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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Counteract–When Fear Wins the Day

Today the Counteract blog hop stops on my blog. 

It's my turn to review Tracy S. Lawson's YA dystopian novel, and all I can say is, what a fun read!

So here's my review:

Control and Rebellion–Counteract.

It’s all about control, and in Counteract, the dream of every totalitarian regime comes true.

America, the land of the free, has fallen prey to its own greatest fear. With news of a vast invasion via a fast-spreading virus set free in the atmosphere, people are easily cowed into accepting an “antivirus medication.” Resistance is not only weak, it’s also futile. Renegades are mercilessly hunted down and removed from the streets while the rest of the population falls into a doped lethargy. People hide in their houses, all social and economic life comes to a grinding halt. America, has collapsed. 

Lawson paints a dire picture of a country in paralysis, a country held in panicked stasis by fear of terrorism and lethal air, a society that has stopped doing anything at all for fear of being destroyed. It remains unclear if the danger is imagined or real for a long time, but when the truth is discovered, it’s actually worse than the lie. 

Me? I’d rather live in a world that has been poisoned by an undisclosed enemy and fight for my life together with my fellow-humans than learn that the threat is a lie, and we’re all being dosed with hallucinogenic drugs so someone will be able to “manage” us more easily. 

There’s everything in this book: conspiracies, terrorism attacks, a 1984ish oppressive regime, love in unexpected places, and tests of faith. 

It’s a very American book: those who rebel against the establishment and defy the rules win out. They must win out, because that’s what America does best: fight for freedom, fight for the right of the individual to live their live the way they want to. 

Join Tracy S. Lawson on her virtual book tour!

Thanks Mariam, for hosting Tracy's third stop on her Counteract Virtual Tour & Giveaway! We hope your followers enjoyed it. 

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We're celebrating the release of Tracy's book—Counteract—with some great prizes:
One winner will receive a brand new, handmade, silver vial necklace courtesy of Bella Beads Studio. The vial measures approximately 2 inches in length and is capped top and bottom in silver-plated pewter. It hangs from a 30" sterling plated patterned cable chain with a sterling silver clasp. This is the same necklace that appears on the front cover of Tracy's book (minus the red liquid.) They will also receive a copy of the paperback, and swag.
Ten additional winners will receive a Counteract — Join the Resistance black wristbands and a bookmark.
HOW DO I ENTER? Just leave a comment for Tracy at the end of this post. Want more chances to win? CLICK HERE!

Follow Tracy as she makes her way around the blog-o-sphere. Her next stop will be:
August 7th: Bernadette Marie
And here's the fine print: Winners will be chosen at random and must include an email address in their comments. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Child, Alone.

"Goodbye," I called after my daughter as I left the playground, "Be good and play nicely with the other kids! I'll come back to pick you up when you're ready for college!"
She stared after me, my lonely, scared child, but I didn't care. I had other things to do, more important things, like getting pregnant again as soon as possible, and having another baby.
I love having babies, and I really, really love giving birth. That's the greatest experience ever, though I have to admit that deserting them on the playground is a very close second. I'm sure my kids will be found by someone. Anyone. And those strangers will take them home and treat them well. That's what they're there for, after all, aren't they? My kids? Because I sure don't need them once they've left my womb. New adventures are waiting for me!

Does this sound familiar to you? Have YOU done this to your kids? Are you still doing it?
Do you think your kids are safe and will be loved by strangers if their mom or dad aren't around to proudly introduce them, share their abilities or quirks with those curious strangers?
Don't you think those strangers would like to know how your kids like their breakfast, which TV show they love, if they need a bedtime story, and how they spend their Christmas Eve? Won't those foster parents be so much happier if you were there to introduce them to your child? If they see you waving happily after them as they walk away with your baby?

You think this is a weird story, right? Well, yeah. It is. If you're thinking of human children.
But it's not if you think about the books you've written, and that you want the world to read. 

What I'm trying to say is, don't desert your book the moment it's published. Like with any infant, the first two months are crucial for it's survival. It's a well-known fact that books sell best in that time period after release, so why would you want to let it sit on that imaginary swing on the imaginary playground all on its own, when you as a parent should be protecting and nourishing it, and, like any good parent, tell the world how fabulous your book-kid is?

So here's my publishing tip of the day: Promote your book. Promote it not only before it's released, but also once it's on the market. 
I know, the urge to return to your writer's chamber is great. You've just finished a book, you've edited it one more time than you really care, and you want to move on to new, exciting things. 

Promote your released book! Help it grow into that wondrous, shining adult who goes on to–who knows!–win the Pulitzer or the Nobel Prize, or will be made into a Hollywood movie.
Don't desert it the moment it's born.

Promote your book.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Behind the Scenes – What It Really Means To Be an Author

Ever wondered what an author does when he/she isn't winning awards, traveling around the world for research, or posting funny pics of cats on their Facebook wall?

What's that you're saying? They WRITE?

Well yes, there's that. But there's so much more to this job, stuff they never tell you about before you sign that book deal. Let me tell you a bit about that part of being an author.

Book Covers: You write a novel, and while you do that, you see the story unfold in your head. You see scenes, images, and when you're done writing, you have a very clear idea of how you want the cover of your book to look. If you're a self-published writer, fine. The cover is all yours, knock yourself out! But what if you're one of the lucky few who manage to capture an agent or publisher?
I have news for you: there are people who know better. There are those at a publishing house who do nothing else but design book covers. They know the market, and they know what will catch the reader's eye. And trust me, it will not be what you, the author, thought would look best.
There's only one thing you can do in this situation: submit. Shut up, nod, and move on. Let them do their work. They know. Their sole interest is to sell your book, not to make you happy. Of course, in the long run, they'll also make you happy, when the money begins to roll in.
But here's the truth: authors do not get a say on book covers. End of story.

Promotion and Marketing: Oh heck yeah. Those many hours you spend on twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or whatever social media platform turns you on: those hours are work, believe me, and a necessity these days. There's no cheaper way to make your name as an author, and no other place where you can do it as easily. In fact, I think this should be part of any book deal. Of course, while you're on it, you can have as much fun as you want. This is a great opportunity to make new friends, find great ideas for that next Easter lunch, or learn something about a new writing tool or method or whatever tickles your fancy.
But promotion is part of the deal, and there will be plenty of it. Trust me.
And here's a hint: Your publisher will love you even more if you're already internet-savvy when you sign that first contract. In fact, they might just check how active you are already. And it might make that little difference between being accepted or getting a rejection slip. (Of course, if you're reading this, then you already know what I'm talking about, and you hardly need this hint.)

The "Inner Rejection": Publishers are people. When everything's said and done, they are partial to some things, and hate others. Also, they know the market. Be ready to change your plot line, scenes, conversations, even characters and book titles, to toss endings and rewrite… be ready to do anything at all to make your book marketable. When you submit your book, you're not submitting a finished product. You may think so, but it's not true. Don't be afraid of the editing process. Embrace it. Your editor isn't criticizing you. Honestly. Your editor is your friend. They want to make your book better, and not let you look like an idiot.
You'll also find out that with every book you get to publish the editing gets a bit easier, and less. It's a learning process, and it makes you a better writer.

Be prepared for the fact that the book that eventually gets released is different from what  you originally wrote. In a good way.

Oh, and one last thing.
You totally, totally need to be able to sum up your book in two or three really good sentences. Why? Because you'll be asked this one question over and over again: "You wrote a book? What's it about?"And you better have a good answer. THIS is the ultimate marketing moment! You'll never get a better chance to win readers than in face-to-face conversations.
And no, you can't use the book blurb from Amazon. Your answer has to be personal, it has to convey that you know your book inside out. Who else is going to tell people about it if not you?

So–I've had my say for today. Now I'll go back to my writing cave and write book #8 for my publisher.
Have a great day!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hop Hop Along With Faye!

Hello, and good morning! Today it's my turn to be a part of Faye Rapoport DesPres' blog hop to celebrate the release of her memoir, Message from a Blue Jay.

To be honest, I've never figured out what memoirs were good for… after all, if you don't have to say how it really was, would you still do it? You can call it a memoir and make up all kinds of stuff.
I did read Faye's memoir though. I did it mostly because she's a fellow author at Buddhapuss Ink, and I was curious to see what kind of author my publisher had signed.

And I fell in love. No, I hadn't planned it.

I fell in love with Faye's fluid prose, with her gentle insights and beautiful descriptions.
So, to celebrate the release of Message from a Blue Jay, here's my review. 

A Memoir to Enjoy

Normally, I don’t like reading memoirs. They seem full of self-pity, half-lies, and extenuation. People who write memoirs want to make money by telling their–more or less–exciting life story. I've never understood the concept of writing a memoir. 
Why would anyone want to read someone else’s life story, unless that someone is Henry Kissinger or Kofi Annan?
What could there be in a normal person’s life that would make it so interesting that someone else would want to buy and read it? Why would I read how a stranger travels to London, visits a dying mother-in-law, or tries to save a feral cat? What is the allure?

Here’s the thing:
Faye has written a memoir, and it’s about all those things: traveling to Europe, dealing with uterine cancer too early in life, watching her mother-in-law die, and yes, talking to a blue jay in the middle of a downpour on a lonely road.
She writes about growing up and feeling ugly (don’t we all!), and about herself as a young woman, trying to find herself in a world full of turmoil and imponderables. 
What sets Faye’s memoir apart though is that she looks beyond what meets the eye, is apparent, and finds meaning. She is not afraid to learn from what she encounters. Every essay in this collection tells a small story, but each is also a lesson that Faye learned, and shares with us.
That blue jay on the road? It teaches acceptance. We don’t have control. We don’t control our deaths, we don’t control much in our lives. We need to accept them as they come. Life isn’t about control; it’s about letting go, about gracefully and patiently accepting what comes our way.

Faye Rapoport DesPres is an excellent writer. 
In fact, she’s one of the best writers I’ve read. Her style is poetic, lyrical, observant, and lush, but never excessive, never florid. Her sentences have a lovely cadence, a natural flow, that make them dance easily through the reader’s mind.

A memoir? Yes, Message from a Blue Jay is a memoir. A memoir I thoroughly enjoyed.

Born in New York City, Faye Rapoport DesPres was raised in a rural area of upstate New York. Her maternal grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s and settled in the South Bronx, where her mother was raised. Her father, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in New York as a teenager after World War II.

This was the eighth stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres's Virtual Book Tour. 
Don't miss the next stop on 5/26 at This Is Who I Am!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spillworthy – A Book Release

Today is the release day for Johanna Harness' YA novel Spillworthy, I'm proud and happy to be part of her blog hop to celebrate this release.

Johanna is an amazing person; she is generous, supporting, always fun, always kind. She has helped many a fledgling writer to find their way into publication, and she was always patient, loving, joyful, doing it. 
Johanna has sheep. And she has chickens. And she's a homeschooling mom. She also has very curly blond hair. And she lives on a farm in Idaho. She loves cowboys, and the history of the Wild West. She adores her coffee!

And we love Johanna. So – many, many congrats, you sweetheart girl! 

Here is the interview I did with Johanna, and my review of her book, Spillworthy.

Hi, Mariam.  Thank you for inviting me to your blog today.  I’m so happy to be here.

Mariam: Tell us about yourself, Johanna. What’s your favorite drink, TV show, computer game, your favorite song, and which cake do you like best? Which color is your car? And what do you most like to do on a summer evening?

Johanna: Right now on my desk, I have a coffee mug filled with dark roast, and a juice glass full of milk.  Caffeine wakes me up, but protein helps me think more clearly.

My favorite television show would be either Justified or Longmire, depending on which one I’m watching at the moment.

I don’t play a lot of computer games, mostly because they’re addictive and I can blink and lose a huge chunk of my day. Right now I settle for quick games of Creepy Crawley Solitaire. The best part about playing is the meditative effect. It’s a great escape when I need to empty my mind.

 Song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” is like gospel for me. I close my eyes and cry.


Car color. Hmm. We can’t really agree what color it is. It’s sort of a silver-beige thing. It’s not a color you can remember when you close your eyes. If The Silence were a color, it would be the color of our car.

My perfect summer evening includes time spent around a campfire with my family. That’s where we tell our over-the-top stories and laugh until we fall out of our chairs.

Mariam: Why YA and not an adult novel?

Johanna: I write middle grade and young adult novels as a way of including more people. Neither type of novel excludes adult readers, but adult novels do exclude kids. I really enjoy writing stories my kids can read.

Mariam: What makes your YA novel different from all those others out there?

JohannaSpillworthy is on that border between middle grade and young adult.  The language and characters are accessible to a middle grade audience, but the subject matter can be pretty serious. It’s really up to parents to decide when this book would be right for their kids.

A couple things set the book apart.  One is that it respects the intelligence of kids. The main characters are smart people with limited life experience. They’re not dumbed-down versions of adults or silly images of kids the way adults think they should be. 

In my experience, kids see the world much more clearly than adults realize. Spillworthy is different because it opens up discussion points for many difficult topics—everything from homelessness to abuse to human trafficking—but it does so without ever feeling hopeless.  It’s a great starting point for parents to discuss issues with their kids by talking about characters.

Mariam: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing way?

Johanna: Spillworthy is a different book and I wanted it to stay different. Big publishers are risk-averse right now. That’s okay. They have to think about the bottom line and whether accepting the book the way it is would bring a return on their investment. They can’t take into consideration all the intangibles that make a book worth publishing.

As a self-publisher, I get to consider all the intangibles.  I believe this book will reach the people it was meant to reach.

Mariam: Please tell us what Spillworthy is all about!

JohannaSpillworthy is about a homeless kid who loves to write. He usually fills journals and throws them away when they’re full because he has no way to save them all. When he does have an idea so good he wants to share it with the world, he copies those thoughts onto used pizza boxes, leaving them in public places for others to read.  These thoughts spilled into the world are called spillworthies. The story itself begins when Ulysses is pulled from the streets and sent to live with his grandparents in Idaho.

Mariam: What’s next on your desk? Another YA novel? A sequel to Spillworthy? Or something entirely different?

Johanna:  During my time out on sub with big publishers, I wrote a few books, so I have some options. My daughter says the next one I should publish is DisasterMinds. It’s about a social misfit who is so smart he’s convinced he was created in a top secret lab. He convinces his childhood friend, a girl who was conceived in the same IVF lab, to go on a road trip with him, to either prove or disprove his theory.

Mariam: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Johanna: The power of writing resides inside stories and individual voices. When weighty topics scare us, we should try leaning into that discomfort, letting it instruct us.  The value of our profession as storytellers lies inside these intimate moments, shared between the reader and the characters.  Through stories, we can change the world. 

Following Johanna's directions on how to release her book, I gave my copy to my best friend's daughter Connie, who is a Middle Grade English teacher, because I think that Spillworthy belongs in every school library, and in classrooms.

Here's what I think of Spillworthy:

"A note rolled up inside a note, left in the fence: 

Some truths are kept hidden in the basement of our souls. We should never stop trying to find them."

Spillworthy by Johanna Harness has left me baffled, surprised, speechless, and with the deep wish that all schools all over the world put this middle-grade novel in their libraries, and not only one copy, but fifty. Or maybe one-hundred. Or maybe enough copies so every child can take it home and then "release" it into the world so it becomes a real Spillworthy, a piece of writing set free into the world. 
I just know that kids will devour this book, and maybe not only kids. When I began reading I had a text marker in my hand to highlight notable passages, only I gave up a few pages into the book. Every page is noteworthy, full of observations, insight, philosophy.
This: "Maybe we're all supposed to be making music together whether it feels like we belong together or not. Maybe it's not enough to live your own lives with quiet respect for others. Maybe we're supposed to be reaching and connecting – even when it seems like there's no way that's possible."

This novel reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird; the kids are of about the same age, and sometimes the tone is similar. Then again, it's something completely different, something not attempted before, both in style and form. 

Buy this book. Read it. Share it. It's a wonderful book!

You can buy Spillworthy here: Spillworthy
Find Johanna here: Homepage

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Who Wins the Prize?

It's that time of the year again, when every independent publisher and author ( who submitted a project) keeps checking for the announcements of the Independent Publisher Award committee.
It must be happening right now… today, or maybe tomorrow… the excitement and anxiety is nearly palpable on twitter.

Twice now, books that I've written were among the winners, in 2012 and 2013, so you can imagine that I'm not expecting to win anything this year. In fact, I don't even know if my publisher Buddhapuss Ink even submitted Song of the Storm. After all, no one wins three times in a row.

But that's not really what I wanted to write about.
Both times, when my books were winners, my publisher told me, "It's all YOUR achievement! YOU wrote the books!"
And every time I replied, "Yes, but they'd never be published if not for you and my editor at Buddhapuss!"
They never accept the credit. And yet, I know I'm right.
If Buddhapuss Ink hadn't literally grabbed my first book, The Distant Shore, out of my hesitant hands, I'd not be an author today, and even less, an award-winning author. They turned a messy, much too long something into an award-winning novel. They designed the cover, they put the book on the market.
And they did the same for my other books, Under the Same Sun and Song of the Storm.

So what I'm trying to say is, those awards, they're not only my achievement.
They are just as much my publisher's achievement. If anyone deserves to put that award certificate on their walls, it's them.
I can hold those two books in my hands and run my fingers over those award stickers on their covers, and I smile, because I know how lucky I am, to have been signed by the publisher who is just right for me.
And today, on the eve of the 2014 Independent Publisher Awards, I want to give a big shoutout to my editor at Buddhapuss Ink, MaryChris Bradley, and say thank you for an amazing and fun time together.
I hope we'll work together for many, many years to come, my dear!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Rains, Chapter One.

Here's a simple truth. 
You can't force writing, and even less, force the beginning of a new project. But you can't wait until you "feel" like it, either. I firmly believe that successful writing happens on the narrow path between those two, and that narrow path is called "routine and discipline, and a good measure of brash  boldness". You need to be bold as a writer. You need to take those words and stare them in the eye, and tell them that you're the master, and they better get in line, or else.
You'll also have to tell them that they don't have your permission to stray from the project you're working on into a new one before you tell them to.
THIS project is the one that needs to be finished!
You all know what matters if you want to be a successful writer: finish your projects. I believe, I firmly believe, that many writers out there never make it to publication because they never finish what they start.
And I also believe that it's less a matter of discipline than fear of finishing. Because what happens when you finish? You have to submit. You have to let go of your project and let others read it, judge it, and not everyone can take that. 
You'll also have to do all those other things that come with publishing a book: market and promote it, and be the public person you'll have to be, as an author.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about today.
I want to talk about beginnings. About that first word, the first sentence, that you put to paper when you start a new project.

I'm at that pivotal point once again. I'm starting my 8th. novel for Buddhapuss Ink, and I'm staring at that blank page, at the beginning of all things.
Once the first word has been written, the story will gain impetus, it will grow into the avalanche of thoughts and images that in the end, at the very end, will tell a story.

I love this moment. I love standing on the brink of the wide ocean of possibilities, and marvel at where it will take me. The journey through the story is as exciting for me as it is for you, my readers.
Like my characters, I'll fall in love, be happy, unhappy, shocked, I'll grieve and cry, and I'll do all those things they do. 
I will grow, as they will, and in the end, I'll release the story into the world, and into your hands.

And I'll hope that you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So, here we go. First words, first sentences.

                                                            Spring Rains

Chapter One.

When I was a child, New Year’s Even always followed the same routine.
My mom made her famous German potato salad, my dad would fill the fridge with bottles of cheap champagne, they’d argue over the amount of money that would be spent for firework and crackers, and they’d invite their best and oldest friends over, the Bihari family living on the floor below us.

As always, my dad would complain that they couldn’t have the filled doughnuts that he knew from home, from where he grew up on an island in the German North Sea, and as always my mom would shake her head and tell him to go down to Dunkin Donuts and get a box of the fatty things, they were just as good as the German ones from his childhood.