who analyzes her patient’s emotions, interpreting them into weather report like analogies. The weather reports give my main character a whole new way to express how she feeling, without actually coming out and saying it.
  1. Conversations over hot beverages: Do you every notice that a lot of important conversations happen over hot beverages? Or is that just me? Just Teaabout everyone in my story think this, except for my main character.
  1. Crow funerals: Did you know there was such a thing? Google it, I dare you. Once, several years ago I witnessed a crow funeral. By chance, looking out the window of my house, I saw a dead crow a little ways off away. Up in the trees, around the dead crow, were perched four or five crows. After a few more minutes, I noticed a few more had arrived. After about twenty minutes, there must have been around eighty crows! Apparently, crows will gather to ‘pay respects’ to their fallen brothers. Crow funerals are a real thing, and are very creepy. I found a way to put a crow funeral in the book … its awesome.Crow
  1. Inner voice vs. outer voice: Anyone who’s had a conversation with me in person, probably realizes that I have an inner commentary that’s always going, and so does my main character. There’s a commentary in my main characters head of what she would have, could have, should have said … but never does. A trait we both share.

I hope you enjoyed these tidbits! Someday I hope you look back on this blog (after reading the book) and say “Hmm – so that’s how she thought all that up – weird.”  :)

 

Good reading and good writing to you all!

Katherine

I’m pleased to introduce to you all, Ben Starling; a lover of marine conservation, a skilled athlete is the sport of boxing, and an author with a just released short story.

Ben, can you tell us a bit about your new short story? Are there any themes of boxing and marine conservation in this tale?

Thank you for interviewing me, Katherine. My short story Something in the Air has just been released on Kindle. While it’s true that there’s boxing and a marine theme in my upcoming novel that will be released in 2016, in this new short love story, the focus is on a returning soldier, a veterinarian and an urban environmental concern.

Here’s the blurb:SITA FINAL COVER - KINDLE LO OCT
Daniel thought war was tough. That was till he fell in love.
What if it’s true that you can never really go home? Returning from a soul-crushing war, Daniel Dragan is determined to put the past behind him. But with his beloved uncle dead and the town’s economy in a slump, there may not be much to keep him in San Prospero, California.
That is till he is startled by veterinarian Willow Dixon at the roadside lookout above their hometown’s new factory. A desperately needed job offer there may offer Daniel the chance he needs – but all is not as it seems at the factory and Willow, determined to save the inhabitants of her animal sanctuary, wants the factory’s operations stopped. Sometimes the road home is neither the one we expect. Nor the one we left behind…
You can find it on Kindle at http://bit.ly/ampgdell

Are you choosing to self-publish, or is this book being published by a traditional publishing house? Why did you choose to go this route?

I am looking forward this Autumn to indie launches of several short stories set in the same world as my upcoming novel. This novel is also a love story – and an indie launch as well.

Independent publishing is one of the most exciting changes happening in any industry these days and is largely an online phenomenon. It’s morphing at lightning speed and no one knows what will happen next. It’s fascinating – and a fun challenge!

And one of the nicest things about online publishing is the interactive component – reading and writing have become a two-way street as readers and writers reach out to each other over the internet and around the world. Traditionally, writing was a very lonely occupation. It’s a great time to be a writer!
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I can be reached at www.ben-starling.com and at all of these social networks – I look forward to connecting with you.

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From what I’ve read about you online it sounds as though you’ve lived a very interesting life. Tell us a bit about your passions, other than writing.

Well, of course, I love boxing. People tend to think of it as a bit of a brutal sport, but I enjoy it for the technique and the strategy of the game. If you can include strategy in your plan – defensive parries, counters to your opponent’s every move, footwork that is active rather than reactive… it opens up a lot of possibilities. I retired from competition a few years ago and now lift weights, swim and hike to keep fit.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’m a freelance editor, working on business plans, articles published in specialist magazines and some fiction. After so many years of working on other people’s stories, it felt like the right time to create an original one of my own.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out writing?

If you haven’t already, read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Also any creative writing book by James N Frey is a good investment. Read them all. He is one of the best teachers of structure I’ve come across.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

That’s a difficult question. What I wanted to achieve was to touch the reader across a range of major emotions: love, despair, excitement, humor, hope, acceptance…to name a few, while also being unpredictable. Twists and turns. Pain and joy.

I suppose what surprised me most was that all the spreadsheets, post-it notes and brain-storming sessions my long-suffering editor insisted upon have produced a novel that I’m very happy with. Spreadsheets for creativity? It sounded crazy. The tunnel was long and dark but I got there in the end! Just about sane.

I love to ask this question! If your book were turned in to a TV show or movie, whom would you cast as the main characters?

Ah, I’d love to see the charismatic Anne Hathaway as the heroine! The hero would be Chris Hemsworth. Or Channing Tatum. Either would be fantastic.

Are there any authors out there that inspire you? What is it about them or their work that helps drive you to write?

Maeve Binchy. Great structure. Great style. I read her work first just for the joy of it, but there is also so much to learn from her. She is one of the master storytellers of our time.

BEN blue_actors headshot sq_AUG2015Is there any thing else you’d like to add?

Something in the Air is the first short story (others coming soon!) in a series. You can find it on Kindle at http://bit.ly/ampgdell

Something in the Water, a novel, continues the journey in this series and will be released on January 21, 2016.

If you’d like to stay in touch and be notified of other new releases, please visit: www.ben-starling.com/contact

Thanks for interviewing me, Katherine. I look forward to reading your work too.

Short Bio: Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his upcoming novel. He is Oxford’s only ever Quintuple Blue (varsity champion five years running), was Captain of the university boxing team, and coached and boxed competitively. Ben graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and an M Phil. He was born in the USA but has lived in the UK since childhood.

 

I came across this blog while reading tweets attached to the  hashtag ‘#MondayBlogs’. After reading it I thought, here’s a writer just like me! When she sits to write she has a vague idea of where the story will go, but she lets the story, and characters, take it where they may. I hope You like the blog as much as I did …

Katherine

 

Writing my fwriterirst book came as a surprise. I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing a novel. I’m not sure what my intention was, if in fact I even had a conscious purpose in giving voice to the noise in my head. Once the paragraphs turned into pages, and the story kept unfolding, I realized what was happening. At that point, though, I was already immersed in the characters, and I didn’t stop to consider the process until I was done.

And then…

I had a novel. After I whooped and danced and celebrated my “finished” novel, the cold, hard truth slapped me in the face. What I had was a first draft that needed a lot of work. My process of learning and rewriting is irrelevant to today’s discussion. The pertinent issue is that I did not have a creative writing educational background. Consequently, I didn’t know that I was breaking the rules.

creative Rules for being creative? Who knew?

Now, many years and eleven books later, I know that I consistently break one of the basics taught to most students of creative writing. I do not outline. Feels like I’m breaking a commandment. Thou Shall Outline. Oops.

I am a clueless writer. I have only the vaguest sense of plot when I start a novel. The best way I can explain my process is to say that the story is not mine to manipulate. The story belongs to the characters, and so I follow them and write down what I see, hear, and feel. Often I’m as surprised as readers by the things that happen along the way.

writer2Over the years, in my writerly manner of introspection, I’ve realized that breaking this rule wasn’t merely a matter of ignorance. I’m simply not a planner. I did what came naturally to me. A clear example of this comes from my long ago college English Composition class. I was never good about homework. (Another story altogether.) So I arrived in class to find that I’d totally forgotten our first assignment was due that day. I was supposed to have written a two-page short story. We’d been given a prompt, which I’ve long since forgotten, and a full week to write the story. And there I was, without a single word. Fortunately, I arrived to class twenty minutes early. I opened my notebook (the olden days, when we used pens and paper) and I started writing. I remember the few classmates who’d also arrived early were laughing and teasing me. No way was I going to complete the story before class began. Fortunately, another one of my idiosyncrasies is that I can shut out the world and get lost inside my own head. Whatever that prompt was, I found a voice, listened, and followed. I wrote. When the professor walked in, I was writing the last sentence.

I received an A+ on that paper. No, I’m not saying that to brag about my writing skills. And I don’t recommend putting off assignments until twenty minutes before class begins. My point is that I cannot plan. I’m not meant to plan. If that assignment had been to outline a story, rather than to write one, I would most definitely have earned a flaming F as a grade. That first college writing assignment taught me something about myself, though I didn’t realize it until much later. Creativity is a personal thing. What matters is where you end up, not how you get there.

Outlining, to me, is tedious. Forced. My mind doesn’t work that way. I can’t hear the voices. I can’t feel what the characters are feeling. It’s like trying to swim while wearing a straightjacket. The constraints take away what I need to chase after my muse.

listenThose who want to learn the writing craft, or any other artistic endeavor, will come across lots of rules and advice all over the internet, in books, and from mentors and teachers. Clearly there are rules that should not be broken, ever, such as proper grammar. Right? Well, sort of. Most people don’t speak in proper grammar all the time, and using it consistently in dialogue can make a character seem stuffy at best, and at worst can make the writing feel dull and forced. So even the rules that seem obvious aren’t really that clear after all.

I’m not suggesting that it’s pointless to learn any of the rules. What I am saying is that within all this advice, we need space to find our own voice.

My advice: If you want to be a writer, break the rules. Or don’t. Either way, do what feels right.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

About Darcia

Darcia My name is Darcia Helle and I write because the characters trespassing through my mind leave me no alternative.

I write mostly within the suspense genre. I’m fascinated by the dark side of human nature, and that shows in my writing. But I’m not always examining the psychopathic mind. Occasionally my characters take me on a humorous journey, they fall in love, and maybe even talk to ghosts.

If you have questions about my writing or something on my blog, you can contact me directly at: darcia@quietfurybooks.com

You can learn more about me and my writing on my website: www.QuietFuryBooks.com

Banned Books: Steinbeck and The Library Bill of Rights.

Guest Blog by Cathie Armstrong

Good morning!  Today is Day Six of Banned Books Week, and I’m back with one of my favorite books of all time:  The Grapes of Wrath!

Of course I’d have to address this book!  In fact, I’m sure you were expecting it.  When my own book takes place in the same era and also addresses victims of the Dust Bowl, how could I possibly not shout out to Steinbeck, the Joad family, and all Okies out there?!

But first, a disclaimer:  By mentioning The Grapes of Wrath alongside my own novel, The Edge of Nowhere, I am in no way making comparisons.  Though my novel is set during the same era and was, in many ways, inspired by Steinbeck’s novel, there is just no comparison.  Nobody could compare to Steinbeck.  He was a master at his craft.  He seemed to intuitively understand human nature, and all of his books reflect that intuition.  The Edge of Nowhere is not a “Steinbeckian Recreation” (How’s that for a phrase?  I made it up!).  Whereas Steinbeck’s novel tells the story of the Joad family who migrated west to escape the Dust Bowl, my novel focuses on those who were too poor to leave and were forced to stay behind.

But I digress.  Back to the topic:  Banned Books Week and The Grapes of Wrath.

As an Okie by birth and by blood, I think Steinbeck’s novel is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever put on paper.  But not everyone agrees.  When this novel was released in 1939, it faced equal amounts of criticism and praise.  According to the Banned Book Awareness website, The Grapes of Wrath was a New York Times Bestselling Novel at the same time that protests were being held around the nation and copies were being burned. Let me repeat that:  At the same time that the majority of America was reading and loving this book, a small segment of America was holding rallies where they burned copies of this novel in protest of its publication.

Yes.  In America.  Home of the Free.  Where our forefathers sat down and wrote a document guaranteeing us the Freedom of Speech.  Sadly, that Freedom of Speech extends to protests were beautiful books are destroyed by fire.

So what’s the problem with this book?  Why so much protest?  First let me start by telling you a little about the circumstances that prompted Steinbeck’s novel.

“Migrant Mother” 
Photo Credit: Dorthea Lange (1936)banned books 5
From 1930 to 1940, Oklahoma and many of the plains states suffered a devastating drought.  Poor farming practices, combined with the drought, turned Oklahoma and neighboring states into an oasis of nothing but dust and dirt.  Huge dust clouds rolled in, the skies turned black, and people took to their homes to escape.  But there was no escape.  The dirt entered through the tiniest crevices and left layers of dust and dirt everywhere.  I’ve read stories where houseplants were so heavy with the settled dust that their limbs sagged.  Houseplants — not trees or bushes outside, but the plants people keep inside their homes.

The devastation of this era was far-reaching.  The Great Depression had begun and people were already hurting.  Farmers, who tend not to be wealthy anyway, were now in a dire situation.  The drought, combined with the blowing dust and dirt, turned their once fertile fields to something akin to a desert.  Everywhere you looked was dirt.  Nothing grew.  What grew below the surface was scavenged by rabbits and other wild animals.banned books 4

You’ve heard the phrase, Dirty Thirties?  The very phrase that encompasses all of the United States during this era originated from the dust and dirt that covered Oklahoma and surrounding states.  I’ve read that, though only a few states suffered from the drought conditions, nearly every state in the United States received some of the blowing dirt.  I read somewhere that some of that same dirt blew from the Dust Bowl states right onto President Roosevelt’s desk in Washington D.C!  Nobody was completely immune.

The dust in Oklahoma and nearby states was relentless and settled in the lungs of every living thing.  An epidemic of “dust pneumonia” ensued, striking hardest on the very young and the very old.  Times became so hard that people began to look for a way out, and many of those people took the roads — sometimes walking — west toward California.  They had to get out.  They felt sure they couldn’t survive otherwise.

And so began the Great American Migration of the 1930s as depicted in Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  Featuring the Joad family, Steinbeck tells the story of one family’s migration to banned books 3California.  To say that they met many trials and tribulations on their way is an understatement. They weren’t wanted, and the state of California did everything they could to keep migrant workers out in much the same way as the United States is arguing illegal immigration right now.  Only these weren’t illegal aliens coming to America for a better life.  These were American Citizens being denied, in some cases, the right to migrate to California.  Those who made it and crossed the border were often exploited by working long hours for low pay.  They lived in tent camps and, quite frankly, the conditions they’d migrated to weren’t much better than what they’d left behind.

The nickname “Okie” — a name I take great pride in — was originally used as the most derogatory of descriptions in the same way as some of the most despicable slang for minority groups has been used over the years.

banned books 2It’s been reported that Steinbeck was appalled by the conditions that met the migrant workers, and that The Grapes of Wrath is the product of his own exposé on the subject, so to speak.  But if this actually happened, why was Steinbeck’s book so reviled?  Why did (and do) people want it banned?

The Banned Books website quotes writer Bryan Cordyack’s explanation for some of the earliest challenges of Steinbeck’s novel.  It reads:

Bryan Cordyack wrote, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda’.”
In 1939, it was burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library.  Yes — burned.  In the United States.  By a library.  Burned. Torched. Obliterated.

The Banned Books website cited above further states that twenty public libraries were ordered by the Kansas City Board of Education to remove it from bookshelves because, they felt, the book contained “indecency, obscenity, abhorrence of the portrayal of women and for ‘portraying life in such a bestial way.’”

NPR credits The Grapes of Wrath as “a key event in the creation of the Library Bill of Rights.”  According to the American Library Association, the Library Bill of Rights reads:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.Banned books

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
The Grapes of Wrath is maybe one of the best reasons that we must have free access to books.  Steinbeck witnessed a deplorable situation and set out to make the world aware.  Whether people chose to read his fiction account, or even whether to believe it was based upon actual situations, is obviously a personal choice.  But to not have access to it is to doom the reading population to live in ignorance.

For more reading on the banning of The Grapes of Wrath, I’d strongly recommend the following articles.  As I was writing this article this morning, I had a terrible time deciding what to include because the entire topic is so fascinating.  Enjoy!

Banned Book Awareness:   The Grapes of Wrath

The Telegraph:   The Grapes of Wrath – 10 surprising facts about John Steinbeck’s novel

NPR:   ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ And The Politics of Book Burning

Note:  All images used in this article are public domain and found through a combination of sources including The Library of Congress, Wikimedia, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

C.H.Armstrong

This Guest Blog was written by:

C.H. (Cathie) Armstrong is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. Her debut novel, “The Edge of Nowhere,” will be released in January 2016 by Penner Publishing

Banned Books Week, Day 5: Judy Blume

Guest Blog By Cathie Armstrong

Today marks Day Five of Banned Books Week, and how could we possibly come close to finishing out the week without commenting on one of the most well-loved and most-challenged author for several decades running:  Judy Blume.

If you were ever a child (and isn’t that every one of us), then Judy Blume’s name is at least familiar to you.  She wrote the books that helped many of us get through adolescence.  She was the adult in our lives who told us that our experiences were normal!  She told us about the facts of life, and she told them to us straight.  And we appreciated and loved her for it.  But, for her efforts, she’s been one of the most challenged authors ever.Judy Blume

My childhood would not have been complete without many of Blume’s books.  She was part of the “village” that raised me.  Among my favorites were:

    • Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret:  One of the best books to cover that confusing time when a girl leaves behind childhood and takes her first steps toward womanhood.  Blume’s address of menstruation and buying that first bra took away some of the embarrassment that an 11-year old me felt at the time.
    • Blubber:  Long before it became social taboo to bully kids, Judy Blume was tackling this topic in her books.  She made it clear that it wasn’t acceptable, and allowed those readers who’d been bullied an opportunity to finally gain some self esteem and come out on top!
  • Forever:  Truly the first romance novel I ever read, Forever tells the story of young love and first experiences.  Sure, it explores sex from a teenage perspective, but can you honestly say that — as a teen —  you weren’t curious about sex and, in many cases, too embarrassed to discuss it with your parents?  Blume takes the agony out of the wanting to know.  It’s beautifully written and remains one of my favorites to this day.

These are only a few of the many issues Blume has tackled that has made her the target of not only would-be book banners, but real-life bullies!  Yes, bullies!  According to an article in The Guardian, some people weren’t happy with simply banning Blume’s books.  Some people went so far as to make personal threats to her safety.  The Guardian quotes Blume as saying:

“I went to a couple of places two years ago and I got seven hundred and something hate-mail warnings – ‘We know where you are going to be and we’ll be there waiting for you’, that sort of thing,” says Blume. “My publisher sent me with a bodyguard. He was wonderful, I loved knowing he was there. And nothing happened and probably nothing would have happened, but it was very scary.”

judyblumeThe Guardian’s article was dated July of 2014!  That means that as late as just last year, people in the United States not only wanted to ban her books, but wished to do her personal harm!   Wow!  How’s that for living in the Home of the Free?

I’m now 45 and owe a good bit of my love for reading to Judy Blume.  I also owe more than a small part of my own self-esteem to her as well.  To Judy Blume, I bow down low and say, simply, THANK YOU!