Author Interview, Awards, Books, Inspiration

A visit with fellow author and pet lover, Barbara Techel

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Author and indie publisher Barbara Techel

 

I’ve been privileged to know Barbara Techel since she and I were both relative newbies to indie publishing. I had just published Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, and Barb was in the process of publishing her first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog through her publishing house, Joyful Paw Prints Press. Also a self-published author, she reached out to ask me some questions about promoting books about disabled pets, and in the ensuing years, she has become one of my favorite people on the planet.

Since completing her Frankie series of children’s books, Barb has gone on to write and publish a couple nonfiction titles. The first was Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, which I had the honor of editing. It’s the only book solely on this subject, and is absolutely stuffed with useful information for any author trying to promote their book.

Barb’s latest nonfiction effort is Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way. It’s a courageous sharing of Barb’s personal story, about how her entire life was transformed by the love of a small red dachshund who lost the use of her back legs. Barb was inspired by her miniature dachshund, Frankie, who ruptured a disk in her lower back when she was 6 years old and was given only a 30% chance of walking again. This led Barb to have Frankie custom-fit for a dog cart to help her walk again. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a moving read she sent me at a time when I was going through some personal struggles of my own, and I found it inspiring and uplifting, at a time when I really needed that. So I’m sharing with you here a recent visit with Barb about this marvelous book, in hopes that perhaps it can do the same for you.

Through Frankie's Eyes book cover

Q. What was your initial reaction when your dog was given only a 30% chance of walking again?

I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s life would be like if she didn’t walk on her own again. And just as I talk about my book and being honest, I share that I questioned if I even wanted to take care of a handicapped pet. How would my own life change? How would I do this? I was scared.

But I loved Frankie so much and I wanted to give her a chance. It changed me in a way I never saw coming, and I’m so grateful.

Q. Was Frankie’s injury the impetus to help other dogs with disabilities?

Very much so. I never had even heard about dog wheelchairs (also called dog carts) before this happened to Frankie. When I had Frankie custom-fitted for her wheelchair, I was amazed at how she could do pretty much all the same things she did before her paralysis. Her wheelchair was just a tool to help her live a quality life.

When Frankie became paralyzed in 2006, I didn’t really hear of any other dogs such as her who were in wheelchairs. It was part of the reason I wrote a children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog about her, to help spread a positive message and educate not only small children, but parents and grandparents who would read the story to their kids/grandkids and they could learn that dogs with disabilities can lead a great life if given a chance.

Q.  Your story, Cassie & Frankie Inspire a Writer, won an honorable mention award in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Linda and Allen Anderson of Angel Animals Network. Who is Cassie, and were you  inspired to help just Frankie when you wrote the book or article, or did it move you to help other disabled dogs, as well?

Cassie was my chocolate Lab, who passed away in 2005 from terminal bone cancer. She inspired me to become a writer. I was in awe of how she continued to be happy even though a tumor in her body was growing and would eventually take her life. It awakened me to go after what it was that would bring me more joy, and to live my own life to the fullest. Though cliché, it hit me over the head how short life really is.

Little did I know that nine months after Cassie’s death, Frankie would then become paralyzed. Though it was painful and tough at the beginning of Frankie’s ordeal, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity to spread a positive message.

FrankieLegacyQ. Has being the owner of a disabled dog made you more sensitive to disabled people?

You know, I’ve always been sensitive to disabled people. But I’d say my empathy and compassion deepened. Even more than that, my respect for them grew, as I realized even more what they are up against in their day-to-day lives.

Q. You are an advocate of the human-animal bond. What can you tell us about animal communication?

I’m very fascinated by the human-animal bond. I honestly believe if not for my dogs, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from them and feel I’m a better human being because of having them in my life.

One thing that concerns me is that I don’t know that we take the time to really see and tune into our pets. I know it’s not always easy in our very busy, day-to-day lives, and believe me — I’m not perfect at this, either. But I truly believe they are trying to help us mortal human beings to live more consciously, and to awaken to living more fully in the present moment.

Q. What can dogs teach us?

The list is endless! For me, I’ve learned to appreciate nature. I’ve learned to live more in the here and now. I’ve learned to worry less. I’ve learned to be still more often. I’ve learned not to take life too seriously. I’ve learned to be positive and look for blessings in challenges. I’ve learned that it’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day.

NWRDDlogoQ. I understand you created National Walk ‘n Roll Dog Day, which is observed annually on September 22. How are paralyzed dogs helped because of this day?

Yes, I am the founder of National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day, which I launched in 2012. This special day is in memory of Frankie, created in honor of all dogs in wheelchairs around the world. Frankie touched the lives of thousands during her six years in a wheelchair, visiting schools in my state of Wisconsin. She even became a dog who visited schools via Skype! Frankie also touched many lives as a therapy dog visiting hospice, hospitals and nursing homes.

I was so inspired by Frankie and all the dogs in wheelchairs that I wanted to have this special day in their honor. It’s my hope to continue to shine a positive light on these dogs, who overcome adversity so beautifully. We can learn so much from their amazing spirits.

Along with this special day, I created The Frankie Wheelchair Fund. This fund grants wheelchairs to paralyzed dogs who may otherwise not have been able to have one, such as when their families are in financial stress, or the dog is in a rescue situation. To date, we have granted 32 wheelchairs to dogs in need.

Books, Characterization, Craft, Creative process, General Writing, Genres, Plot, Promotion, Publishing Industry, Research, Setting, Technique

The Year of Teaching

Last year, after several years of being asked to consult with other authors and indie publishers, I finally formalized this part of my marketing business into a consultancy called The Indie Navigator. Since then, I’ve been pretty busy making appearances in that incarnation, helping my fellow writers become authors and indie publishers, and helping those indie publishers become better at the business of publishing.

Print

But I haven’t forgotten the whole reason we’re all doing this: Because we love to write, and want to get our work into the hands of as many readers as possible. So one of the things I made up my mind to do this year is learn more about the technical craft of writing for myself, while I help my fellow authors with marketing, promotion and self-publishing.

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To make that happen, I’ve been busy the first part of this New Year scheduling appearances as the Indie Navigator in venues where I can do both of these at once. I’m excited to announce that I’ll have the chance to do just that coming up in March, when I’ll be teaching two seminars at The Write Stuff annual conference, hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

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I first spoke at this conference back in 2009, and was so impressed by how professional and well-run it was, I joined the writer’s group that hosted it. I’ve been a proud member ever since. GLVWG (pronounced “GLIV-wig”) is a friendly, very active group, large enough to support many helpful and enjoyable activities and resources for its membership, but not so large you feel lost or insignificant. I strongly recommend joining for anyone in the Lehigh Valley area who may be struggling with living the writing life and needs some support. It’s a truly warm, welcoming organization wholly supportive of its members success, whether that be as a part-time amateur poet or a full-time professional author…and anything in between.

Author Mary Shafer speaks at the Cat Writers Association Conference

On Friday, March 21, I’ll be teaching a four-hour seminar from 1:00-5:00 pm, titled “Indie Publishing Intensive: A Quick-Start Guide to Self-Publishing.” The first half will be the “what-to” part – an expansion of my popular seminar, “Identity Crisis: What Is A Publisher, and Should I Become One?” It’s an overview of the book publishing industry, including a brief history of traditional publishing and how that background has shaped our current world of indie publishing. This helps potential indie publishers understand why things evolved the way they have (when so much of it seems not to make sense otherwise). Then it delves deeply into

  • What it really means to BE a book publisher vs. an author
  • Why it’s important to perform a reality-based “gut check” to determine if you have what it takes to be a long-term book publisher
  • The processes and paperwork you need to complete and for the appropriate agencies who can authorize you as legally recognized book publisher in the United States
  • Moving from manuscript to printed, bound book and ebook
  • Getting your book listed with the major online retailers, onto store shelves and into readers’ hands
  • The all-important promotional component

The second half of the session will be the “how-to” element. This seminar, titled “Switching Hats: Moving From Author to Indie Publisher,” gets to the gist of how to go about all the “what-tos” covered in the first half. It’ll cover all the nitty-gritty that’s possible in a single session, supported by a generous Q&A session during which attendees can ask anything they want about the whole indie publishing process.

I’ll also be offering on-the-spot critiques of first pages during the Page Cuts session on Friday evening. Then on Saturday, I’ll be leading a session titled “Narrative Nonfiction: Finding Freedom in Form and Function.” This session will cover the nuts-and-bolts of researching and writing true-life stories with a blend of journalism using fiction techniques in a format popularized by author Sebastian Junger. It’ll be a fast-moving, info-packed seminar on this increasingly popular writing style, now employed across nearly every genre you can imagine.

I hope you can join me, along with my colleagues Kathryn Craft, Phil Giunta, Scott Nicholson and many more, at this always-wonderufl event, this year headlined by keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan, bestselling suspense novelist!

Keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan enraptures her audiences.Keynote speaker Hank Philippi Ryan always enraptures her audiences.

Books, Promotion, Tips

Promo Tips for Book Authors

I’ve been in the publishing industry since 1990, with my first book traditionally published by a mid-size Midwestern publisher in 1993. Since I kind of lucked into that first book opportunity, I hadn’t planned on it and had built no support structure for learning how to be a successful first-time author. The Internet was in existence, but I was only online via a 1200-baud dialup modem (remember those?) on AOL, which was pretty much the only game in town at that time. There was no Facebook, no Amazon, no social networks for writers, authors and indie publishers. In short, I had no network and was on my own.

Truth is, that isolation from other authors was probably a blessing in disguise. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I set out to make my first book a success, but neither did I have the influence of what I now know were people who mostly believed the conventional wisdom that first-time authors, unless they’re A-List big names with huge publishers, don’t really stand a chance to succeed. Because I wasn’t infected with that negativity and pessimism, I plowed merrily ahead with learning how to promote myself.

Now, I made a lot of mistakes, but ultimately, I was successful in getting my book to earn out its advance so I ended up getting royalty checks. But still and all, it often would have been nice to have the support of other authors who were also trying, also bucking the trend I didn’t even know existed. It was often a difficult, lonely and sometimes scary time. The great part is that new authors today have more options than they can possibly choose from to develop a strong support network of enthusiastic peers, both new and experienced. We also have some fantastic informational resources I would have killed to have!

Sandra Beckwith, PR ExpertOne of those resources is an excellent website and eNewsletter from Public Relations veteran and author Sandra Beckwith at Build Book Buzz. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me sharing some quick PR tips for the modern author here, which I gleaned from one of her recent newsletters. But for LOTS more excellent, free tips and other helpful author promo info, you really need to check out her site and subscribe to her newsletter. I promise the time you trade for the value you get in reading it will be WAY lopsided in your favor!

So, without further ado, here are some tips for getting national exposure for your book, from Sandra Beckwith (most of the links I added, so if you don’t like them, don’t blame Sandy):

How can you get cross-country, ongoing media exposure? Here are a few suggestions:

 

Author Interview, Books, Characterization, Craft, General Writing, Genres, Promotion, Writing process

Author Interview: Thriller Mistress Amy Shojai – Part II

Trailer for Amy Shojai’s thriller Lost and Found. Check out the advance praise at the end! 

 

In honor of today’s release of her latest book, we’re back this week with Part Two of our interview with bestselling author Amy Shojai. Amy’s brought her enormous knowledge of pets and animal behavior to bear on her first novel, Lost and Found. This thriller has a breathtaking premise:  An autism cure will KILL MILLIONS unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing child…in 24 hours. I’ve already read the free excerpt, and that alone was enough to get me into the story. Now I’m getting ready to read the whole book (Full disclosure: Amy has provided me with an advance reader eCopy for review). Can’t wait to dig into it!

But meanwhile, let’s learn more about the author’s writing process and thoughts about this, her first thriller. We left off Part I talking about the book’s characters:

Author Amy ShojaiMe:  Speaking of characters, which do you consider the protagonist of this story: September? Steven? Shadow?

Amy: The main character is September. Shadow is very much the secondary main character.

Me:  And I have to ask: How did you come up with the September character? Is she your alter-ego, and should we expect to see more of her?

Amy:  LOL! I attended the awesome writers conference Thrillerfest this past year and sat in on some terrific seminars presented by bestselling thriller authors. Lee Child commented that in his experience, most protagonists seem to be written as someone better looking, more athletic, taller, thinner, and smarter. Yes, there are parts of September that are similar to me, such as her love of animals and passion for them. But she’s more athletic, taller, thinner, smarter–and younger than me. Oh, and she doesn’t like bling. Pity.

Yes, I do think you’ll see more of September. There are two more books planned at this time.

Me:  As authors, we all have different hopes for each of our books, aside from wanting them to be successful. In your writer’s heart and mind, what does success look like for Lost and Found?

Amy:  Success would be readers enjoying the book, and saying so. It would be having them better understand their dogs’ behavior, realize that cats CAN be trained. And having readers ask…no, demand…to know what happens next.

Me: Yeah, that’ll always be the most excellent reaction from a reader, won’t it? I understand you have a giveaway for Lost and Found on Goodreads.com. Want to share more about that?

Amy:  Thanks for asking! Yes, here’s the link. I will give away three copies of the paperback, and happily autograph the books to the winners–or paw-tograph to their favorite pets. The giveaway runs from September 1 to November 15. Simply follow the link, click “enter to win” and fill in your mailing address. The book releases today on Kindle for those who can’t wait, and will be available in all eBook formats and print shortly thereafter.

Me:  What other events and appearances do you have scheduled to support “Lost and Found?” Anything else you’d like your readers to know about you, your newest book or your career?

Amy Shojai's new book, "Lost and Found"Amy: I’ll be appearing thither and yon on a variety of blogs between now and the first of the year. A book launch and autograph party happens locally in Sherman, Texas in mid-October – date to be determined, because I’m scheduled around a musical play co-written with a friend, that we’re performing earlier that month. And I’ll be speaking at the 20th Anniversary Cat Writers Association Conference the first weekend of November in Los Angeles, and signing books, as well as in Houston the first weekend of January at the Houston Cat Club Cat Show.

Me: Amy, as an author myself, I know what a thrill it is to see and hold your newest book. It never gets old, does it? But I think sometimes readers believe that once we get published, all our books will be bestsellers. If only, right? In reality, we all depend on our readers to support our books by helping us create the buzz they need to get attention. I understand you’ve created an easy-to-follow list of helpful things readers can do to help promote your books. Can we share that here?

Amy:  Sure thing. I appreciate every little bit of support from my readers, and here are a few tips to make it easy for them to help get the word out if they like my books:

READER-ICITY RULES FOR GETTING BOOKS NOTICED

  1. “Like” it (just click the “like” button on the Amazon or Facebook page, for instance).
  2. “Like” the author page. Here’s mine on Amazon.
  3. “Tag” it. These are descriptive words or phrases that help others find the book when they search for it. (On the book page, type TT to open the tag box, highlight the tags and copy into the box, and save).
  4. Read it. Love it. Hate it. Talk about it. Share with friends. Argue about it. Get hissed-off about it. Wag about it. Say it’s GRREEEAAAT! Say it SSSSSUCKS! And then . . . .
  5. Review it (on Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, your blog, etc.) ONLY IF YOU REALLY READ IT!

Me:  Great tips! Thanks, Amy, for the interesting interview. And I understand you’ve got a free eCopy of Lost & Found to give away to one lucky reader of this blog — how generous! So, readers, here’s how to enter our giveaway for a FREE EBOOK of AMY SHOJAI’S NEW THRILLER, LOST and FOUND:

  1. Watch the book trailer at the beginning of this post and LISTEN CAREFULLY to the narrator, September, explain her story.
  2. Go to the Contact Form of my blog.
  3. Send me a message with the Subject line: I want to be Lost and Found!
  4. In the message field, tell me something that New York Times bestselling author James Rollins has to say about Lost & Found — it’s in the book trailer.
  5. Of all the correct entries received by midnight on Sunday, September 30, a random name will be pulled from a hat to receive a FREE eCopy of Lost & Found, directly from author Amy Shojai. (Your entry into this contest constitutes your permission for me to share your contact information with Amy.)

So ENTER NOW, and you’ll be one step closer to the edge of your seat with Amy, September and one really smart dog.

 

Books, Characterization, Craft, General Writing, Genres, Plot, Point of View (POV), Publishing Industry, Technique, Writing process

Author Interview: Thriller Mistress Amy Shojai – Part I

Amy Shojai's new book, "Lost and Found"Okay, y’all (stop it, I’m allowed! My interview subject is a Texan!) – I’m very excited to be sharing with you the first half of an info-packed interview I recently did with an author whose work I admire, and who just happens to be one of the funniest, most interesting and truly sweetest people I know. Oh, and she also happens to be a bestselling author, did I mention that?

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 24 bestselling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. I met her at my first conference with the Cat Writers Association, which she founded and still supports with gusto. (Come to think of it, there ain’t much Amy DOESN’T do with gusto!) You can learn more about Amy at her website, where you’ll also find her blog, Bling, Bitches & Blood. She’ll explain the title when you get there.

Author Amy Shojai, her dog Magic and cat Seren
Author Amy Shojai, her German Shepherd, Magic, and her Siamese cat, Seren

For now, I asked her a few questions about her newest book, Lost and Found, which is her first foray into fiction. But to be honest, I got to read an excerpt, and you’ll never know Amy’s not a veteran master at the thriller genre.

WOW! I can’t WAIT to read the rest of this great debut novel when it comes out in eBook on the 20th of this month (print fans, you’ll need to wait another week, but hang in there…)! She skillfully blends her background as an animal behavior consultant with her storytelling abilities, to weave a tale you’ll have a hard time putting down. But in the interests of “show, don’t tell,” I’m gonna stop here and let the interview speak for itself:

Me: We know it’s not your first author rodeo, with all your terrific nonfiction books out there enlightening the world, but Lost and Found is your first novel, right? Why a novel at this point in your career?

Amy: Yes, this is my debut fiction and I’m “thrilled” to be launched as a thriller author. The dirty li’l secret is that I first started out wanting to write fiction, and I couldn’t get published. Yes, I have five complete novels, plus one partial, under the virtual bed that will never see the light of day! Meanwhile, as I tried to write and publish fiction and submitted to agents, my nonfiction articles – and then a couple of books – were published. One of the agents I pitched for a novel said, “No thanks…but show me your nonfiction.” After that, I became so busy paying bills with the nonfiction (no complaints there!) that the fiction writing sat on the back burner, literally, for years.

Today, though – as you know – publishing has changed. It has especially affected the nonfiction, prescriptive types of pet books that I write. So I’ve needed to find new ways to get the furry message out there, and fiction seemed a fun and innovative way to do this.

Me: And why the thriller genre? Those of us who know you think of your Southern charm, your bright, bubbly personality – not necessarily the kind of brooding writer you’d expect to produce a thriller. What was your intent as an author in using this approach and format? Or perhaps it’s more correct to ask why you felt this format best served your story’s needs?

Amy: What a great question – and I’m flattered. You’ve a hefty dose of charm yourownself. <smile> Maybe I’m a twisted personality. Those other under-the-bed novels were horror, or probably more accurately, psychological thrillers. That’s what I read, that’s what I enjoy, so that’s what I write.

A novel must pose a question, and challenge the characters to answer that question. How that’s done somewhat defines the genre. A mystery presents a body at the beginning of the book, and asks, “Who dunnit?” A thriller may do that, but often shows the dirty deed, so readers know “who dunnit” and the question becomes “why dunnit?”

While I’m not a fan of being scared in real life, or the blood-and-gore school of storytelling, a rollercoaster ride via a great plot and characters I can root for offers all the vicarious spills and chills without the risk.

Me: I LOVE the fact that the excerpt from your book is written from Shadow’s point of view. Is the rest of the book written that way? How did you decide which POV to use?

Amy: Thank you! My early readers have without exception noted that Shadow’s chapters are their favorites. He’s a nine-month-old German shepherd pup, and a service dog (in training) to an autistic child. Part of the reason for the dog point of view was that I hadn’t a clue how to write the point of view of an autistic child and didn’t feel comfortable trying. So any time the little boy is “on stage” in the book with the dog, it’s from Shadow’s viewpoint. There also are chapters in dog viewpoint to offer insights into the story that the human characters couldn’t possibley know – through scent, for example.

I’ve always “imagined” what my dog and cat might be thinking, and there’s nobody to tell me I’m wrong. <grin> I think most pet lovers do that to some extent. I could also do this from the background of my pet behavior expertise and debunk some common misconceptions, while shining a light on other pet realities. I very much wanted to include animal companions in the story, in part because it’s a way to “edu-tain” readers about dog (and cat) behavior and care, without a dry lecture.

And yes, there’s also a hero cat in the story, although this book doesn’t feature a cat viewpoint. Maybe that will happen in future books. But in this story, the cat is a trained kitty and figures prominently in kicking bad-guy-assets at the end of the book.

LOST AND FOUND is very much Shadow’s story, probably as much as anyone’s.  His viewpoint is featured in one-third or more of the book. I consciously alternated viewpoint characters between the humans and the dog. Just as the human characters have a story “goal” and character arc, so does Shadow. He wants to belong and be loved, he wants to be a “good-dog” more than life itself, and being a good-dog means obeying and following the rules of the people he adores. But what if that gets in the way? What if the people are wrong – in his estimate? What’s a good-dog to do?

Me: Yeah, that’s a fantastic point of conflict to propel the story forward! And the whole concept of Lost and Found makes it such a groundbreaking book in several ways: Your first thriller, a dog’s POV without it being a humorous approach, and one of the main characters an autistic child. Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Amy: LOST AND FOUND was more than three years in the making. I wanted the main character to be an animal behaviorist or trainer, and to include a dog and/or a cat. But the main character, September (yes, that’s her name!) needed to train more than puppy manners. I’ve interviewed trainers of service animals, and my own dog’s breeder has placed autistic service dogs. Once one notion came to  mind, the others followed. Also, the most interesting characters to me are damaged, too, which means they must overcome internal and/or external obstacles to succeed. September suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress, and hates the thought of leaving her safe, secure home but goes out in the blizzard anyway to find her lost nephew.

Me: As you know, in my own book Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and The People Who Love Them, we strive to build awareness that special needs pets can lead whole, happy lives even though they may not have the same abilities as most animals. I get the feeling from the excerpt that with Lost and Found, you had to deal with that on two levels: It seems you had to straddle the line concerning how people perceive both canine cognitive abilities and how they misunderstand the cognitive dissonance that may be occurring in the minds and senses of those living with autism. In researching your novel, what most surprised you about your own understanding of autism, and as a writer, how did you leverage what your animal behaviorist self knows about the way dogs interact with and respond to their humans in service to the story?

Amy: Wow. Let me think on that. I’m not sure that I’m able to fully understand how autistic people feel or think, but I am able to observe behaviors. The child character, Steven, is reported pretty much as observation – by the dog, Shadow. So I pretty much avoided – or tried to, anyway – making my own assumptions about what might or might not be happening regarding Steven. Instead, the story has the dog interpreting (correctly or in error, from his own canine perspective) what Steven’s actions and reactions mean. Therefore, when Steven claps his hands over his ears, Shadow can relate because he also wishes hands could cover his own ears to muffle too-loud noises.

What most surprised me was that one of my beta readers told me that I nailed the autistic child and adult Asperger character, as far as behavior and dialogue. Wow. This is a teacher who works with autistic children and also lives with a daughter partnered with a service dog.

END OF PART I

Isn’t this a fascinating interview? I’m learning a lot about novel craft as an author working on her own first novel! I hope you’re getting as much out of our conversation with Amy Shojai, and hope you’ll be back to join us here for Part II of this engaging interview!

Books, Characterization, Craft, General Writing, Setting, Technique, Writing process

Creating Chemistry

Today, I’m pleased to host a guest appearance by my fellow author and friend, LM Preston, whose new eBook, Flutter of Luv, has just debuted and is making the rounds among YA fans and adults who just like a good love story. LM shares with us today some tricks to creating chemistry among your characters, and — better yet — between you and your readers! Check out what she has to say:

Flutter of Luv book coverHave you ever read a book and, when you finished, missed the characters? Or better yet, fallen in love while you were reading how a character was falling head-over-heels in love with another character?

Well, creating chemistry in your novel can be with anything:

– Between the reader and the character
– Between multiple characters
– Between the scenery or scene (that you make a connection to)

Reader and Character Love

While writing my latest release, Flutter Of Luv, I really worked hard at making the character into the reader’s friend. Writing in first person allows for this type of connection.

Have you ever had a friend tell you some juicy news, gossip or prediction that you couldn’t stop listening to, because they told the story in such a way that captivated you? Well, that’s the frame of mind you, as the writer, need to be in when you are creating your character. You want to reveal what makes the character tick, get a strong voice, and slowly seduce your reader into falling in love with your character — flaws and all.

Characters’ Chemistry with Each Other

Reading a scene in which two characters have sparks firing can bring the reader right into the action through the use of the senses, bringing believability and substance to the relationship. This is a writing trick romance writers have a talent for.

To get your writing in ‘the chemistry zone,’ think about what makes you connect with other people, fall in love, or ‘click’ in a friendship. Those tools should be used to develop and unfold your characters, to bring substance to these on-paper relationships. The key is to make the reader connect with each character, fall in love with them, before you make the characters realize their love for or connection to one another.

A Scene Or Place Can Invoke Chemistry

I would’ve never thought this, until I started reading travel books – not the books that tell you how to visit a place, but the ones that show you how to EXPERIENCE a place. These travel books and authors have a gift for bringing a place alive, creating chemistry between the reader and the locale of choice, to the point where the reader falls in love with a place based simply on the way it’s experienced through the writing.

Chemistry takes time to build when writing, and the best way to figure out how to express it is to figure out what causes your own chemistry to spark.

You can find LM’s newest book, Flutter of Luv, which is ALL about the chemistry, at Amazon. Be sure to leave her a good review there if you like it — these reviews are really important to indie publishers.

LM will be guest posting tomorrow at the Searching For An Escape blog.

She invites you to the Twitter launch party for her book next Friday, July 27th, from 5pm – 6pm EDT. Get on Twitter, follow @Lm_Preston, and use hashtag #FlutterOfLuv to participate. (Hint: It’s easiest to do a search on the hashtag to isolate the conversation, especially if you’re using Tweetdeck or some other feed management app).

LM also welcomes you to the book’s Facebook Launch Party! Log on next Saturday, July 28th, from Noon-9pm EDT and navigate to the Party on LM’s Event Page!

Benefits of writing, Books, Characterization, Inspiration, Motivation, Plot

Characterization – Oh, the things it makes me think about…

Lonely Cottage Road is set in the American Civil War era

For quite some time now, I’ve been putting off working on a novel – Lonely Cottage Road – that I really, really want to be writing. There always seems to be something more immediately pressing, most pointedly making a living. But these days, snippets of dialogue between my characters comes to me unbidden, and I find myself thinking about them at the oddest times. I think the book is done gestating and is trying desperately to be born.

One thing that’s constantly going on somewhere back in the deep recesses of my mind is the consideration of my characters’ motivations. What do they most want? What makes them want it? And – most importantly of all, for it will be the juice that moves the story forward – to what lengths are they willing to go to get it?

Then, that musing leads to the characters’ basic emotional landscapes: Who are they? What are their worldviews? What made them like that?

And, finally, all this must, of course, at some point lead to an examination of those very questions about myself and those around me.

I’ve become convinced that much of writing is simply authors trying to work out their own issues, or karma, or whatever you want to call it. We navel-gaze in public. Some think this is egotistical. Perhaps, but I think it’s useful in that it somehow allows others who read the work — and even some who don’t — to maybe let down their guard a little and take a look at their own stuff. And I’m convinced this is a good thing. Maybe if Germany hadn’t been so rigid and oppressive, Adolf Hitler could have read something that rocked his world, forced him to look into his own soul, and stood firm in forging ahead with his artistic endeavors instead of that expression being warped into the grand evil it became?

Who knows, really, but a little self-examination never hurt anybody. It may have damaged their false-fronted contentment for a bit or jolted them out of apathetic complacency. That can’t be a bad thing.

Hmmm…guess it really is time to get started on my novel again.

Books, Craft, General Writing

The Art of Storytelling – Thanks, Ira Glass.

Okay, let’s get away from the crass promotion aspect of being an author for a bit. It’s necessary, but let’s face it: NOT why most of us got into this line of work.

Why most of us DID get into it was to have a way to tell stories. Stories that run around in our heads and pop up at the most inopportune times. Stories that often serve as our best friends and our greatest nemeses. Stories whose characters speak to us so clearly, and so often, that they begin surfacing in our dreams, threatening to become more real than the real people we know.

What? You thought you were the only one? You thought you were alone in this sickness, this obsession that won’t leave you alone?

Please…you’re special, but not that special.

You share this particular brand of neurosis with bajillions of others. The difference is, you’re one of those who haven’t learned to put it in its place; to find a safe, dark spot to shove it into until it suffocates and its voice is extinguished.

Congratulations. You’re a writer.

And I do mean those congrats most sincerely. I fear for a world in which only what’s “real” is taken seriously (which is funny, coming from someone who primarily reads nonfiction because fantasy has never latched on to me that much). But that doesn’t keep me from understanding that the world of the possible — of the potentially real, of the imagination, where good really can triumph over evil and greed, self-interest and mistrust — is the only one that will ultimately save us from this very real world currently being torn apart by hatred, intolerance and fear.

As pretentious as it may seem, I believe wholly that imagination is the source of all art (along with other helpful playmates such as passion and hope, intuition and not a small amount of magic), and I believe that art will save the world. I do. Perhaps I must, since it’s apparent that nothing else is working and I need a reason to get up in the morning.

So, storytellers, we have a job to do, and we must do it well. The world’s counting on us. And so we must bend our backs to studying our craft and mastering its foundations.

Happily, these foundations don’t exist in a vacuum. They are shared across artistic disciplines. Which brings me to recommend a series of short videos I think really captures the root of storytelling in a nutshell. Granted, the teacher here — Ira Glass, host of Public Radio’s much-loved series, This American Life — is talking specifically about radio, and to a point, video and film. But it doesn’t matter. The ideas he puts forth are solid , storytelling-in-any-medium, gold.

So spend 20 minute or so and watch Mr. Glass, in his inimitable way, explain the building blocks of effective storytelling. Then think about how it relates to what you do every time you sit down with a pen and pad or your computer. I hope you revisit these vids more than once, to see if you missed anything.

I know I will.

Books, Craft, Promotion, Publishing Industry

A truly perfect author website

Today I ran across an author website that I think is just excellent, and want to share it with you.

Author Jenna Blum has created a compact little site that’s not minimalist but in no way cluttered; full of personality, yet confidently understated. And that seems to be the perfect showcase for her two novels, which are about deep emotional and psychological subjects that get to the very heart of what it means to be human, to be family.

jennablum.com

But from a marketing standpoint she’s got everything she needs, and it’s all there, easy to find, on the home page: links to

  • her books
  • bio
  • press kit
  • everything a reporter, editor, agent or publisher would want to know
  • And a great photo of Jenna to add that human connection.

As a marketing consultant who gets paid to help authors and other small businesspeople build effective websites, I will be referring lots of future clients to this site as an example of what they want to shoot for. Just really well done.

Authors, if you’re considering building an author site, this would be a good one to pattern on.

Books, Promotion

Creative Book Promotion to Schools, Part 3 – Meeting Curriculum Standards

One of the most effective ways to promote your books to schools is to develop teaching units that can be integrated easily into existing curricula.

Author Barbara Techel and Frankie the Walk 'n Roll Dog
Author Barbara Techel and Frankie the Walk 'n Roll Dog make an in-person classroom visit

Remember: As with most forms of free publicity, schools aren’t interested in promoting your book to  students and their parents. They ARE interested in what valuable content/substance you can add to their existing lessons through your book’s subject. If you remember that your material must work in service to their broader goals of teaching concepts in an interesting way, your material is likely to be favorably received and actually used.

You first need to think about all the ways your book’s subject could fit into the standard disciplines:

  • reading/spelling
  • writing/grammar
  • math
  • science
  • social studies/history
  • physical education
  • art
  • music

Use Your Imagination
This exercise should be pretty easy, especially for fiction writers, since it involves making connections where there previously were none: Think about each separate teaching discipline, then imagine a creative approach you might take to make your content relevant to that segment. Obviously, not all books will fit in all teaching categories, but you may surprise yourself with the connections you can make.

As an example, I’ll use my first self-published book, a narrative nonfiction documentary of a historic weather disaster. Here’s how I can imagine Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955 fitting into several standard disciplines:

Reading/Spelling – Create a unit that uses several excerpts from the book. One will be followed by questions that strengthen readers’ close reading and comprehension skills; one will introduce ten new vocabulary words, asking readers to define them according to their context; another can be mined for spelling words.
Writing/Grammar – Pull an excerpt that discusses a diary kept during the flood. Use that section as the basis of an exercise in writing a diary entry using the 5 Ws. This could be tweaked to be written as the classic journalistic inverted pyramid for older students. Other excerpts could be pulled out to show what kind of research was required to dig up the facts, organize them into a coherent narrative, and fit them into the larger story. Still other dialogue excerpts could be used to show how people often neglect proper grammar when speaking, especially when in a hurry or under duress.
Math – There are all kinds of applied math problems that could be pulled from this narrative: How much does one inch of rainfall covering one acre weigh? What’s the formula to determine the hydraulic force of two feet of water moving at 8 mph? If a river’s level rises beyond flood stage, how far out from the banks will it spread once it’s a foot over flood stage? Story problems: If a breach forms in a canal wall that’s 15 feet thick at its base, 7 feet thick at the top, and 10 feet high, how many sandbags measuring 2 ft. x 3 ft. x 1 ft. will it take to fill it? If six men can each move six sandbags per minute, how long will it take them to fill that gap?
Science – The no-brainer here is environmental science and weather: What conditions are required for a hurricane to form over the Atlantic Ocean? How does one storm continue cycling to produce extreme amounts of rainfall? What causes a hurricane to lose so much power once it’s over land? Why is it a bad idea to straighten a waterway? Could such a devastating flood ever happen again? Why or why not?
Social Studies/History – The social studies angle could deal with how rumors spread in a panicked population; the political ramifications of not enforcing ordinances against building in the flood plain; how the flood changed the way life developed in the river valley regarding location of stores and living space, traffic patterns from washed-out bridges. History could be served simply by pulling a few dramatic excerpts that address local, regional and state history as affected by the flood.
Physical Education – My book contains an account of an amazing helicopter rescue that was only successful because the people being rescued (camp counselors between 17-19 years old) were physically fit and prepared for what they needed to do to help save themselves.
Art – Younger kids could have a project in which they draw pictures of some of the more dramatic scenes from the book, while older kids could create memorials to those who died in the event.
Music – Groups of kids could work together to write lyrics and compose music for a ballad about the Flood of ’55.

Help From On High
If you can’t come up with much, don’t worry. Most state departments of education maintain websites containing their grade level standards for curriculum content in every teaching discipline. They’re pretty detailed insofar as what content is required, and this might help you spark some ideas. These curriculum standards are freely available to anyone willing to take the time to study them. It’s possible to develop lesson plans for teaching units in as many of these disciplines as your book pertains to. It involves some work, but you can develop one unit at a time and adjust it slightly for different grade levels.

It’s quite likely that you’ll find your efforts worthwhile: You never know when your book’s lesson might catch on among teachers, who are famous for both sharing what works and lobbying for official adoption of effective material. It only takes one such scenario for your book to become a mandatory or at least a recommended text for an entire school district, so your investment in development can really pay off.

Once you’ve finished creating your units, one way to make them work hard for you while you’re doing other things is to post them as PDFs in your online newsroom. This makes them available not just for download by grateful teachers looking for fresh material, but also makes them searchable by web crawlers that will help make them discoverable by those very instructors looking for exactly what you’re offering.

Most often, you’ll want to develop for a K-12 grade level, but some books might lend themselves to post-secondary level adoption. These more advanced teaching units should contain tightly focused readings, discussion questions, and an assignment for a 45-minute class period. Including a quiz or related game is optional. Remember to use social media to drive awareness of these offerings.

How-To Help Is On The Way
Ideally, not only will your books make it into classrooms, but so will you! It’s a rare teacher who won’t want to meet the author of a book whose content she’s using in her classroom, and to have the author come speak to her students on that subject.   For more information about making the most of such classroom visits as a marketing and promotional tool, learn about the definitive guide to such activities: Pioneering author Barbara Techel is currently at work on CLASS ACT, the ultimate how-to guide for authors wanting to get in front of audiences in schools and classrooms.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this three-part series and will find it helpful in getting your books into classrooms and beyond.