I hope you are able to enjoy the end of the year and take a breather and celebrate life. It’s been a long year for everyone, and here’s wishing that 2022 brings a lightness and a hopeful future. I look forward to that!
For me, it’s the time of the year for reflection and for taking stock. 2021 has been a tough year emotionally, but on the whole, it’s been good too. I completed a lot of knitting projects! I went on a lot of fantastic hikes. My husband and I went on adventures. We were able to connect, in person, with friends and family. Such a joy!
As for books; it’s been a good year on that front as well. I’ve had a few great promotions on the eReader Cafe; the audio editions of the Shelby McDougall series were released; and I’ve picked up the blog again. All great things. And over the last few months, I’ve been ruminating on ideas for Shelby McDougall short stories, and have some plot lines churning around. So things are afoot.
Last year around this time, my publisher ran a campaign on gifts for authors, entitled “The best gift you can give an author is a review”.
I agree with that! I love reviews; I love reading them and I love writing them. I enjoy thinking about what I loved about a book, along with what the author was trying to convey. I like searching for my favorite sentence or phrase and sharing that with future readers. So, if you’ve read a book lately, consider leaving a review! You’ll make an author’s day, I guarantee it.
In any case, happy new year, happy holidays, happy celebrations!
I know you all know about podcasts, but I bet you might not know about the podcasts produced by Small Publishing in a Big Universe. The focus is everything and anything writing and publishing related. It’s a fairly new effort, having started in August of 2021. The podcasts are short, clocking in at just 15 minutes each. But they’re well done and interesting.
The first two podcasts were released in August and September 2021 and feature Steven Radecki, Managing Editor of Paper Angel Press, discussing the press and its imprints. Radecki outlines everything an aspiring author might want to know about publishing, from the submission process to contracts to editing and the mechanics of getting a book from manuscript to print. And of course, he addresses everyone’s least favorite activity, marketing!
This great start to the series was followed by author interviews. In November, we heard from Morgan Chalut and in October, from author Paul S. Moore. The podcasts introduce you to their work, their inspirations and writing habits, how they got their start, and their various quirks! In December, author L.A. Jacob will be interviewed.
In the new year, the podcast will feature narrator Jenn Broda (who narrated the Shelby McDougall audio books), an interview with yours truly (sometime next spring), as well as a panel discussion with several technical writers talking about differences and similarities between technical writing and fiction writing.
You can find these podcasts here and listen to them anywhere:
I want to let you know about another gem from my publisher’s company. This one is called Daily Fresh and is published by the non-fiction imprint, Unruly Voices. It was written by Jory Post. It’s a set of seventy elegant essays that the author penned in the final months of his life. He embarked on this journey in the summer of 2020 after enrolling in a memoir and personal essay class taught by Dan White.
I can’t say enough about this book. I loved it. The essays are poignant, offering a rare, honest glimpse into a life. Nothing is sacred as the author probes into all corners of existence, examining, with love, humor and shrewd insight, both the interior and the exterior. I particularly liked the glimpses into author’s writing life: his routine, his goals, his lists, the submissions saga, the rejections, followed by the glorious acceptance emails.
I loved reading about the support he had along the way from other writers, both mega-published and un-published. And as someone for whom Santa Cruz is near and dear, I loved reading about his love for the area, from the take-out at Gayle’s to attending author readings at Bookshop Santa Cruz (pre-COVID naturally) to a celebration of the literary life in this small corner of the universe. I was also awed by how seamlessly the essays fit together, how well-written and tight they were, and how Jory wrote one, day after day, for seventy days.
The essays can be read in a few sittings, or taken daily, as the title implies. The essay topics will delight you. There are essays on baseball, extinct birds, deck-building, love, family, friends, chemo, COVID, cancer, words, therapy dogs, poker, golf, and night walking, among others. It’s a joyful book, full of love, brimming with laughter. Something inspiring for everyone.
Here’s the start of one of my favorites, “One Day at a Time”:
“Will I talk myself out of continuing to write these Daily Fresh pieces by beginning to think they are simply another form of navel-gazing? I hope not, because even though they are initially prompt-less, eventually a prompt appears that guides me forward into a near-stream-of-consciousness pathway that occasionally produces something of interest.”
The book:Daily Fresh by Jory Post, 332 pages, published October 25, 2021 by Unruly Voices. Available at all your favorite places.
One of my favorite things to do is listen to audiobooks. I listen when I’m in the car, when I’m cleaning the house, when I’m knitting, gardening, walking. Right now, I’m listening to the Sue Grafton Kinsey Milhone series, in order. I’m up to J is for Judgement. Some of my favorite narrators are Barbara Rosenblatt, Mary Pfeiffer, Simon Vance, and George Newbern. The performances, for that’s what they truly are, are incredible.
Now, I have a new favorite narrator to add to my list: Jenn Broda, the narrator of the Shelby McDougall series. I’m delighted to let you know that the trilogy has just been released in audiobook format. Ms. Broda brought Shelby’s story to life with a vivid complexity I hadn’t thought possible. As Shelby grew and changed throughout the series, so did the quality of Ms. Broda’s narration. She was able to age Shelby appropriately, giving voice to Shelby in her early twenties, late twenties, and mid-thirties. Listening to my words being read out loud by a professional was truly a joy.
I’d never given much thought to what it took to release a book in audiobook format. It’s quite involved. Ms. Broda, among others, provided a 15 minute sample as an audition. Her voice stood out as the obvious choice. Once a contract with Paper Angel Press was in place, I was asked to provide a character overview: who they were, their ages, their motivations and desires, their individual storylines. It took a while to prepare this, but it gave me the opportunity to dig deep into the timeline and provide some insights. In a few weeks, I received a 15 minute sample for Due Date, where Ms. Broda narrated a few pages here and there with different characters. It was perfect, I really didn’t have any changes to suggest.
And after that, we got down to work. About a month later I received a link to a shared folder with every single Due Date chapter, all 55 of them as separate files, along with the Acknowledgments, Introduction, and other front and back matter that goes in a book. My job was to follow along and listen to each word, noting every place (by time, chapter, and page) a word was missed or mispronounced; an extra word was inserted; or a dreaded typo discovered. Then, Ms. Broda would fix those glitches and upload the updated file which I needed to verify. Once Due Date was complete, the process would be repeated for The Stork and The Found Child. I was a bit nervous at first — would my words hold up? How about the stories themselves? Would I still enjoy them?
To my surprise and delight, I loved it! Listening to Ms. Broda’s narration was a pleasure. Her voice is smooth and bewitching, compassionate, empathetic. Her narration was perfect. And she voiced the tension masterfully; propelling me to listen to the next chapter and the next. At some points, I found myself so caught up in the story that I had to rewind and listen using my editorial ear.
To celebrate this milestone, the eBook edition of each book will be on sale this coming weekend, from November 18 – 30, priced at 99¢ each. Click hereto open my website’s home page in a new browser tab to find out more about the books and where you can get them.
And if you want to go directly to the audiobooks format, they are at a reduced price for a limited time. Just click below to find to more and listen to a sample:
If you’re so inclined, you can look on the Paper Angel Press YouTube channel to find a snippet of me reading from The Found Child. I have to say, Ms. Broda’s narration is much better!
Thanks everyone! I hope you enjoy these audio editions as much as I did!
This week, I’m reviewing The Lip Reader by Michael Thal, which was published by Paper Angel Press on November 1. I first met Michael many years ago when we had both published books around the same time with a previous publisher. He was writing YA books at the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed his YA series featuring Koolura, a preteen with superpowers. Pretty cool.
His latest book, The Lip Reader, is a love story. The narrator is Zhila Shirazi, an Iranian-born Jewish woman, who immigrates to the United States after the Iranian Revolution. Zhila is deaf due to a childhood illness. Her ability to read lips is astonishing, as is her life story. This is a story of love, courage, compassion, an determination. I couldn’t put it down.
Here’s my review:
The Lip Reader by Michael Thal
The Lip Reader is a poignant portrayal of Zhila Shirazi, a woman who embodied the word “resilient”. She met life’s challenges with determination, navigating adversities with bravery, grace, and compassion. As a child in Iran, she contracted meningitis, which caused her to lose her hearing. Hearing aids at that time were expensive and out of reach, so, in order to survive, Zhila learned to read lips. This extraordinary skill carried Zhila through life, allowing her to navigate relationships, careers, immigration to the US after the Iranian Revolution, miscarriage and divorce, a cochlear implant, and a second chance at love.
Zhila was truly a person who gave more than she received and a beautiful example of compassion in action. Author Michael Thal has created a first-person account of Zhila’s life, giving the reader a humbling opportunity to walk with, and learn from, this amazing person.
Another highly recommended read.
The book:The Lip Reader by Michael Thal, 226 pages, published November 1, 2021 by Paper Angel Press. Available at all your favorite places.
Well it’s been months since I posted on this blog — just about seven, in fact — and in the intervening time I have learned a lot about loss, grief, and love. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, but I’m sensing some lightness these days. Some forward motion.
I haven’t written a word in the last year, save for journaling, which has been a lifesaver. I have paid attention to my books though, and thank you to everyone who has enjoyed them over the last year.
And I’m so excited so share with you that the Shelby McDougall audio books are now available! They were narrated by the talented Jenn Broda, who gave voice to Shelby’s story with enthusiasm, delight, and care. She was the perfect narrator! You can find them Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. Here’s the links for the Audible versions:
To celebrate this amazing milestone, my books will be on sale from November 18th to the 21st.
I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year; but I haven’t given up completely on writing! Instead, I’ve decided to read and review some of the amazing books published by Paper Angel Press, staring with Carnival Farm from Lisa Jacob.
Carnival Farm is a delightful read, and is just the right length to cozy up with. The main character, Seagn Conway (such a lovely name) is a veterinarian who is unhappy in her job, “bored to tears with dogs and cats and the every-once-in-a-while rabbit.” When she happens upon a travelling carnival’s petting zoo in need of an upgrade, she jumps in to save it, deciding in an instant to change her life. A decision from the heart, not the pocketbook. She buys the ten animals – a cow, a Shetland pony, pigs, goats, and sheep – plus the semitruck used to transport them from site to site as well as the necessities to keep and show them. Next she quits her job, and sets about learning how to care for, display, and nurse ten farm animals back to health. All while trying to keep herself financially afloat.
Seagn is a woman with a big, big heart. The animals take over her life; and it takes everything – all her savings, all her energy, and all her wits — to nurture them. Her spine and her fire carry her through. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but it’s safe to say that Seagn gives her all. She wonders, every day, if it was worth it.
I’ll let you read the book and figure out the answer to that question. Safe to say though, that this is a fun and thought-provoking read. What does it take to make a leap of faith? How many times have we all looked at something and said, “Wow, I’d do that in an instant, if only…” Here’s a story of someone who ignored the countless “if only-s” and went ahead and followed her heart.
The book: Carnival Farm by Lisa Jacobs, 217 pages, published September 20, 2021, by Paper Angel Press. Available at all your favorite places.
I’m a bit off schedule this month; my husband and I enjoyed another camping trip to the beautiful California desert and I got a bit behind. On everything! So I’m catching up with one of my favorite topics, “Authors I Admire.” This week, it’s Nevada Barr. There’s a lot to admire about Nevada Barr. For starters, there are the books: the amazing Anna Pigeon series, set in national parks across the country. There’s Ms. Barr’s mastery of the craft of writing and her ability to create a suspenseful murder mystery, where the setting is as much of a character as Anna Pigeon herself. And her own service as a park ranger, a job that involved everything from law enforcement in highly developed campgrounds to patrolling the backcountry.
Her name actually is “Nevada.” She was born in Yerington, Nevada in 1952 and her parents named her for the state of Nevada. She was raised in the small town of Susanville, California, the county seat of Lassen County, where her parents ran a regional airport. Her mom sounds like a take-charge kind of person who could wrangle just about anything from airplanes to ranch equipment. Ma. Barr studied acting in college and spent eighteen years as an actor, performing in the theater and doing voice-overs, while wandering from New York to Minneapolis to Mississippi.
After marrying a man who worked in the park service, Ms. Barr became a National Park Service Ranger at the age of 36. Her first parks job was in Isle Royale, which became the setting for two of the Anna Pigeon mystery series. She started writing seriously in 1978, and wanted to focus on female characters. Three women served as role models for strong, capable Anna Pigeon: Nevada Barr’s mom, a pilot and mechanic; her Aunt Peggy, a third-grade teacher in New York City public schools, and her grandmother, a “fighting Quaker Democrat.” (1)
Ms. Barr started her writing career in historical fiction, and then “graduated” to mysteries. The idea for the Anna Pigeon series came to her as she was hiking through the woods. “She thought about the multiple ways a person could die and about the ones she believed would be better off dead.” (1) Track of the Cat, the first Anna Pigeon mystery, was published in 1993. All of the Anna Pigeon mysteries are set in national parks and bring the job of park ranger to life, from navigating the endless bureaucracy to the constant interactions with the public and the tensions of managing the wild-human interface.
Ms. Barr won the 1994 Agatha Award for best first novel of 1993 and the 1994 and the Anthony award for best novel of 1993. She has been awarded the Mississippi Library Association’s Award for fiction. And in 2010 Nevada Barr received the Robin W. Winks Award given to people who enhance public understanding of the National Parks. She also won the 2015 Pinckley Prize for a Distinguished Body of Work for her Anna Pigeon series.
I love these books. Ms. Barr’s writing is fearless. She digs deep and draws the reader in with detail, detail, detail. She knows how to build tension and use setting to enhance that tension. She knows just when to slow things down and speed them up. She builds her character over the series, giving us more insights into Anna’s motivations, intentions, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
There are 19 Anna Pigeon mysteries. As an author who managed to write a three-book series, I am so impressed by the discipline and imagination and fearlessness to write a 19 book series. Here are the books, in order, with their locations.
So if you haven’t read any of these books yet, I suggest you try one. You can pick up a book at any point in the series; there’s plenty of backstory to fill in context and characters. Pick one where the location speaks to you. You won’t be disappointed! I’d also like to add a plug for the audio version: veteran narrator Barbara Rosenblatt brings this series to life with a strong, animated, silky-smooth voice.
The Art of the Book Blurb. What can I say? It’s probably the hardest thing to do: compress the essence of your book into 150 words or less, open with a hook, and end on a cliffhanger. A challenge, for sure.
The main purpose of a book blurb is simple. It’s supposed to introduce your characters; set the stage for the main conflict, establish the stakes, and convince readers that this book is a perfect match for their reading interests. Not quite so simple to implement, however.
I’ve read a lot of book blurbs. Some give away too much. You read the blurb and you feel like you’ve already read the book. Others promise and don’t deliver. You pick up the book based on the blurb and the story is nothing like the promise. So disappointing. And others sell the book short! The book’s been recommended by a friend, you pick it up and read the milk-toast book blurb. On that basis alone you wouldn’t go any further. But because you friend recommended it, you plow forward, delighted to discover that that the book is a gem!
My book blurbs took hours and hours of work. I came up with the tag lines quickly, almost as if I were taking dictation:
Surrogate mother Shelby McDougall just fell for the biggest con of all — a scam that risks her life … and the lives of her unborn twins.
Shelby McDougall’s past is behind her. Almost.
Private Investigator Shelby McDougall is out for revenge.
But the rest of the blurb didn’t come so easily. I wrote and rewrote, asking friends to read and reread. I wish I had kept some of those earlier revisions to see how the blurb evolved. I do remember that the earlier versions, written quickly, off the cuff, suggested plot points that never panned out, though basic characterizations and motivations remained throughout the evolution of the blurb. I also remember trying to keep the word count down, agonizing over word choices, and debating on how much to reveal. Truly an art.
I invite you to think about book blurbs the next time you pick up a book. What draws you? What puts you off? Can a book blurb make or break your decision about opening a book?
That’s it for today!
Until next time,
PS If you get a chance, check out my publisher’s newly designed website. I love it! The site will provide a lot more flexibility on the back end and will allow direct sales. I’m thinking book bundles. Can’t wait!
For folks who have read my books, you’ll remember that the gene-editing technology called CRISPR is mentioned. I’ve heard CRISPR referred to in various settings a few times over the last couple of days, so I thought it was time to do a bit of reading and find out the latest news.
We know that gene-editing human embryos is a thing. In 2018, Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui used CRISPR technology to edit human embryos to make the resulting children resistant to HIV infection. He Jiankui and two of his colleagues were jailed for this research. In addition to the obvious, there’s also the problem of unintended consequences. It’s been shown that the twin girls carrying the edited genes face a higher risk of premature death.
Because of this research and outcome, an international commission from ten countries was convened by the US National Academy of Medicine, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the UK Royal Society to discuss human genome editing. The commission focused on the scientific and technical aspects of CRISPR, not on ethical considerations. Based solely on technology, the commission concluded that “…the technique is too risky to be used in embryos destined for implantation.” (1) Furthermore, the commission stressed that “…even when the technology is mature, its use should initially be permitted in only a narrow set of circumstances.” (1)
CRISPR has plenty of additional applications. I found a recent article calling CRISPR a runaway technology. Before the twin girls in China were born, “…one [US-based] biotech company used spurious public health claims to get CRISPR-modified foods onto people’s dinner plates.” (2) Googling “crispr and food” yielded a whole raft of articles on CRISPR created food in supermarkets. A Guardian article warned of what’s coming: hardier strawberries that can be picked by machine instead of by hand. Lettuce that can grow in drier climates. Wheat with less gluten. Another article calls CRISPR “The latest adventure in food enhancement…” (3), then goes on to discuss how to create a regulatory environment that supports CRISPR use in food technology.
Another group of scientists is investigating using CRISPR to eradicate pests, like mosquitoes or mice. An article a couple of years ago in Nature talks about using CRISPR to engineer “gene drives,” where a mutation spreads through a population faster than it would by natural selection. (4) The author, Megan Scudellari, talks about whether this would even work; how a trial could be set up (because once it’s released, there’s no going back); how could it be controlled; and ultimately, who gets to decide.
One bit of feedback I get pretty regularly from readers is that the dialog in the Shelby McDougall series works. I think this means that readers find the dialog natural, with a cadence and rhythm that mirrors the way people actually talk. Over the years I’ve been writing, I’ve learned a few things about dialog:
Be sparing with dialog tags, those pesky little words like “said,” “asked,” or “explained.” They’re easy to overuse and they can really slow down a scene. In my case, I try to keep it simple, avoiding words like “chuckled,” “exclaimed,” or “shouted.” (I know I don’t do this all the time!) A good post on this: Dialog Tags: What Are They and How To Use Them
Keep it natural. Use contractions. Use character names occasionally. Avoid fillers like “Well” or “Let’s see”.
Leave things unsaid. This is the hardest thing. What can be left out but inferred with gestures, glances, container, or movement?
Here’s an example of dialog from The Found Child, the most recent book in the series. I enjoyed writing this scene. Shelby has just arrived at her brother’s home and she’s hanging out on the front porch with her niece, Annie (12) and nephew, Max (4). Max has set up an elaborate Hot Wheels track while Annie is reading.
“Very cool, Max,” I said. Looking at Annie, I asked, “How are you?” I reached over to give her a hug, happy I was part of their family bubble. “Good,” she picked up a book sitting on the porch next to her and waved it at me. “I’m already ahead in my reading list for school.” “Excellent,” I replied. “That’s great. What are you reading?” “It’s called Stars Beneath Our Feet and it’s about some kids in Harlem who like to build things. It’s good,” she added, “but I like adventure books better.” “That sounds interesting,” I said. “How’s school going anyway?” I asked. Her tone grew serious. “It’s okay,” she sighed. “How’s Olivia?” I asked. Annie scowled. “She’s fine, I guess.” I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. Max barreled past, turquoise car in one hand, yellow in the other. “Watch, Aunt Shelby, watch.” I smiled at him, while saying to Annie, “You want to talk about it?”
What I like in this exchange was that I was able to manage a conversation between three people of different ages. And now, several months after publication, I, of course, can see lots of ways to improve this short section.
In these three paragraphs alone, I could probably remove all the dialog tags (said, asked, sighed) with no loss to the flow of the conversation.
“That sounds interesting,” I said. “How’s school going anyway?” I asked. Her tone grew serious. “It’s okay,” she sighed. “How’s Olivia?” I asked.
In these two paragraphs…
Annie scowled. “She’s fine, I guess.” I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. Max barrelled past, turquoise car in one hand, yellow in the other. “Watch, Aunt Shelby, watch.”
…the paragraph break is in the wrong place. The break should be before “Max barrelled past…” with the dialog attributable to him (the four-year-old) in the same paragraph. Well, that’s the beauty of hindsight!