Tuesday, 21 January 2014

SHARING OUR COMMON HUMANITY

 I wrote the following article for a guest blog post on the wonderful blog, The Book Connection. Check it out here for some great info and insights about books and reading.



“We’re all strangers connected by what we reveal, what we share, what we take away–our stories. I guess that’s what I love about books–they are thin strands of humanity that tether us to one another for a small bit of time, that make us feel less alone or even more comfortable with our aloneness, if need be.”


I spent thirty years as a high school English teacher before I left the confines of the classroom and became a full-time writer. I still chuckle, however, when I think of the questions commonly listed in well-intentioned curriculum guides, that ultimately led to tortured and puzzled expressions on the faces of the seventeen year olds sitting in my classroom.
One of the most popular questions was, “What is the theme of this novel?”
Here’s how the discussion usually went:
STUDENT: What’s a theme, Mrs. DeLuca?
MRS.D: A theme is a thought or idea the author presents to the reader that may be deep, difficult to understand, or even moralistic  (standard definition from most literary guides). It can be extracted while reading the work.
STUDENT: Huh?
MRS. D: ( throwing the literary guide aside)Well, it’s a message about life that the author wants to communicate to you, the reader.
STUDENT: Why?
MRS. D: Because it’s important to that writer. Important enough to want many people to know about it.
STUDENT: And how do you know that?
MRS D: Because I’m a writer and that’s what drives me to sit alone for hours on end in my office, in the hope that one day someone – maybe you – will find a connection with my theme, my message, my idea, my story. That you will share a place, a character, an image, an idea that was meaningful to me - that resonates with you and has an emotional impact on you. That links you in some way with me, the writer.



Each story we write is driven by a desire to share something unique with the reader. In my first novel, The Pitman’s Daughter, I wanted to transport the reader to an impoverished mining village in North-Eastern England during the 40’s and 50’s, where people fought to survive and ultimately escape to a better life. In my YA novel, The Forever Ones, I wanted to pose the chilling question, If we could genetically modify people to stay nineteen forever, who would control the technology? Big Corporation or Big Crime? In my novel, Unnatural, I wanted to explore the terrible injustices Victorian women suffered when eminent “mind doctors” claimed an indisputable link between reproductive problems and insanity.
In all cases I hoped the reader would uncover the important idea that inspired me to write the novel. That even though they didn’t live in that time or place, they could find something in the story that was relevant to their own life experience. In other words, a connection.
My experience with all those high school students showed me, however, that books resonate in different ways with different people. That’s the beauty of reading – of sharing the human experience. The writing process becomes even more rewarding when the conversation goes both ways. When the writer reads reviews or joins the book club discussion of his/her book, the connection becomes even stronger as both reader and writer share common perspectives, experiences and emotions, those “thin strands of humanity” that link us all.



Oh – and by the way – those tortured students really came to understand this idea when they wrote their own stories. They really had to think about what they were trying to communicate to their readers. It was the most scary but thrilling experience for them to share their stories with trusted peers in a secure workshop setting. That’s when they learned the most about each other and about what unites us as human beings. A lesson I hope they’ll never forget.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Value of a Review



The publishing industry is rapidly opening up to independently published authors, and what's the new valuable currency for this new flock of writers? Book reviews. When an author gets a positive review on Amazon or Goodreads, it not only provides valuable feedback, but can also help to drive the sales of the book.
Here's how independent authors use reviews:
- Before a book is published an author often seeks "beta reviewers". These are readers, usually solicited by the author from their circle of friends, from Facebook writer forums, or from Goodreads (I've had great success finding beta readers from this site). Beta readers give honest feedback before the novel is published. They're like a test market for the book. Often the author asks the readers to post these reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as part of a book launch strategy.

- Book reviews help authors to get promotional spots on important sites like BookBub, the grandaddy of e-book promotion. Check the link to see how much they charge to promote a wide variety of books, and how many downloads you can expect to sell as a result. Sites like BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily, Pixel of Ink etc. often base their decision to promote you on how many reviews you have, and many sites won't consider you if you don't have enough.
 Most writers spend a great deal of time soliciting reviews from various bloggers dedicated to reviewing indie books and there are many tireless readers out there who spend their lives reading and reviewing an endless stream of indie and traditionally published books. Four great bloggers who took the time to review some of my books are:
+Zili Robins , +Jessica Nicole , +Laura Greenwood , +Deborah McKnight . Check out their blogs to see just how supportive they are of all the new and established writers out there.

Some writers pay respected review sites like Kirkus Reviews to write a professional, unbiased review. Kirkus charges $425 for a review, and takes up to 9 weeks to deliver it ($575 if you want to expedite it). If you don't like the review, you can file it away and nobody needs to know about your unpleasant little secret. If it's a good review, you can celebrate. It could make your book a bestseller. Check out Darci Chan's success story by clicking on the link.

I guess my final message is this. If you've read someone's book, take the time to review it. It's so easy to put a review on Amazon or Goodreads and it could really help an aspiring author get noticed in this rapidly expanding marketplace.

MORE 5 STAR REVIEWS FOR THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER!
Check out these 5 star reviews on Amazon UK. Click here

Friday, 3 January 2014

BRRR….IT'S FREEZING OUT THERE!

Right now I'm looking out of a coffee shop window onto blowing snow and realizing that it's actually the coldest winter here since 1893 with temperatures hovering between -22C and -35C, although with the wind chill it's more like -45C. For those of you living in milder climes, that's probably unimaginable, but life does still go on here and, yes, I did actually walk the dog when it was -27C outside. It's so cold here, the attached garage is colder than the freezer part of my refrigerator. Something you discover when you leave bottles of beer and cans of pop outside then discover they've frozen solid and exploded onto your car during the night. This week we've actually been colder than Iqualuit, which is way closer to the North Pole than we are.

You might think that all this frigid weather would get me down, but instead I've tried to channel it into my writing. Hence the birth of my new novel, LILAH, a suspense story set in the fictional town of Silver Narrows, Minnesota.

The story is narrated by Nick Hendricks, the 32 year old editor of local newspaper, the Silver Narrows Sentinel. Nick's carefree bachelor life changes irreversibly when  beautiful, mysterious Lilah arrives in town one winter night to set up shop on Main Street. How does Lilah already know about Nick? Why is she here? Where did she come from? What troubles haunted her past life? You'll just have to watch out for the release of the book some time in Spring 2014! I've given you a cover preview just to get you wondering and a few winter scenes to give you the flavour of the setting.
In the meantime, I hope you're all keeping warm wherever you are and if you're in a warm, sunny place I'm totally jealous. I guess I'll just have to stoke up the fire, get the tea going and curl up with a good book! I'll shovel the driveway later!