Friday, April 30, 2010

Generating the All-Important Buzz

Generating the All-Important Buzz

I found this great hands-on marketing post on 1st Turning Point, a site well worth watching.

Debut author Gini Koch lives in the American Southwest, works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day in her other life as a marketing guru and social media expert, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people.

She says: "These days authors can’t afford to ignore social media. There’s a lot of information out there for authors about how to best utilize Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and more. But I want to focus on what I consider old-fashioned social networking: how to ensure that, when it comes time to promote your book, your friends—particularly your friends with blogs, websites, and a huge list of social media contacts—will be the ones doing a lot of said promotion. And what works for people you know will also work for people you don’t.
So, how to go about it?"

Head on over to 1st Turning Point and find out how to go about it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Swimming With Wings & Author Lee Libro

I’d like to welcome my fourth Virtual Book Tour guest, Lee Libro, to share some thoughts about writing fiction from experience, and to tell you something about her fascinating book, Swimming with Wings.

First up, Lee has a riveting bio, steeped in literary magic and the kind of history that just beckons to be explored. Lee is a visual artist and writer. Elements of fantasy, myth and Jungian symbols are often interwoven themes in her art and fiction. Her influences include Alice Hoffman, Flannery O'Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Anne Tyler, Eudora Welty, Salvador Dali, Alex Grey, religious studies and new age principles, all media relating to metaphysics and the paranormal...and on a different note, the movie "Gone With the Wind." She lives in Florida with her husband, children and two dogs. She grew up in Augusta, Georgia and Portland, Maine and earned her B.A. degree in English specializing in Renaissance literature at the University of Connecticut. She spent nearly ten years in Marketing Communications and then the following decade as a foreign language translations editor. She is currently working on her two next novels. One is based on the true life story of her own great, great aunt, Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynkoop, accused and convicted of murdering her daughter-in-law on the surgery table, a suspected abortion case covered by national media in the 1930s. The other is a modern adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Rappaccini's Daughter", involving a modern day neurobiologist who tampers too far with the chemistry of the mind, and in so doing, discovers the threshold of the soul.

I spent a very enlightening time on Lee’s website which includes writer resources and a plethora of interesting angles on the craft of writing. Lee is also a book reviewer so feel free to hop over to her site at Literary Magic and read her submission guidelines.

Now, about Swimming with Wings

Lark Jennison is a free thinker and imagines she has wings! What does she have in common with a light healer who can raise the dead and the suspected gypsy-turned-evangelist who share her hometown? A story of human brotherhood released only through the colliding dogmas surrounding their shared tragedy from long ago. Through this coming of age love story and the solving of a mystery, a cast of soul seekers ultimately tells the story of brotherhood and the forces that shape belief. Lee Libro's writing style is southern lit with a modern twist and has been compared to that of Alice Hoffman. In Swimming with Wings the mystique of Practical Magic meets the human angst of Flannery O'Connor. Readers will enjoy an arresting blend of literary fiction, mystery and romance and ultimately a story about searching for direction, the hidden influences of ancestral roots and the forces that shape belief.
Genre/ Description: Literary Fiction/ Spirituality/Romance
Paperback - 277 pp   ISBN: 9781450580434

I am always curious about how writers get their inspiration: dreams, events, life experiences, other people’s experiences, a story they heard one day… the list is endless. Here’s Lee’s take on inspiration and writing fiction from experience.

Writing Fiction From Experience
Some of my earliest lessons in English composition and creative writing included the idea that in writing fiction one can only write from their experience. As I was very young at the time and had no experience, or at least no time to have reflected yet upon what experience I had thus far accrued, I felt that this placed me at a great disadvantage in the world of writing. Though I felt compelled by a theme or a glimpse of a character, these were often fleeting and untenable like sand, when what I really needed were good solid bricks to build my story. Though I held the desire to write, the creative vision and technical expertise to do so, my first attempts at the craft felt hollow and underdeveloped. And though my youth had indeed been full of experience, translating it into fiction would take reflection, skill and a good dose of relaxation to let it go and become something new, fictional, breathing a life of its own.

What I have since learned is that one needs several building blocks to successfully craft a story, not just experience from which to draw content, for what is content without accurate grammar, themes, voice, dialogue, plot and pace. For me personally, I did not consider myself a true writer until I fully understood the roles of each of these. Likewise, however, building blocks are dry and unstable without some mortar, or magic (as I often refer to in my blog. Voice and the figurative are essential in the art of storytelling. Now, at the ripe age of 50, I also have much experience from which to draw. Together with experience, reflection, an understanding of the building blocks, a handle on voice and a keen sense for the figurative in themes, after years of short-story writing I finally made the leap to writing a novel.

As the mother of five children and a supporter of spiritual diversity, I wrote my first novel, "Swimming With Wings," as an expression of the soul-seeking, gypsy-like route many take to find love and a way to make sense of spirituality in earthly existence, outside of religious structure, especially where grief, prejudice and pain can color one’s experience of it. These were all topics I grappled with up until my 20’s, and also as I took on the responsibility of raising other human beings, my interpretation of humanity became clearer.

Though "Swimming With Wings" was born from my experience, it is purely fictional. The novel evolved from my short story, “The Resurrection of Marcia Mueller” because the idea deserved a much deeper story arc. However, despite knowing this, it was written it in a very organic manner. I had a loose synopsis only, which I believe allowed for greater creativity as I wrote. My only fixed points were character based, except for the beginning and ending events. So in essence, I let these characters loose in a world launched by the effects of the tragic drowning of Lark and Peter’s fathers and set them off on a journey to reach the final scene. With the secondary characters, such as Peter’s grandfather, the mystic light healer, I interwove stories from the past as a backdrop to compare and contrast with what was occurring in the present.

As I wrote, I constantly reassessed the plot logic and consistency of details and because I’m also an artist and am very visually oriented, I laid out key points in the plot on large color-coded sticky notes on a big storyboard that I could easily rearrange. The dual timelines made this especially tricky. Once I found the right pace and the proper interlocking of the present with the past, the story became sort of predestined, taking on a life of its own and it flowed more easily.

People have asked me if the story was based on any of my own experiences, and while I would say that many of the elements are directly drawn from my life, the story is completely separate from my own. I’ve known people in my life who share characteristics with my characters, even the natural mystic, Salvatore Roma, who “could raise the dead: birds, squirrel, mice,” as he’s introduced in the first line of the story.

Reflecting back on my professor’s proposition that one must draw from experience, I now understand that what he meant was not actual experience, but rather what one learns from experience.

Thanks for sharing those enlightening thoughts with us, Lee. You can purchase Swimming With Wings from Powell’s Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or on order through any bookstore in the USA.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Books Can Help Kids Resolve Problems

How Books Can Help Kids Resolve Problems
Parents may find it hard to explain issues such as life, death, tragedy, and other traumatic events to their kids. Here's some advice and links to great books that enable kids to understand things better.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

10 Ways to Write Skinny Sentences

10 Ways to Write Skinny Sentences

Great advice from K.M Weiland to keep your writing tight, exciting, and captivating. If you don't already follow her blog, you should....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are Book Trends Killing Your Creativity?

When I receive posts from literary agent blogs I always check to see what’s hot and what’s not. One year it was boy wizards; then no one wanted any more Hogwarts lookalikes. Then it was vampires; suddenly no more vampires, please. Ditto werewolves. Currently in favor one finds angels (both good and bad varieties) topping the list, along with dystopian YA, and Swedish detectives and girls with tattoos. Zombies have held their own, with extra help from a few variations on a Jane Austen theme. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has a compelling first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” I just had to put that in. Back to the list—I think vampire hunters will break into the closed circle with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by (you guessed it) Seth Grahame-Smith. (Personally I prefer Hugh Jackman as Gabriel Van Helsing)

So, on the serious note with which I began … when you write, are you writing for the trends, or are you writing because you have passion for a story that must be told?

To be honest, Michael Crichton brought about this post. Yes, since I recently confessed to loving Clive Cussler’s rollicking adventures (along with his delicious heroes), I might as well go the whole hog and add Michael Crichton to my list of commercial fiction favorites. I really enjoy his blend of scary fact with even more frightening fiction. Jurassic Park farfetched? Well, now that nanotechnology is all the rage, who’s to say extracting dino DNA from flies trapped in amber gazillions of years ago can’t happen in the future? It was actually the sequel to Jurassic Park, i.e. The Lost World, that made me think about how literary trends might dictate writers’ output.

Here the bit that sparked my brain:

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species … Because it means the end of innovation … Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s McDonalds on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap cross the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees.” (So says a character named Ian Malcolm, iconoclastic mathematician)

(The Lost World, Ballantyne Books, 1995, pg 339)

That was published in 1995. Have we disproved this author? Are writers turning out books at the rate of knots that explore a wonderful world of diverse, challenging, fantastic, and moving literary concepts and ideas? Or, when something becomes fashionable do people immediately copy it? Will there suddenly be a plethora of Swedish detectives and quirky tattooed female sidekicks following after the success of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

The question I’d like to ask is: are writers brave enough to plow on with their original ideas, or are they bowing to trends? Of course, I’m not saying The Development of Knitting Patterns in the Outer Hebrides Since 1865 will be a bestseller, but what I am suggesting is that writers should have enough faith in their writing not to think, “Oh gosh, I’d better write a book about boy wizards/angels/demons/dystopia/vampires/Swedish detectives.…

The literary world needs unique ideas to continue to be fascinating and challenging. Let's not lose our intellectual diversity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Magic Within: Author & Hedge-Witch Lily Oak

Magic is a fascinating subject, taking the imagination from Brothers’ Grimm old fairytales, to the wild fantasies of Harry Potter, to a special kind of magic in The Golden Compass. But who really thinks about magic in the modern world? Can one still embrace a sense of magic; can one influence the elements or earth’s vibrations to create a happy outcome? My third VBT guest is author and Hedge-Witch Lily Oak who has put together a special kind of book for a very special cause.

The Story of 'Hope Moon'
Hope Moon is a collection of short stories, poetry, artwork, and articles inspired by the moon and its influence over us. How did it come about? Lily says: “Let me paint you a picture. One January morning earlier this year, I sink into the sofa, cup of tea in hand, recovering from manic morning getting kids to school. I flick on the TV and am greeted with harrowing news pictures from the Haiti earthquake disaster. I wish I could do something I thought. Just then my phone started chirping at m, I recognized the number as my temp agency. "...they said they didn't need you after all. We've got you another placement though it starts on Monday." Never mind I thought, I've already booked child care so I guess I get three quiet days to myself... I'm sure I'll find something to do. Something. Then it clicked, being a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, what else would I do?!”

Hope Moon contains a wide range of things from a wide range of people. It includes a lesson in basic moon magic, contributed by Dawn Gribble and taken from the witchcraft e-course. Some brilliant articles on how the moon affects us all in different ways by Lidia Tremblay, Scarlet Page, and Laura Goodfellow. It also has its fair share of creative writing. There are two beautifully haunting short stories by Chris Bartholomew and Kaolin Fire. All of these components are punctuated with poetry by Julie Carty, Isabelle Newbill, Laura Goodfellow, and Rob Bond (whose stunning painting adorns the cover).This pagan-esque anthology was put together in just 3 days in order to help raise money for the Haiti earthquake appeal, and for every copy sold a donation is made.

Here’s a wonderful poetic contribution from Lily

The Night I Died I Came Alive
The night I died was the night I came alive,
It happened by the light of the Full Cold Moon.
My friends and family all mourned,
They thought it happened too soon.
I had spent the day following the foot fall of deer,
I noticed that darkness had began to descend.
I knew I should head home but felt comfort in The Wood,
That was my beginning, though most thought it my end.
I don’t remember pain, or cold, or dark,
I just stared at the sphere above shining bright.
All my troubles and worries seemed further away,
The world seems much more peaceful when it’s wrapped in the night.
The air became icy whispers as the hours wore on,
It was like learning secrets as I lay back amongst the trees.
I felt so at home watching the midnight mist swirl,
I knew I never wanted to leave, so from my body my spirit I eased.

Copyright © Lily Oak 2010 - taken from 'Hope Moon'

To learn a bit more about magical elements, I visited Lily’s site Hedge-Witchery to have my eyes opened. There’s magic everywhere, as you’ll find if you visit this special place. I thought I’d let Lily tell us about herself in her own magical words.

What is Magic?
If you are reading this expecting long mysterious explanations of cryptic ceremonies used to conjure magic, I am afraid I am about to disappoint you.
What is magic? Everything.
Where is magic? Everywhere.
You just have to learn to see it. For me at least, magic isn't something we create it is something we use. A type of energy given of by every natural thing. Think more Lyra's dust, than Mr. Potter’s Wand. Just as all natural things differ in species, mineral type, personality, etc, so does the magic they radiate. From the purification properties of copal, to the deep passions inspired by garnet. Sometimes these magical energies combine in a way that jumps out at us, makes itself so tangible that even the most stoic of skeptics would struggle to deny it. The moment the dipping sun hits the right spot on the horizon that floods the sky crimson. Sunlight catching dew drops on unfurling ferns in spring. Frost encased spiders’ webs on crisp autumn morns. It is how magic is utilized that gives us the diverse make-up of witchcraft and spell casting we have today. Due to witchcraft being a lot more publicly discussed than it once was, practitioners are now able to talk about the way they see magic, discuss their path, its history and its beliefs. This enables us to not only look at what magic is to ourselves, but also what it s to others. It allows us to change our perspective of what magic is and learn and grow because of it.
Magic is something that affects all of us whether we choose to work with it or not. At some point in your life, no matter what your views on witchcraft or spell casting, you'll be affected by it.

Of course, if you’re curious (like me) you’ll want to visit Hedge-Witchery and find out what exactly is a Hedge-Witch. You might be surprised...

To purchase a copy of Hope Moon and donate to a wonderful cause, visit Amazon.

Writer’s Digest - Sue Grafton''s Advice for Writers: Put in the Time

Writer’s Digest - Sue Grafton''s Advice for Writers: Put in the Time

In case you're slogging away at your keyboard, coffee cup at the ready, with characters acting up and story not going anywhere, thinking that it just comes oh-so-easily for all those famous (and rich) authors out there ... read Sue Grafton's great article on her alphabet detective series. Now that's a challenge. Currently Sue has just done U is for Undertow and she has got to complete the alphabet. (I just love her dry wit.)

10 Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Novel You Haven’t Even Sold Yet

10 Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Novel You Haven’t Even Sold Yet
An excellent post advising how to market something that hasn't even taken shape yet. Sounds impossible? Read on... Gina Holmes wrote four novels before her fifth one (the one she calls her debut novel) saw the light of day.

"When you’re constantly receiving rejection letters from publishers or agents, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is publicizing a novel you can’t even seem to sell.
Before I continue, let me stop a moment and give this very loud and clear disclosure: nothing, nothing, NOTHING, matters more than writing a killer book. Spend 99 percent of your writing time perfecting your craft and fashioning a story that will change the lives of those who read it, or at least entertain the heck out of them.
But with the other one percent of your time, even if you’re just starting out, start building yourself a PR folder. You’ll thank yourself later."

If you haven't already opened your marketing folder, do so now. And remember the Golden Rule of marketing: tell absolutely everyone you know about your book. How else are people going to go out and buy it?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Writer Beware Blogs!: Guest Blog Post: How Libraries Choose Books to Purchase

How Libraries Choose Books to Purchase

This is a great post by guest writer Abigail Goben. Writer Beware Blogs!: Guest Blog Post: How Libraries Choose Books to Purchase Most (if not all) authors would love to see their book/s in libraries all over the country, and some have possibly wondered how do libraries choose their books. The above link opens your eyes to the workings within the library process that gets your book a nay or a yea.

Some suggestions to aid the author are, getting good book reviews, and not only from all your friends and relatives but from professional guides in the industry such as Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly. Can't get a foot in those doors? Then go for other equally respected avenues such as book review sites of long standing such as ReaderViews and the like.

Another important aspect is the simplest - visual appeal. Make sure your book has a great cover and one that works for readers, not necessarily one that you are hooked on.

Your work may not be what the library is looking for so before you hound your local librarian, why don't you browse the shelves and see what appears to be popular.

Of course, the easiest way to get your book into any library is to donate it, in the hope that people will enjoy it so much they will spread the word, or even purchase their own copy.

Whatever you do, make sure you respect the library and its workers - after all, their job is to run the library and not to promote you. Get to know your local library and if they can't help out, they may be able to refer you to someone who will.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Love At First Bite?: Author Sindee Lynn

On the list of what’s hot right now in publishing is, of course, vampires! Suave, sensuous, sleek, and absolutely gorgeous, these twenty-first century vampires are a long way from ugly ole’ Drac along the lines of Nosferatu. My second Virtual Book Tour author is Sindee Lynn, a writer with a grip on the passionate side of vampires. Her first book is called (no, not Love At First Bite) Prince’s Donor. I was intrigued by the title, which doesn’t really hint too much about fangs, jugulars and oozing sticky kisses. Here’s a little teaser about this very special prince among vampires.

Four years ago Jenna James signed up for the donor database with fanciful thoughts of lying in the arms of a vampire. Now four years later, she finds herself wishing she had never heard it. How depressing is it to think not even a vampire will have sex with you to survive? Feeling lower than she has in ages, Jenna is convinced she's finally ready to remove her name from the list. That is until she opens her door to find her fantasy standing on the other side. Syrian Roskonovich is next in line to be the king of vampires. But nothing in his years of training could have prepared him for the betrayal of his blood brother and his donor. It's been months since he's properly fed, living only on the synthetic blood his people create when he finds himself in a strange city holding on to his sanity by a thread. His only hope is in the database he helped bring to life but has failed him in the past.

Let’s have a chat with this interesting author and find out how and why she combines the dark side of passion with the paranormal.

Q. How did you become a writer? Did you grow up among books?

Growing up, my love of reading was nourished by my aunt who used to bring me bags of Harlequin Romance novels; back then they had almost cartoonlike characters in them. Those books are still at my childhood home. Today I am the single parent of a very active teenager, which means I don’t have much free time for me but what time I can squeeze out I split between reading and on my writing.

Q. What inspired this unusual first book?

I have always loved books about vampires, beginning with Anne Rice and Interview with a Vampire. When vampires began showing up in my romance novels, which I have loved since I was younger, it was like the best thing ever. But what I noticed was even with all the many vampire romance novels out there, a lot of them were similar in how vampires react to humans, how they find their love interest, how they take blood and I wanted to come up with something different. Then it hit me—what if there was a list of humans whose sole purpose was to provide blood and sex to vampires and other creatures of the like when needed. I had never read a vampire romance based on that. The thought fascinated me at first until it became a fully blown idea.

Q. How did you come up with the title?

It didn’t a whole lot of brain power there. Syrian, my hero, is the Prince of Vampires and he is in need of a donor to provide him with the blood and sex he needs to maintain his existence. So I just put the two together and there you have Prince's Donor. I wish all of my book titles were that easy to come up with and actually work.

Q. How did you come up with your characters and the vampire angle—what was the inspiration there?

I draw inspiration from all sorts of places. A movie I'm watching or a song I'm listening to. But because I love vampires, I do a lot of thinking of story lines specific to vampires, werewolves, and other shifters. I always have paper and pen everywhere I go because I never know when I'll get an idea. As far as my characters go, my heroine will most often be a plus sized female because I don't think we have enough stories about us finding love (I'm a plus sized woman myself). The hero will always be sexy, even if a side of him has a dark, dangerous element like with Syrian and his animal side, but in addition to that I like to make my hero almost unobtainable on some level so that when my heroine gets him ... she's getting the cream of the crop!

Q. Writing about passion, paranormal, and erotica—how does this challenge, inspire, empower you?

I'm not even sure where to begin with this question. Let's tackle the passion issue... it's always a challenge because if you don't build the relationship and then the sexual tension which moves towards the passion between your hero and heroine, you have a real problem. Because you find yourself with two characters whom you have put together and they're not working. Something's missing. I find myself asking how did I get from the first hello to the bedroom, and if I can't answer the question then I haven't done my part with passion between them. So it's back to the drawing board.

For me the erotica part is the easiest part of the book to write. My friends, who read my work, have asked how I came up with the love scenes. And I answer honestly ... they come from my crazy odd imagination. If I can see it in my mind, then I can put it on paper. It may take a few revisions to get it into words as I see it in my head, but I will get there. And it is very empowering because I don't have to sugar coat anything. If my heroine gets turned on by having her hero talk dirty to her or vice versa, I can do that. There are very few limits in the erotica field. So wherever my mind and imagination can take me is where I can go. It's great.

Q: Vampires are so ‘in’ right now. How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd of authors cashing in on this boom?

I admit to finding writing in the paranormal genre a challenge sometimes because I don’t want my books to be like another vampire book that has already been done. It’s hard to find new ways to spin the same tale and I want my books to stand out so I will admit to putting extra time and effort into writing my paranormal stories.

Sounds like a whole lot of lovin’ going on behind those paranormal doors. If you want to dip into something different or you’re looking for a vampire love story with a difference, get Prince’s Donor on Amazon.
Thanks for being my guest, Sindee, and I hope readers will comment and ask questions. You may just get some inspiration from them!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Facts Can be Fun!

I am privileged right now to serve as both a guest and a host on the Virtual Book Tour and my recent guest post on Authors Promoting Authors was about how to make non-fiction details fun and relevant in children's fiction. The tendency of many writers who need to incorporate facts into fiction for kids is to overload the page with details that - while interesting - may not be all that relevant to the story, or may bog the young readers down in 'stuff' that gets in the way of the story. Please read my hints on how to weave those facts seamlessly into your great kids' story. My challenge came when writing my adventure book set in Egypt. Sometimes I chewed my nails trying to decide ... in? ... or out? ... what to ditch and what to keep. I hit upon a method that worked well for my story and my young heroes' needs.

For some extra tips visit the Scrub-a-Dub-Tub blog for some excellent posts on making facts fascinating in non-fiction books for kids.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fat Vampires, Sexy Werewolves and the Future of Teen Reading

Just when you thought it was safe to read something else? Along comes Fat Vampires, Sexy Werewolves and the Future of Teen Reading: "The continuing prevalence of pale,sexy vampires (and the rise of related ..."
One can endlessly debate the pros and cons of teen fad books but let's remember the most important thing - kids are READING! And that's what counts. They'll discover Bram Stoker and Anne Rice soon enough. What I'd like to know is when is someone going to write a YA/teen fad version of Frankenstein?

Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Become a Bestseller in Europe: Write in English, German, French and

How to Become a Bestseller in Europe: Write in English, German, French and…Swedish?

Posted using ShareThis

Author Interview: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As part of the Virtual Book Tour, I'll be hosting some very interesting and varied authors over the next few months. First up is a children's writer with a fabulous background.

I’d like to introduce James C. Wallace II, creator of Magician of Oz trilogy. Originally a native of West Virginia, James currently lives in Terre Haute, Indiana with his wife Amanda. They have been married more than 26 years, with a herd of 5 children and 12 grandchildren. His background covers nearly 26 years in children's education, including experience working for the world's largest children's museum; The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, where he was the Planetarium Educator for SpaceQuest Planetarium. In addition to children's books about Oz, he is recognized by NASA as a leading developer of web-based educational games, educational exhibit design, curriculum development and implementation. In addition, he is involved in the DiscoverHover program, which is an educational program developing and utilizing hovercraft in a unique and fun way. He now serves as the Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma, Sovereign Ruler of Oz and endeavors to fulfill her royal command to tell the tale of her newest Royal Magician to the children of the Great Outside.

In Magician of Oz we meet young Jamie Diggs, great-grandson of O.Z. Diggs, the original wizard of Oz. In the early month of Spring, Jamie opened his great-grandfather’s old humpback trunk, revealing a magical heritage lurking within. Following in the footsteps of O.Z. Diggs, Jamie pursued the ways of magic and soon found himself transported to the magical Land of Oz where, alongside Dorothy, he faced his greatest fears and the fearsome Army of Trees in defense of the Tin Woodman.

I asked James a few questions about his inspirations, motivations, and passions in his writing.

What are your inspirations for the books, characters, spells, and other magical elements?
I started out as a child and have remained one ever since. My inspirations come from children, including my own five and my twelve grandchildren. I write specifically of Oz not only because I grew up with parents who read to me every night from these wonderful books, but because, as an eight year old kid, I became a magician, alongside my father. We are charter members of Ring 210, the Duke Stern Chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. I have always tried to incorporate magic into whatever projects I am currently involved in and writing of Oz seemed like a natural fit with my magical background.

What are the most important messages you want children to glean from your books?
For me, I write of the values of love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship. These are crucial elements for any story I write. Nowadays, these values are more important than ever and I consider it one of my goals in life to bring these values out in the stories I tell. The nice thing about Oz is that all of these values come in great abundance throughout the Land of Oz, courtesy of L. Frank Baum. As such, it makes my job easier and more pleasant.

• From your background in children's education and literacy, how can parents become more involved with boosting their kids' reading success?
Success can be measured in many ways. The most crucial part of any parents’ responsibility to their child’s future success is to read to them. Do it often and with great enthusiasm. A child will remember this throughout their life, as I have done with memories of my own parents and their readings to me of Oz, Wonderland, and many other tales. I would not be nearly as successful an author, educator, and advocate for literacy if I had not been brought up with a profound love of reading. That love of reading came directly through my parents and their desire to see that I also developed a love of reading.

• How do you feel about the state of children’s literacy these days?
The saddest thing I have encountered during my tenure at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and beyond were meeting 6th-8th grade children in the urban schools of Indy who were functionally illiterate. It's one thing to suggest that there are kids in America who cannot read. It's quite another to come face-to-face with them. Today's child has lost the art of reading. No longer do children sit down to read a book, to linger within the world of fiction and fantasy. Nowadays, kids are glued to the computer screen and read in snippets. In fact, with the advent of text messages, most kids now understand a truncated language that would have Daniel Webster spinning in his grave.

• Is there any glimmer of hope for getting kids to want to read?
Only in the last few years has the Harry Potter effect taken hold and inspired kids to once again pick up the traditional book and immerse themselves in another world. Despite this momentary reawakening, most kids still reach for the cell phone and communicate with their thumbs. Most kids would have trouble taking the time to sit down with a good book and giving themselves over to the realm of fantasy. They prefer the instant gratification that comes with a world overflowing with technology. The book has become a lost art, and with that thought in mind, I chose to reinvigorate the original dream of L. Frank Baum.

• What do you want to achieve in the tales of Jamie Digg and his adventures?
In writing about young Jamie Diggs, the great grandson of O.Z. Diggs, the original Wizard of Oz, my most sincere desire is that children will pick up my book and rediscover the joy of reading. If, by writing about this wonderful land and all of its unique characters, I can inspire children and introduce them to the joys of reading, to the values of love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship, even if it be only a single child, I will have made an impact that reaches far beyond my own lifetime. To this end, I have committed all my efforts towards creating an environment where kids will want to pick up that book and put aside that cell phone for a few moments.
If I can serve as a mentor promoting the value of literacy, love, honesty, loyalty, and friendship to our youth, then I will have realized my dream.

Eager to browse? Click on Magician of Oz link and read the first few pages, along with the chapter titles. Feel free to ask James any questions about his work; we'd love to hear from you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fiction Factories: The Good, The Bad, and The Indifferent Side of Publishing

A recent post by Jim Thomsen, Six Things We Can Learn From James Patterson, got me thinking about fiction factories (a relatively new phrase in publishing) and what, if any, is their value both to the reader and the writer. I have used James Patterson as an example because he is, quite simply, the biggest, and thus the best example.

A recent Times article outlines some facts about James Patterson’s writing (being the most successful of this phenomenon) which sees him churning out books by the dozen. There are many different ways to catalog Patterson’s staggering success. Here are just a few: since 2006, one out of every 17 novels bought in the United States was written by James Patterson. He is listed in the latest edition of “Guinness World Records,” published last fall, as the author with the most New York Times best sellers, 45, but that number is already out of date: he now has 51 — 35 of which went to No. 1.

The changing face of publishing explains why writers now achieve blockbuster status.

Like movie studios, publishing houses have long built their businesses on top of blockbusters. But never in the history of publishing has the blockbuster been so big. Thirty years ago, the industry defined a “hit” novel as a book that sold a couple of hundred thousand copies in hardcover. Today a book isn’t considered a blockbuster unless it sells at least one million copies.

With so many readers now hooked, someone has to feed the monster. Enter the fiction factory where established authors employ a slew of writers and editors to expand upon and edit the author’s original ideas.

So, what so good, bad, or indifferent about this new kind of mass production, marketing, and consumption of books?

For me: the good means that many people who didn’t read before are now reading, albeit they may not be reading literature but more pulp fiction. No matter, they are still reading.

The bad: it’s bad for somebody and that’s the reader. The publishers and the authors score massively big bucks, but isn’t that somehow creating cannon fodder, not books.

Which takes me the indifferent and that is loss of quality. The Times article says: Each of Patterson’s series has its own fan base, but there are also plenty of people who read everything he writes. His books all share stylistic similarities. They are light on atmospherics and heavy on action, conveyed by simple, colloquial sentences. “I don’t believe in showing off,” Patterson says of his writing. “Showing off can get in the way of a good story.” … Patterson’s chapters are very short, which creates a lot of half-blank pages; his books are, in a very literal sense, page-turners. He avoids description, back story and scene setting whenever possible, preferring to hurl readers into the action and establish his characters with a minimum of telegraphic details.

While fiction factory authors have energy, a prolific work output, brilliant marketing ideas, the ability to work with others, a keen grasp of the target audience, and the courage to break the rules (James Patterson exhibits all these qualities in spades!), I wonder if that is what writing is all about. Certainly, every writer needs enough talent, skill, confidence, and faith to sometimes take a leap into the unknown, but many writers spend hours perfecting their craft so that readers can put down a book with a satisfied sigh. No matter how many ‘helpers’ an established author employs to widen the output, nothing (I feel) can replace that author’s unique, personal touch.

I love reading Clive Cussler but I find I tend to avoid books he has written in collaboration with other writers (including his son). Why? I don’t know. It’s a feeling, a sense that it’s not all the author that bothers me. Call me picky.

When reading articles such as those mentioned above, I also wonder if this prolific output (and corresponding financial rewards) is considered the benchmark of literary success. Why then do writers and editors bother with articles devoted to character, plot, action, ambiance, back story, descriptions etc if these elements are not as highly prized in comparison with financial success. C. Patrick Schulze offers good advice to writers in his blog post The Secret To Writing a Riveting Novel. Novelist K. M. Weiland is another writer who offers simple but effective advice to transform your writing. Her blog posts are well worth the read.

Obviously every genre and every level of writing has its fans and detractors. Success means different things to different people: it’s the same for writers. The author who lovingly works on each word in his/her book or the mega-author who has a slew of editors and writers completing his/her great ideas aim for the same goal: recognition, (financial) rewards, and success.

Jim Thomsen has a good last word on the topic: “Learn from industry professionals, but make yours the final word. It’s your time, your energy and your dreams on the line.”