May 2015.

Book Review – Blues for Zoey – By Robert Paul Weston

I picked up this book on recommend from the manager at my local Chapters store, and was not disappointed. If you’re a fan of John Green’s Paper Towns, I’m sure you’ll like this book by Robert Paul Weston.

The main character Kaz, works at the Sit’N’Spin laundromat, saving every penny he earns for college. At least that’s what he tells people. He’s really saving his money for his sick mother who needs special medical care they can’t afford.

Through chance, Kaz meets Zoey. A quirky musical genius, who plays an instrument that resembles a homemade crucifix. As their relationship develops, you can tell there’s something Zoey is hiding. A shaded past? An underlying agenda? I won’t spoil it for you.

Robert Paul Weston has cleverly crafted a twist in this book that surprised even me. I give Blues for Zoey 4 out of 5 stars, and would recommend it to any fan of YA fiction who likes a surprise ending.

Finding My Muse – By B.K. Raine

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I came across this blog yesterday, written by a gal named Molly (a.k.a Tick Tock), under Freshly Pressed. Molly is a thru-hiker, which means she hikes entire trail systems…for fun. Mexico to Canada—sure! Georgia to Maine—why not?

While I enjoy the occasional destination hike, to a waterfall or rock outcropping with a view you can’t experience by car, I am not a hiker or even very outdoorsy. My husband jokes that my idea of camping is a hotel without a jacuzzi tub. And he’s not wrong. I laugh when people suggest I explore the joys of sleeping in a tent. No. Just no. The last time I did that I was ten, and my dad pitched it in our living room because it was cooler than a pillow fort.

Molly’s blog only caught my attention because in Book 2, my protagonist has to spend some time out of her comfort zone traipsing around the woods looking for a vamp. Because I am unwilling to, like a method actor, take up camping to get to know my story better, I am researching the subject from the comfort of my air conditioned living room.

I am familiar with the more touristy parts of the area my protagonist will be hunting from first hand experience.  For the past week, I have been scouring boring trail descriptions on the internet, studying maps and pictures, and feeling more depressed with every passing day with the prospect of writing about any of it.

Then enter Molly. One twenty minute jaunt through her posts about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail—which I didn’t even know was a thing—gave me enough inspiration for two new characters and at least as many chapters. Why? Because her telling of her experience made it real for me. I could feel the mud in my shoes (ick), the stares of the tourists and even the desire to be by myself instead of crammed into a shelter with a dozen other hikers. Which is totally a testament to her writing ability because, did I mention I am not a hiker?

I don’t know why it never occurred to me to use blogs in my research. Maybe because I’m new to blogging myself. Maybe because I still do research in a library. I read blogs all the time about writing, editing, and books, but I never thought to read any about the stuff my character does or the places she goes. Am I the only one that forgets other people experience the sh*t we only write about?

So if you are struggling with inspiration, I encourage you to go check out the Freshly Pressed, step out of your comfort zone and find a new muse.

Book Review – The Storyteller’s Daughter. Where The Story Begins.

By Sharon Dawn Selby

 

I had the honour of receiving a signed paperback copy of this book from the author, in exchange for a fare and honest review. As much as I can, I try to read indie author books. Not only to support my fellow indie authors but to hopefully be the first to discover a great story.

Although Sharon Selby has written other works, this book is her first work of fiction, classified as juvenile / young adult fiction. After reading it, I would say an appropriate age range of readers would be around 11-13, as the language and content is mild.

This book starts out fast from the gates. The main character, Skye, abruptly losses her parents in a questionable car accident. No one seems to investigate her parent’s death at all. Documents are signed, the family house is packed up by movers, and Skye is left to live with a creepy family friend.

Sparked by visions, and strange changes to family photos, Skye is swept up on a journey to find out more about a past that’s been hidden from her. She discovers a history filled with magic… and the art of Seanachie story telling.

I liked the fresh ideas portrayed in this story. Before reading this I knew nothing about Seanachie’s and their lore. Sharon Selby really takes the reader in to the Seanachie world.

I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars. The only reason being, that I found the story to slow in the middle and towards the end, and found it difficult to keep my interest.

Developing Your Artistic StyleGuest Post by Mike Wells

 Woman with a fan - Brighter

In my early days of fiction writing, the notion of “style” eluded me.

“What exactly is style?” I repeatedly asked myself.  “Where does style come from?  Is it something that you purposefully develop, or does it somehow manifest by itself?”

I researched this question in books and asked my various writing teachers about it, but never got a satisfactory answer.

The reason I became so obsessed with style is that I knew that the successful artists of all types—painters, musicians, writers, etc.—have a unique, instantly recognizable style.  (See blog post about this)

If I had no style, how could I possibly become a successful writer?
When I developed my fiction writing skills to the point where agents and editors started taking me seriously, I still saw no style in my work.  I had learned to tell a tight, engaging story, but stylistically, was it very different from anyone else’s?

If so, I could not see it.

What compounded this problem was the voluminous amount of criticism I received from these publishing industry professionals when I sent out books.  There were no patterns to the feedback.  Much of it was contradictory.  “Very well-developed characters.” “Unbelievable characters.”  “Crisp, catchy dialogue.” “False dialogue, not like real speech.”  “Too much description.”  “Not enough description.”

I pulled out my writing books and tried to make sense of it all.  I couldn’t.

It seemed to me that the answer had something to do with style, but this was little more than a vague feeling.

I didn’t know what to do.  I finally became so fed up with all the rejection that I decided to take a long break from my writing.  To clear my head, I decided I needed a dramatic change of surroundings.

I ended up moving Russia for a year, taking a part-time teaching job to pay the bills.

I moved to St. Petersburg, an amazing city, Russia’s artistic center.  I rented a modest apartment just a block from the spectacular Hermitage Museum, which boasts one of the most impressive art collections in the world.  The first few weeks I spent many hours strolling through it, and became fascinated with the Impressionist collection—they have hundreds of paintings by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, etc.   I was particularly impressed by Picasso’s work.  Talk about a unique, instantly-recognizable style!  After spending a just little time looking his paintings, I could recognize a Picasso at 100 yards.

Outside the museum, on the magnificent Palace Square, street artists would set up to draw portraits of tourists for money.   I often stopped and watched the artists at work.

Observing this activity stirred something deep inside me.  When I was 6 or 7 years old, I went through a rather intense period where I wanted to be an artist.  My grandmother, who was Hungarian, was a talented oil painter and watching her work inspired me.  This dream didn’t last, but it persisted long enough for me to take drawing lessons every Saturday at the art museum in Cleveland, Ohio, where we lived at the time.

There was portrait artist on the Palace Square in St. Petersburg who stuck out above all the others—his portraits were awe-inspiring and looked exactly like the subject being painted.

His name was Andrey.  I paid him to do my portrait, and as he worked, I made some small talk.  It turned out he was a graduate student at the prestigious St. Petersburg Art Academy and made portraits some afternoons for pocket money.  He spoke English, but just barely. When he finished my portrait, I mustered up the courage to ask him if he would teach me how to draw portraits like he did.

He eyed me skeptically—a middle-aged American tourist asking him to do something like this?

“I took drawing lessons as a kid,” I said.

He shrugged.  “Why not?  We may try.”

I’ll never forget my first lesson.  I wanted Andrey to come to my apartment, where we would have privacy, but he insisted that I come over to the Art Academy campus on Vasilievsky Island, to one of the formal studios.  “We need many material and good light,” he said.  “Better I learning you in studio.”

To say that I was nervous is an understatement.  I was 38 years old and hadn’t picked up a drawing pencil since I was seven. My apprehension quadrupled when I arrived at the spacious studio and found out that some of Russia’s most famous artists had used it, including Ilya Repin, the man after which the academy was originally named.  On top of that, Andrey had arranged a live model—an undergraduate art student—to pose for me.  There were several other artists milling around the studio, too, which only added to my anxiety.

Andrey stood next to me as we gazed over the top of the blank paper at the model, a beautiful 20 year old girl with a classic Russian features.  She sat on a stool, perfectly still, her head turned, peering back at me.

Andrey put a charcoal pencil in my sweaty hand.  “First step—draw outline of face.”

I swallowed, and barely able to keep the pencil from shaking, slowly started sketching the oval.  Yet, oddly—within 30 seconds—I began to relax, the soft scratching of the charcoal against paper calming me.  The sounds took me back to my childhood, and I actually remembered the sounds and smells from the Cleveland art museum.

“You draw not badly,” Andrey said, looking relieved.  “I think I learn you ok.”  He began coaching me through the drawing.  When it was done, it was pretty bad, but wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared.  At least, nobody in the room was laughing.

I was soon taking lessons from Andrey three times a week, at first at the studio, and later, at my apartment, after I’d bought the requisite easel and materials.

I threw myself into this work, experiencing one of the most powerful bursts of creative energy I’ve ever had.  I drew portrait after portrait after portrait, very detailed works, sometimes completing 2 or 3 a day.  Andrey spent many hours explaining in painstaking detail all the techniques used to draw eyes, noses, lips, ears, cheeks, necks, hair, sideburns, mustaches, wrinkles, birthmarks and so on.  He also arranged for me to buy an actual human skull and taught me all about the anatomy of the head, the bone and facial muscles beneath the skin, the cartridge of the nose and ears, and how all this effected facial structure, shadows, and so on.

Andrey and I got along marvelously and became close friends.  But by August, I sensed something was wrong.  I was beginning to feel comfortable enough to deviate slightly from all the rules and techniques he had taught me.

“There is only one correct approach to drawing,” he stiffly told me one afternoon.

In late August, just as the weather started to cool, our relationship underwent a dramatic, unexpected rupture.

I was in the middle of drawing a portrait of one of my friends, John, an American about my age, with Andrey looking on.  Andrey was supposedly there to give me pointers, but he was strangely silent.  He hadn’t said one word the whole time.

Suddenly, he pointed at the paper.  “Nose is wrong!”

I studied the nose I’d just sketched, glancing back and forth between it and John’s nose.  I didn’t see anything wrong with it.  “How so?”

“It is simply wrong!”  Andrey shouted.

I glanced at John, then back at Andrey.  “I really don’t what’s wrong with it.  It looks just like John’s nose to me.”

Andrey stomped his foot on the floor it so hard that it sounded like an explosion.

“You no listen me!  I your teacher!” He pounded his fist into his chest.

“Calm down,” I said.

“I need some water,” John said, scurrying into the kitchen to get the hell out of there.

Andrey was staring at me, breathing hard.  He pointed angrily at the drawing.  “You change nose!”

Now I was beginning to feel stubborn.  I didn’t see anything wrong with my rendering of John’s nose.  “I’m not changing it.  I like it the way it is.”

“Then you find new teacher!”  Andrey bellowed.  He stormed out of my apartment, slamming the door behind him.

I felt terrible the next few days.  I really liked Andrey—I called him a couple of times but as soon as he heard my voice, he hung up.

I wandered back out onto the Palace Square and tried to find another teacher, but no other artist seemed even remotely as good as Andrey.

Meanwhile, my friend John had hung the portrait I’d made in his living room—he really liked it. “Are you sure you need a teacher?” he said.  “It seems to me you’ve had enough instruction—can’t you just develop your skill on your own?”

I mulled this over and decided maybe he was right.  I continued to make more portraits,  hiking over to the art academy campus every morning and hiring new students to pose for me.  I cranked out drawing after drawing and kept steadily improving.  At least, I thought so.

One day I decided to put all my latest portraits on display in my studio.  I had dated each one, so I started with the most recent and worked my way back, until I had covered all four walls with them, and even part of the ceiling.

A short time later one of my student models asked to buy the portrait I’d done of her.  This was an awesome moment for me—it was the first time anyone had actually offered me money for any of my portraits.  I decided to give it to her as a present.

She was delighted.  “My mother is a curator at the Hermitage Museum,” she said proudly.  “I will show it to her.”

Uh-oh, I thought.

She and I became friends, and the next thing I knew she wanted to invite her mother over to my apartment to see all my portraits.

A curator at the Hermitage Museum?  A professional art expert?  No way!

I kept making up excuses, but she kept pressuring me.  One day we met for coffee and her mother happened by, on a one hour break from work.  “I would love to see your portraits,” she said.  “If you have time.”

As we walked up the stairs to my apartment, me knees felt weak.  “Look,” I said, turning to the lady, “I’m just an amateur.  My stuff really isn’t worth seeing.”

“Nonsense,” she said.  “You must learn to be more confident.”

Bracing myself, I led the two of them into the studio.

The woman stood there in the middle of the room, slowly turning around, taking in one amateurish portrait after another.  I wanted to crawl under the easel.

“These are wonderful!” she said, looking back at me.  She passed her gaze over the portraits again.  “You have already developed your own style!”

“Style?” I muttered.  I looked around from one charcoal portrait to another, dumbfounded.  I had no idea what she was talking about.   All the portraits looked exactly the same to me.  I saw no more style in those drawings than I did in my novels.

“There’s no style,” I said.  “It’s just the way I dra—”

I never finished the sentence.  It was one of those rare epiphanies that hit me with such force I was nearly knocked off my feet.

It’s just the way I draw.

As soon as the two of them left my apartment, I pulled out my oldest portraits, the ones that I had made under Andrey’s strict instruction, and compared them to the ones I was doing now.  They looked completely different.  I found the portrait that Andrey had made of me, the day I met him, and compared it to the others.  What had happened, so gradually that I hadn’t even noticed, was that I had veered from drawing the way he taught me to drawing in my own way…the way that I thought was best.  And in so doing I had developed my own style.

That’s not to say that Andrey’s instruction wasn’t necessary.  He was (and perhaps still is) an incredible teacher, and I’m certain that without his expert guidance and training, I would have never been able to draw a charcoal portrait that was worth looking at.  Mastering the fundamental skills and techniques of any art form is crucial—as the old saying goes, “An artist must learn the rules in order to break them.”  But at some point, you have to set yourself apart from the teachers and follow your inner voice.

I had no intention of becoming a professional artist.  But as soon I arrived back in the States, I felt renewed energy about my writing.  I dove head-first into my next novel.  This time, I told myself to forget about all I had learned in my writing classes, and all the well-meaning criticism and advice from the from agents and editors.

I just wrote the story the way I thought it should be written.

The book was called Wild Child.

The rest is history.

Writer’s Quest 2015

Did any of you play the game Kings Quest when you were a kid? You know… that archaic game on your first home computer? Where you went around collecting things just so you could move on to getting the next thing. (I’m dating myself… King’s Quest VI came out in 1990.) Anyway, I feel like I’m on a writer’s quest! Maybe I could make that in to a video game… Unfortunately, it isn’t always that fun to play.

How many times, as a writer, have you been asked, “So, have you published your book yet?” Too many to count I bet. That’s because not many people have any idea about what goes in to publishing a book, other than the writing part. That was me not so long ago.

My quest to publishing has been a long road. So far, I’ve been on it almost four years. It started with an idea and a passion. I wanted to write a book! But, had no idea how. So, I took courses on how to write. I researched how to write well. And I read more books than the average person probably should. I was off to a great start.

About mid-way done progress slowed down. I stopped to edit what I’d written. As much as it is our nature to want what we write to be perfect… that was learning curve number one. Don’t edit until your done. Trust me! Your first draft will get edited so many times before it gets published… it will be so polished, you’ll be able to see your face in it!

Nearing the end of finishing my first draft I started to look in to editors, cover designers, and types of publishing. There were so many options it made my head spin… Still does some days. I wrote a blog or two about it and came to the conclusion that going ‘indie’ (self-publishing) was the way for me.

After receiving my ‘indie’ badge of honour, I picked up on a few other things like; how to create an author platform using social medias; the do’s and don’ts of networking; blogging and finding your niche; creating not just a book, but a marketable product, and so much more.

I’m at a point now, that I tow a whole army behind me. I’ve chosen my editor(s) and publisher. I’ve had a few beta readers. Artistic geniuses have created my branding, website, and book cover. I’ve even embarked on a side quest… creating a graphic novel prequel to my YA novel. I’m nearing the end of my writer’s quest! I can almost smell the ink on 400 bound pages!

(Insert dramatic sigh here.)

So next time someone asks you, “So have you published your book yet?” Say, “Nope, my quest isn’t over.” They’ll look at you like you’ve lost your marbles but hey, it could save time in explaining why it’s taking so long. :)

 

Wishing you all well on your writer’s quests…

 

Katherine

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Compassion from a stranger – Guest Blog by Jenna Brandt

Recently, I was sitting in church and the pastor was talking about the impact of the loss of a loved one. Instantly, the tears began to fall as I was taken back to the previous spring of 2014 when my infant son, Dylan, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. The pain of that day cannot be measured or expressed adequately. His death left an enormous hole behind in my family’s life. What started out as silent, small tears turned into gut-wrenching sobs. I tried to control them since I was in a public place but the pain was too overwhelming and even though I muffled them as best I could, I was embarrassed others around me had seen and heard my sobs.

When I went to pick up my two older daughters from Sunday school, a woman was standing behind me who gently tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you alright?” I turned around and was shocked to recognize a woman who had been sitting in the row in front of me. Had she heard me crying? Did she think I was crazy? I was mortified and wished I could melt away right on the spot. Before I could say anything, she confirmed my suspicions by saying, “I noticed you were crying in service earlier. I just want to make sure you’re ok.” The tears started to pool at the corners of my eyes as I thought about covering up the honest answer with the convenient, “I’m fine.” But something happened in that moment when I looked into that woman’s eyes. I didn’t see admonishment or judgment or even pity but rather concern and kindness. Her gentle probing broke down my walls and I blurted out, “My son passed away a few months ago and I am still dealing with his loss.”  The woman reached out and pulled me into an embrace and said, “I am so sorry.” I rested in her comforting arms for several moments, completely amazed by the kindness and compassion that this stranger demonstrated in the most unexpected way. In that moment, she was my hero because I had been overwhelmed by how isolated I felt from my son’s death and her ability to see a stranger in need and care was a powerful act of love and kindness.
This incident set in motion the beginning of our friendship. She has now become a close friend and has been there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on and none of that would be possible if she had not reached out to me, a stranger in pain

Book Review – The Yellow Hoods, Along Came a Wolf – By Adam Dreece

The Yellow Hoods

Through serendipitous chance I stumbled upon this wonderful book by author Adam Dreece. The Yellow Hoods – Alone Came a Wolf is the first in a five book series, three of which are published to date. This book is classified as emergent steampunk, which is for ages 9 to 12. Even though this book is for a younger crowd, I still enjoyed it very much. I’m also told that this series progresses with the reader, turning in to a more pre-teen/young adult type read in the following books. So, it’s a series the can grow with the reader.
Adam Dreece has artfully combined the fairy tale and steampunk genres together in a new and refreshing way. For any reader who hasn’t experienced steampunk fiction yet, this book is a wonderful introduction into that world.
There were many parts of this book I liked, one of which was the author’s play on words with his characters names. LeLoup… The Big Bad Wolf. Egelina-Marie and Bakon… Eggs and Bacon. And of course Bakon’s brothers, Bore and Squeals… the three pigs. But, my favorite part of the book came on page 172.

(SPOILER ALERT)

The main character Tee, has just vanquished her foe LeLoup. Her mother and father have come to find her face down in a pile of leaves. She rolls over, checks herself for injuries, and admits to her parents that LeLoup is defeated by the yellow hoods. Then her mother asks her…

“You forgot something,” said Jennifer.
“What’s that?” asked Tee.
“Your triumphant La-la,” answered here mom, sweetly.
Tee thought about it for a moment. For years, Tee had added her special exclamation to things she’d done – but none of them had been as serious as this.
Sitting on her dad’s knee, and looking at the trees and their enchanting, colored leaves, she said, “Mom, I think I might have outgrown it.”
Her parents hugged her tightly.

This is the exact moment in the book when Tee starts to turn from child to adult. It’s the first glimmer of realization that things are serious and not just fun and games. I love coming of age moments in books! They are my absolute favorite.
As the author recommends, so do I, this is a book series for ages 9-99! I give this easy, fun read a 5 out of 5 stars.

 

Happy Reading.

LEARNING CURVE

Have you ever as an author enjoyed an opportunity, thinking expansion and that this opportunity is going to help build your brand or platform? So, you work diligently accepting the opportunity making sure all the little ducks are in a row. And then it goes live or public, when immediately you want to take it back or change the way it was sent out into the world. This is what I call the learning curve for authors.Typically, I’m very conscientious of what goes out being as truthful as possible. However, there are just times when it’s out of your control. Have you ever flubbed an interview, regretted a book review done for another author, got on the radio and went into a state of panic, appeared at a book signing and said something you shouldn’t have? It’s all in the learning curve.
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Recently, I have been lucky enough to get a couple of interviews when the learning curve struck. During the first couple of questions when asked about myself, I just happened to describe myself in the 3rd person. Ouch! Who does that? Yes, it might be funny for a Seinfeld episode. However, I don’t know if that’s what I was going for. Then instead of describing the books in my own words, I copied the back cover (word for word) which seemed like a fool proof plan at the time. OUCH again, very canned! Needless to say after the interview was posted, I emailed the interviewer. What did I shout, you ask? “Learning Curve!” Ok, I didn’t shout it and I didn’t blame him at all. It was my error through and through. But we did have a good laugh about it. I am still hoping he’s laughing with me instead of the alternative.But if your career is growing and movement is happening, I think learning curves are always going to be present. I watched an interview with Stephen King the other day that was quite awkward. I wish I would of tagged it to post here today, but I didn’t. When I went back to retrieve it, I could no longer find it because he has done so many of them. I would hope that when all of our careers reach Stephen King status, the learning curves will be less and farther between. But realistically, more learning curves will probably be thrown our way because when you get to that status, there is always some new opportunity or event around each corner.Here’s one of his wise rules to leave you with, while also reminding us why we started this writing journey in the first place: Writing is about getting happy.
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”If you have a particularly interesting or embarrassing learning curve story, share it in the comment section below and start a conversation.Stay connected to the author! Find out the latest gossip, news & events: https://lnkd.in/bBmmx2B

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Publishing a book is possibly one of the scariest things a writer can do. So, to start off, I’d first like to give a big congratulations to all the published authors out there. Thank-you for having the courage to share your words with the world! Sharing your work letting with the world can be an unnerving experience. I know as I get closer to my publishing date thoughts in my head start to stir up, like – What if no one likes it?

Now, the chances of every single person who reads my book not liking it is slim, I hope… But, that still doesn’t quench my fears of the inevitable (cue drum role) BAD BOOK REVIEW! So, how does one deal with poor reviews? No one likes to hear their work sucks… I shutter as this thought brings back a memory of my sixth grade science fair. huuuh… But hey, let’s keep on track.

Here are a few pointers I’ve come up with on how to deal with the inevitable bad book review.

  1. Any review is publicity for your book. The more reviews the better! I know I’d be more likely to buy a book if it had lots of reviews, even if some of them were poor. Hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And with the miracle of social media, every person with WiFi and a keyboard has one!
  2. I’ve heard  authors say, don’t even read the 1 and 2 star reviews. The bad reviews will put too much self-doubt in your head. Yet, others say, take the criticism and learn from them. What I think is, know the difference between constructive criticism and what’s irrelevant. So, learn from some, and forget the rest.
  3. Concentrate on the comments and reviews that make your heart soar! I can go for days on a witty, well-written comment. Know that you have fans out there. People, who have taken time out of their day to write about the work you do, because you are worth their time.
  4. Remind yourself again that you had the courage to put yourself out there, by publishing something you probably consider to be part of you. That’s something not many people can say, and that in itself is awesome!
  5. Don’t react harshly to bad reviews. Act like the review doesn’t exist. Step away from it. For God’s sake, don’t memorize it! Sometimes people writing reviews forget that there’s a real person on the other end reading them. People get brave in what they say when to them, it’s only a line of typed text.
  6. And the best advice of all, when dealing with bad book reviews. Don’t believe everything you read!

 

Wishing you all positive reviews!

Katherine