Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free Kindle E-book: Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom

I first became interested in Cheryl Carpinello’s work when I began research on my own Arthurian-themed adventure novel for middle graders, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur. At the time, I read and reviewed the delightful Guinevere: On the Eve of a Legend. Read my review here. Cheryl’s book was a Finalist Pre-Teen Literature: Dan Poynter's 2011 Global Ebook Awards.

Cheryl says this about her fascination with all things Arthurian: “Although a retired teacher, I still have a passion for working with kids. I regularly conduct Medieval Writing Workshops for local elementary/middle schools and the Colorado Girl Scouts. It seems I'm not the only one who loves Medieval Times and the King Arthur Legend. The kids thoroughly enjoy writing their own medieval stories complete with dragons, wizards, unicorns, and knights!”

Next came The King’s Ransom (Book I of The Young Knights of the Round Table), a tween adventure novella. At Pembroke Castle in medieval Wales,11-year-old Prince Gavin, 13-year-old orphan Philip, and 15-year-old blacksmith's apprentice Bryan, brought together in friendship by the one they call The Wild Man, embark upon a quest to save The Wild Man’s life when he is accused of murder and robbery. If they have any hope of succeeding, the three will have to confront their fears and insecurities, and one of them will have to disclose the biggest secret of all. But it is the arrival of King Arthur and what he reveals that surprises characters and readers.

But wait, there’s more!

Hot on the heels of the book came a fascinating behind-the-scenes in Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom.

Have you ever wondered what writers do in addition to writing their books?

Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom lets readers meet the characters in The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table), go on a virtual tour of the actual Welsh settings and sample Welsh food and drink, discover the secrets of the author, and other goodies. Read excerpts from The King's Ransom and Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend.

Sounds fascinating!

GET YOUR FREE COPY ON 20 AND 21 September!

(Originally priced at $3.50)

Take a look at Chery and her work here!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Transformational Fiction with Lisa Hilleren

Today’s book review post features author Lisa Hilleren and her hilarious transformational novel Reconstructing Eve. Lisa is generously giving away a 30% discount on e-book and paperback purchases. Scroll to the bottom of this interview for details.

Author Lisa Hilleren

Does life imitate art or vice-versa? Either way, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like her fictional character Eve, Lisa Hilleren lives in the Garden State and drives a red convertible. Her personal journey of self-discovery began 15 years ago, when she learned the power of emotional intelligence, which she has since taught to countless others in her role as a professional trainer.

Let’s talk about Reconstructing Eve.

When Aidan Wharton asks Eve Merritt on a date, one might wonder why she refuses to go. After all, Aidan, a handsome, rich, well connected, 31 y/o, is most women’s dream date. That is, if you’re a supermodel look-alike, not a 44 y/o divorcée, with a grown-up daughter, and (even worse) jiggly thighs. To make matters more complicated, Eve used to babysit Aidan when he was little, and their parents know each other. However, temptation is hard to resist. Eve, who has been a good daughter, wife, and mother all her life, suddenly decides to kick over the traces and just take a bite of the apple. What she doesn’t expect is Aidan’s total adoration and commitment; her ex-husband’s bid to renew their relationship; a stalker from Aidan’s past creating trouble; and finally a crazed killer who seems to out to get both of them. Could things be any more complicated? Yes, when Eve finds herself falling hard for Aidan and tries to talk herself out of something that (of course!) can never work long term, especially not the happy-ever-after future complete with big wedding that Aidan has in mind. Has Eve got the courage to overcome the decades of old conditioning and for once put her own happiness and well-being first?

Q: In your own words, what is ‘transformational fiction?’ I’ve heard of inspirational fiction, but this is a new concept.
A: Thank you so much for asking this question! One of the reasons I chose to self-publish is that my novels don’t fit in any one of the established commercial fiction genres. Although there are strong romantic, comedy, and suspense elements in Reconstructing Eve, at its heart, it’s the story of a woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Princess Fiona rules!
 And that’s what transformational fiction is. Avatar, Shrek, and The Mask of Zorro are great examples of male protagonists transforming into their authentic selves. My novels center on women learning how to cast off the gender and generational conditioning that have inhibited them from leading truly fulfilled lives. Conflict abounds from both internal and external resistance to the heroine’s personal development, but at no point in any of my books does the heroine abandon her responsibilities in order to go find herself. Instead, as part of her transformation, she redefines the concept of what constitutes being a good wife, mom, and daughter, and by doing so, she ultimately comes to the realization that she can have it all. Hence the tag line, “Have your apple and your Eden, too!”

Q: What prompted you to take an inner journey, which you describe on your website, and turn it into something so hilarious and real that the reader can’t help laughing, nodding in acknowledgement, and saying, “Yep. I know exactly what she’s talking about!” (You could have written a serious non-fiction book with lots of reader exercises at the back – the kind we tend to buy and never read…).
A: Like countless other women, I grew up believing (thanks to fairy tales and television ads) that I should dedicate my life to taking care of everyone else’s needs. It’s not that anyone ever said as much, but when you are constantly barraged by images of women behaving in that manner--especially from a very young, impressionable age--you associate those actions (and through that association, form the belief) that that’s the ‘right and natural order of things.’

The carrot, as I saw it, for being sweet and selfless like Cinderella, was that I’d get to live happily-ever-after. So at 20, I married a prince of a guy, and by my 25th birthday I was mom to two beautiful children. Having been very poor growing up, I was determined give my children the material things I’d always longed for, and so, by my 30s, I was pulling down a handsome salary as a call center manager for a global insurance company. By society’s standards, I had it all: marriage, children, a career, a nice house, nice cars, etc. When I stepped back from my life and viewed it as a photograph, it screamed success!

But I didn’t feel successful. I felt restless. I felt that something was missing, and how could that be? I’d done everything right. I should have felt so fulfilled, should have been living--and reveling in--my richly deserved happily-ever-after. But no, the happiness I expected would be handed over to me (you know, in a ceremony rivaling that of the queen’s coronation) never happened. Leading me to the very unhappy realization that being self-sacrificing didn’t guarantee my own happiness as I’d falsely believed.

Bite that apple of life!
I was livid. I felt like I’d been suckered into the world’s biggest bait and switch. I demanded answers, which is what led to me to my inner journey and the discovery that happiness is a state of being, not a reward. Acknowledging that I was wrong in my thinking (and--gasp!--that I wasn’t perfect!) was so challenging for me. How I coped with it and kept myself moving forward was by focusing on the humor in my circumstances. That said, I initially wrote Reconstructing Eve for myself. Although Eve’s journey differs from mine, her emotions mirror mine and as difficult as it was to write about them, it was also tremendously cathartic. Too, being a storyteller, I still love fairy tales, and I wanted to honor that by writing one where the heroine is victorious because she has the courage to be herself, not because she’s being sweet and self-sacrificing.

Q: Do you think readers will better absorb the message in a wickedly funny and realistic package than if they pick up a book that outlines what they didn’t do/should be doing with their lives?
A: It’s been well-documented that our choices are emotionally-driven. That said, non-fiction can evoke certain emotions. For example, we can be inspired by the author’s journey, or conversely, intimidated by her credentials. We can be uplifted by the possibilities presented in a self-help book, or, as typically happens with adults, get stymied by our fear of failure. What’s different about novels is that the audience gets to "safely" experience the full range of emotions that the protagonist experiences in her journey of self-discovery: her hopes, her fears, her joys, her sorrows. The reader might fear for the heroine’s well-being, but on a subconscious level, she’s aware that her own well-being is not in jeopardy. Fiction creates an environment where the reader is comfortable lowering her emotional guard, and in doing so, vicariously lives the protagonist’s journey.

If what the heroine says or does strikes a deep emotional chord, chances are that the reader will respond with receptivity to the message as well as take into consideration the options presented to her for potentially leading a more fulfilled life.

Q: You’ve written other, still unpublished works (historical, paranormal and contemp. romance). What made you take the plunge and see Reconstructing Eve published?
A: I wrote the other books before and during my self-discovery journey. Although well-crafted, they didn’t sell, partly because like Reconstructing Eve, they didn’t neatly fit into a traditional genre. I believe the bigger reason, though, was that I was writing from my ego, not from my heart. The best advice I ever received as a writer was, “Write to express, not to impress.”

After years of receiving countless “good” rejections, I stopped writing and focused on my personal development. Reconstructing Eve is the result of me writing from my heart and from believing so passionately in Eve’s story that I chose to self-publish when once again, the “good” rejections poured in. As Aidan tells Eve, “You’ve got to put yourself out there.” (LOL, I’m laughing here because yes, I often take advice from my own fictional characters.)

Q: Eve is the original temptress, and she did go off the path a bit long long ago. In the book, are you giving readers a hint that it’s possible to, well, not turn back the clock, but start the path all over again? (and get it right)
A: My hope is that women continue to band together in rejecting the notion that by pursuing our own happiness we are somehow straying off the “straight and narrow path." Self-fulfillment is not selfish. Similarly, enjoying a healthy sex life does not make us immoral. Reconstructing Eve is about recognizing and addressing the dysfunctional aspects of conforming to the status quo. I deliberately had Eve give in to temptation as a way of showing how--once we stop letting the social norms dictate whether we are “bad” or “good” (and ergo, worthy and deserving of happiness)--we create the opportunity to truly have it all.

Q: Many women shy away at the idea of taking on a younger partner, who could easily have a young gorgeous woman in his life (sans jiggly thighs). What do you think is the reason so many younger men DO, in fact, gravitate to an older woman, and can this relationship work? (You can hear I am as much a Doubting Thomas as Eve is!)
A: LOL, I was too! Until I researched why younger men are attracted to older women. The top responses were:
1) Maturity

2) Their life experiences creates the opportunity for great conversation and camaraderie

3) They’re upfront about what they want

4) They aren’t looking to be endlessly entertained or forever on the go

5) They are interested in having a relationship, not just looking for a baby-daddy

6) They don't thrive on unnecessary drama; Instead, they tend to approach life's hiccups with a sense of humor, and for the most part, choose to overcome their challenges rather than incessantly dwell on them

In the articles I read, many of the May-December relationships outlasted those where the partners were of a similar age. And for those that didn’t, the men stated how much they valued the experience and continued to hold their former partner in the highest respect and regard.

Q: You do not have to answer this one (ha ha question) - is Aidan Wharton your husband in disguise?
A: He definitely challenges me the way Aidan challenges Eve! He’s more “alpha” than Aidan, though. I'd say he’s one-part Aidan and two-parts Will Merritt - which makes for a very lucky me!!!

Q: The secret question that no one has ever you have a garden like Eve’s?
A: Don’t I wish! My mother had a magnificent garden, though, and my vivid memories of it are what I visualized when I wrote the book. Me, I’m a brown thumb through and through! It’s only because my husband looks after my four rose bushes and two lilac plants that they have somehow managed to thrive.

My review:
This is more than just a fun, chick-lit read. Lisa Helleren taps straight into most women’s anxieties and insecurities when faced with a new relationship after the end of a long marriage. In many cases, women struggle to reinvent themselves after their former role of dutiful wife and mother has ended and it appears that they failed in their task. The dialogue is real and snappy, and the author takes readers right into Eve’s head. There is an underlying message that gives women hope, and the author herself says, “Supporting women on their journeys of self-discovery is my passion; it's the driving force behind my writing.” Eve learns her life lessons, and finally cultivates self-belief through love, regardless of jiggly thighs. The characters interact in a most credible way, making them believable and ultimately appealing. The author has a deft touch when it comes to characterization and there are no one-dimensional actors in this theater of life. Readers will laugh, and empathize. There’s passion, humor, tenderness, sadness, and ultimately self-discovery and redemption. There are a few adult love scenes but they flow seamlessly into this excellent story. Highly recommended.

Please visit Lisa’s excellent site, where her mission is to empower women through self discovery and celebrate the right values for them. In Lisa’s own words: “As I was writing Reconstructing Eve, I was privileged to have the most amazing conversations with other women about our journeys of self-discovery. This sharing of knowledge and insights inspired me to create an on-line community for women to connect and support one another.”

Be it through training or fiction writing, Lisa is passionate about sharing the knowledge and tools that help women to discover and embrace their authentic selves. Lisa has some excellent articles on her site. Read them. You’re in there somewhere.

Get your 30% discount off a Smashwords purchase using this code VL52H.
Get your 30% discount off a paperback purchase on CreateSpace by adding the book to your cart and on the checkout page, enter discount code BRQHNBWF.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Great Amazon Book Review Scam

Every author knows that book reviews are important. Why? Simple. Reviews guide the readers (your potential buyers) in the right direction. It helps to have rave 5-star reviews; it hurts to get dismal 1-star reviews. Most authors dream of having hundreds, nay thousands of reviews, like some of the top authors out there.

The NY Times says: “Reviews by ordinary people have become an essential mechanism for selling almost anything online; they are used for resorts, dermatologists, neighborhood restaurants, high-fashion boutiques, churches, parks, astrologers and healers—not to mention products like garbage pails, tweezers, spa slippers and cases for tablet computers. In many situations, these reviews are supplanting the marketing department, the press agent, advertisements, word of mouth and the professional critique.”

But getting reviews is hard work, even when there are helpful guides, such as Dana Lynn Smith’s resource page which, among other useful ‘how to’ publications, actually has a book called How to Get Your Book Reviewed. (It’s brilliant!)

Aha, but therein lies the rub. The ‘hard work’ part. The author has to hunt down people (friends, relatives, colleagues, bloggers, and perfect strangers) and persuade them to read and review the book, giving up their time for no reward. You, the author, get the reward because ultimately their opinion will maybe persuade a (huge!) number of people to purchase your book/s.

Isn’t it soooooo much easier to cut to the chase, eliminate the middle man (reviewers), and write them yourself?

Brilliant idea! And at the same time you’re elevating your own work to the stars, you can trash the opposition, or anyone who might possibly sell more books than you.

Enter the Great Amazon Book Review Scam

This ugly phenomenon first reared its head in a 2010 article in The Guardian revealing how historian Orlando Figes praised his own work and denounced that of his rivals by using fake Amazon accounts to post reviews. He first denied it; even suggesting his wife had done this without his knowledge, and then finally crumbled and confessed, citing ‘intense pressure’ as the reason. Hmmm. One wonders. But then, academics live in the rarified atmosphere of academia and they are fond of saying, “Publish or perish,” so maybe he did just go temporarily off the rails.

However, the lurgy struck again, this time in the world of fiction writing. In August 2012, the NY Times reported a book review scam—masses of paid Amazon reviews.

“Suddenly reviews, of anything in fact, have become vitally important. … But not just any kind of review will do. They have to be somewhere between enthusiastic and ecstatic.”

A site called (now defunct) created 4531 reviews, mainly for self-published authors, historically the desperadoes of the publishing world and possibly capable (Ha! Ha!) of the lowest of tricks to get positive reviews. Owner Todd Jason Rutherford could not keep up with the demand, so he created a mini industry of reviewers who churned out the reviews. Even John Locke admits (unblushingly) to using his services. The axe fell when an unhappy client criticized the site and demanded a refund. Google cancelled Rutherford’s advertising services and Amazon removed many of his reviews.

Still, ‘real’ (traditionally published) authors seemed to be above all these tacky tactics.

But wait! There’s more! In late August 2012, an article appeared in Forbes alerting readers to another shocking development in the fake review department: at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, successful author Stephen Leather confessed, during an on-stage panel discussion, that he used fake accounts to promote his own books. For the uninitiated or the ethically minded, this is called ‘Sock Puppetry’ (with apologies to all sock puppets out there)

Can it get worse? Yes.

Suw Charman-Anderson reported in an article (3/09/2012) in Forbes that: “Best-selling crime writer RJ Ellory has turned out to be the latest author exposed in the ongoing saga of fake Amazon reviews, a can of worm that just keeps on wriggling. Ellory was the winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2010 for his novel, A Simple Act of Violence.”

So, at the end of this dismal list, what can one derive? That even traditionally published, successful authors who actually have the advantage of a publisher at their back, grinding away at the publicity machine, seem to think it’s okay to lie, it’s okay to cheat the public, treating them like a bunch of ignorant sheep.

Although Ellory said it was a lapse of judgement in his apology, one wonders how it is possible for anyone to have multiple lapses of judgement. One assumes a lapse of judgement happens when blind rage or intense emotion takes over, and one does something stupid … once … and regrets it thereafter. Somehow, these guilty parties managed to think their way through creating fake Twitter and review profiles; managed to create brilliant reviews for themselves, and also thought up horrible snipes about their rivals—all while in the grip of lapses of judgement.

Lying is lying. Cheating is cheating.

Let’s talk about cheating.

In February 2012, The Guardian posted a cautionary article entitled Plagiarist Beware: The Internet Will Find You Out.

It did in the case of Kay Manning, who had plagiarised sections of a number of romance books. Her excuse? She thought they were parts of her own work on her computer… Huh?

Clearly, the lesson was not learned. Even worse was a report in the New Yorker about Q.R. Markham (real name Quentin Rowan), the author who pieced together his lauded debut from an amalgamation of spy thrillers. Famous spy thrillers. It was inevitable that someone would notice. In Assassin of Secrets, there were thirty-four instances of plagiarism in the first thirty-five pages. He’d cobbled together his novel from a variety of great novels. Rowan later blamed his publishers for putting him under pressure.

The bottom line is this: in all these cheating, jiggery-pokery, and smoke ‘n’ mirrors tactics, how much time did these authors waste in faking it, time that could have been more usefully employed in actually writing more books?

Although some opinions veer towards blaming Amazon, ask yourself: is Amazon the moral police officer of publishing? Amazon is a big shop front. It’s a gigantic store that sells loads of products. That’s their job.

It’s our job, as humans, to self enforce the rules for living. Thou shalt not cheat/steal/lie/dissemble/pull the wool etc. Everyone knows right from wrong. How much more reprehensible is it when writers, traditionally (like artists, playwrights, and poets) the people who hold a mirror up to society and point out our foibles/faults etc in their wonderful stories, deliberately and on numerous occasions seek to puff themselves up, and obtain praise by fraudulent means. It’s like cheating in an exam or faking your qualifications.

Although others have thought there will be little or no impact on these authors, it seems that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. There has been a backlash. Crime writers like authors Ian Rankin, Lee Child, and Val McDermid were among the 49 writers to condemn the “underhand tactics” of colleagues.

A last word from the CEO of Smashwords, Mark Coker about what makes a book great:

“The most powerful marketing secret is to write a super-fabulous book that markets itself. If a book can’t market itself through the passionate word-of-mouth of readers, the author’s marketing will be less effective. How does an author create a book that markets itself? The secret is to write a book that touches the reader’s soul. The reader must love it, and this holds true for both fiction and non-fiction.

If they feel passion for the book, they’ll leave you a five star review, not a three star review, and they’ll tell all their friends and family to purchase it as well. Reader passion gets you word of mouth and social media buzz, and this drives sales.”

Bring back ethics, morality and good, hard work on creating fantastic books. Then the sales, and the reviews, will come.