Monday, May 29, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW, ERICA GRAHAM





I am pleased to welcome author, Erica Graham as my guest this week. She is a speech-language pathologist, and author of a book series titled "Talking Tales." These books are designed to help with speech development, and each one centers on one core sound in the English language.








What inspired you to write your first book?

When children are learning to speak, they first observe how words sound. This helps them develop an understanding of speech sounds as they learn to talk. Many times when we are working on encouraging speech development or correcting speech sounds, speech-language pathologists will use word lists. However, many parents report difficulty finding time or difficulty getting their children to attend to word lists at home. I wanted to combine my knowledge as a speech-language pathologist with my love for writing to create a fun way for children and their caregivers to work on speech development and promote literacy. I also wanted to ensure that these books contained fun story lines that could be enjoyed by children who are not working on their speech. Each book targets a specific speech sound in the English language.


Were there any special challenges in writing for children? Is there a specific age group that your books are intended for?
        
         The greatest challenge is creating a story with a purpose that is also
engaging. Each of my books is geared toward a specific sound in the English language. Since different sounds develop at various ages, I have written each book to be appropriate for the ages in which that sound typically develops. Therefore, my books range from birth-8 years.


What books have most influenced your life?

Wow, this is a challenging question. I cannot pick just one or even a couple of books that have influenced my life. There were many books, especially during my high school and college years that allowed me to escape reality at some very needed times.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

There have been quite a few independent authors that I have enjoyed reading books from recently. Once again, this is a difficult question to narrow down since there have been so many. Since I am a children’s author, I try to feature new and interesting children’s books on my Facebook author page.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Sometimes I come up with a story idea that I believe will excite young readers. Before proceeding with publishing a book, I always refer my books to a test audience of children and adults. I sometimes find that ideas I liked are not as entertaining to my readers and have learned the importance of beta readers in the publishing process.

Where do you get ideas for your books?

The ideas for my books often come at the least expected times. A book can be inspired by anything from a conversation, to playing with my children, to a random thought at a random time. I always carry a notebook and pen with me because I never know when a new idea will pop in my head.


What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I always start writing and illustrating sessions with a cup of hot tea which often serves as more of a prop. Especially when the stars align and my creative juices are flowing.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

The biggest fear that many new authors have is the fear of how others will respond to their books, or even worse, not respond at all. I can completely relate to this fear. In fact, this was the biggest hurdle that I had to overcome when releasing my books. My advice to new authors is this. It is scary to not have a firm knowledge of how your books will be received, but it is even scarier to never discover what they could be and who they could reach. Keep writing!

What book are you introducing to us today? How did you come up with the title?
        
My most recent release is Talking Tales: Puppy’s Bubble. This story was inspired while my children and I were outside coloring with sidewalk chalk. One of them asked me to draw a puppy and as I finished the last lines, the idea for Puppy’s Bubble was born. Unlike my other books, Puppy’s Bubble focuses on multiple sounds. These are the earliest occurring sounds in the English language and promote babbling and early words.


Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Do not leave your illustrations sitting out when a toddler is nearby; especially when that toddler has access to crayons.

Please share an excerpt from the book.

This is the intro for the book. This book targets ages 0-3 and children who are learning early words and sounds.

“When Puppy woke up from a nap, he saw a bubble.
Puppy hopped up.  The bubble was gone. Where did the bubble go?”



Talking Tales: Puppy’s Bubble Blurb:

When Puppy wakes up from a nap, he sees a bubble. When it disappears, Puppy begins his long journey to find the missing bubble. Will Puppy find the bubble, or has it vanished forever? This engaging story is a fun way to read to little ones while promoting babbling, early words and language skills. It provides over 90 examples of some of the earliest developing sounds in their most common word positions including "p", "b", "m", "n", "d" and "h". This book also includes tips for encouraging speech development.

An excellent way of helping children improve on their speech development, and the manner in which it is done is fun, interactive, and refreshingly original. -Readers' Favorite


Links:

   Website:
     talkingtalesbooks.com

   Facebook:

   Goodreads: 

   Amazon:


Monday, May 22, 2017

AUTHOR, NANCY QUINN



Nancy Quinn is my guest author this week who has an eclectic and interesting background. She is not only an author, but also an internationally known wildlife artist. She has always had a love of animals and nature and has worked as a conservation law enforcement officer and volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center where she brings birds and reptiles into schools to educate children of all ages.


What inspired you to write your first book?  

I found the support and interest of people who wanted to hear about our rather atypical life, inspiring.  Friends and family seemed to enjoy my perspective on our unusual adventures and often suggested I write a book. I didn’t think I could write; I already had a career as a wildlife artist, but the idea of becoming an author appealed to me.  Since all of my dreams and goals have been well out of my comfort zone, the more I thought about it, the more willing I was to step out of it again and give it my best effort.     

What books have most influenced your life?  

I think most every book I have ever read has influenced me on some level, either positively or negatively.  My love of reading and my favorite authors did inspire me to want to someday be included among them. I adore the James Herriot series and Nancy Drew mysteries, which I still read with my daughters.  Being from a law enforcement and investigation background, I enjoy solving a good mystery, and am always on the lookout for a new one.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

My editor will tell you it is the mechanics of punctuation!  I tend to focus on the clarity and structure of my ideas when I am writing.  Being and artist, I want to paint a picture with words, so I am intent on creating a visual image in my initial drafts.  After I have finished making what I have seen in my mind flow onto the keyboard, I have to go back and edit the words and punctuation very carefully.  Otherwise, the reader may become lost trying to follow my train of thought.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? 

I still like to sit in my favorite chair by the window and use a spiral notebook to make an outline and hand written notes to refer to when writing my manuscripts.  I know it isn’t as efficient as using the computer, but since I sit in front of a monitor all day, I look forward to any chance to gather my thoughts and write with a gel pen while gazing upon the mountain peaks from my picture window. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?  

I would have to say the amount of time it takes for the book to reach production.  Once the book is written, it requires months to properly edit and reedit it, and to find photos or art to compliment the manuscript.  Then one must choose a cover design, look at formatting and presentation, and a host of other decisions that are needed before it goes to print and is available on the book store shelves.  And then, there is marketing…

What do you think makes a good story? 

It requires a subject that has general appeal, good continuity, and engaging details that bring the reader along and make them feel part of the experience in the story.  I believe these qualities apply to both fiction and non-fiction as well.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?  

My ideas come from our true life experiences, so I sift through our life and decide which ones would most entertain and inspire readers. 

What book are you introducing to us today?  

Go West, Young Woman! is the true story of the first five years of my family’s modern day pioneer adventure.  Honestly, have you ever found a cougar on your swing set or a moose in your driveway?  We were a military family.  When my husband retired, we left Washington, D.C., to live what we thought would be a “calmer” existence in rural Montana.  We were surprised at just how unprepared we were for the challenges ahead, both comical and adventurous.  The humor of our early encounters with cattle and local customs only masked more ominous confrontations we would share with predators and the natural elements.  I like to think we discovered the true meaning of the “code of the West,” a concept we believe has not entirely vanished from the American way of life.  I am currently writing the sequel, which will cover approximately the next five years of our story.

How did you come up with the title?  It’s the title of the first chapter in the book and encompasses the whole premise of the story.  My publisher, Hellgate Press, suggested we use it as the title of the book.  I thought it was a great idea because it invokes a feeling of adventure, hope, and a new start in life.  Along with occasional humor, these are the themes in every vignette in the book, which is how I composed it – as a series of often connected short stories tied together chronologically to maintain continuity.  This is my nod to the influences of James Herriot and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from reading your book?

I hope they remember it was fun and uplifting; that my book is about hope and perseverance, with the idea that living a personal dream is achievable, whatever it may be. 

Please share an excerpt from the book.  


"It looks like a modern-day covered wagon,” I quipped as I examined the heavy blue tarp that covered the back of our new pickup truck, a gunmetal grey Ford F250. Underneath, were stacked my husband’s tools, along with other basic necessities we would need for our new life in Montana. They filled the eight-foot bed, and overflowed into the U-Haul trailer his mother had managed to secure for us. It was the last one available in the tri-state area, and thanks to her dogged efforts, we acquired it, instead of one of the thousands of graduating seniors who were disgorging this same week from nearby Florida State University.

As we hurried about, checking the lashings one last time before we departed, I scanned the scene. It was a bright and beautiful spring day, and the sun glinting off of the metal body contrasted sharply with the shimmering tarp. Colorful as it was, I tried to imagine it was not unlike the prairie schooners of the pioneer stories I loved reading in my childhood. The idea that I too was moving west was like a dream finally come true. But it had started as a nightmare...


My thanks to Ms. Quinn for sharing about herself as an author and her journey in publishing her first book. Please leave a comment or ask a question. I know she would love to hear from you.




Monday, May 15, 2017

INTERVIEW OF AUTHOR, TED COHEN



Theodore Jerome Cohen is an award-winning author who has published more than ten novels—all but one of them mystery/thrillers—and two short-story anthologies. He also writes Young Adult (YA) novels under the pen name “Alyssa Devine” as well as illustrated children's storybooks in his Stories for the Early Years series. He is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and will have an article on marketing a forthcoming issue of the society's journal, BULLETIN.
During the course of his 45-year career he worked as an engineer, scientist, CBS Radio Station News Service (RSNS) commentator, private investigator, and Antarctic explorer. What he’s been able to do with his background is to mix fiction with reality in ways that even his family and friends have been unable to unravel!




What inspired you to write your first book of fiction?
I’ve been writing my entire adult life, though the books, papers, essays, and interviews I produced—which number in the hundreds—were in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. It wasn’t until we moved to Langhorne, PA, and I neared retirement from my consultancy that I even considered the possibility of writing fiction. Then, it all happened by chance.

What happened?
Well, a good friend and professor at Temple University, Dr. Michael Sirover, self-published a book on surviving cancer—admittedly not fiction. But, I was so impressed by the fact he had written and published a book that I said to myself: I can do that! And so, I did.

Which book was that?
It was an autobiography, of sorts. As they say: “Write what you know,” and where better to start than with your life. In my case, I wrote about my life as a violinist. My father always wanted me to be a concert violinist, but alas, it was not to be. I told the story in Full Circle: A Dream Denied, A Vision Fulfilled. As P.D. James said: “All fiction is largely autobiographical, and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.”

So, you took some liberties?
[laughs] Oh, yes, while I do play the violin and for six years played with the Bryn Athyn (PA) orchestra—one of the oldest community orchestras in the nation—I never played as well as I did in my novel. And I had a lot of fun writing that book, too, because it gave me the opportunity to relive portions of my childhood I had loved but forgotten.

But clearly, that was only the beginning. How did you get from there to The Antarctic Murders Trilogy?
Well—and as anyone who’s ever published a book can tell you—once you’ve held your first book, it’s Katy bar the door. I decided then and there the dive into another book, and what better place to start but my travels to Antarctica in 1961-62. While there, I had written a short story I had intended to submit to one literary magazine or another when I returned Stateside, but the manuscript was lost somewhere in South America. I remembered the gist of the story, however, and incorporated it in Book 1 of the Trilogy, Frozen in Time. Much of this novel Is based on my trip to, and work on, the Frozen Continent. And that post-modern novel would have stood alone except for the fact my younger daughter, Stephanie, hounded me regarding what happened to some of the characters.

And so, you just had to write Books 2 and 3.
Absolutely, though Unfinished Business (Book 2) and End Game (Book 3) are pure fiction. By the way, for those who love music, the ending of End Game hinges critically on the timing of the movements during a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Why not have a little fun while we’re at it?!

And then came the Det. Louis Martelli, NYPD, series of mystery/thrillers, correct?
Yes, and the first—Death by Wall Street—seemed like a natural to write. I had uncovered significant corruption in the FDA’s review of a revolutionary treatment for prostate cancer in 2007 while assisting Mark Mitchell, a former Wall Street Journal editor, in investigating what happened. The agreement was he would keep my name off his piece (earlier, he had been beaten for what he had written in another exposé) while I was free to tell the story in fiction. And so I did. The novel was the first of what turned out to be a six-book series of mystery/thrillers, all ripped from the headlines or in some way tied to real life.

What books or authors have most influenced your life?
That’s a difficult question to answer, given my reading interests are all over the map. But I will tell you my early interest in fiction in general and short stories in particular derived from reading Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery in college as a freshman. That is something I never will forget. James Michener, too, had an impact on me, principally his books Hawaii and, even more so, Caravans. We’re fortunate to have the Michener Museum just 30 minutes to the west, in Doylestown, where you can walk through his reconstructed office.

But those are not mysteries, which seems to be where you have focused, at least early on.
I know. What can I say? As I said, my interests go in a thousand directions.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I’m glad you didn’t ask my wife that question! She’d probably say it’s my total impatience with the editing process. There, I’m probably not alone! Actually, and you’ll have to tell me if this qualifies: I have never used an outline. I write intuitively. What usually happens is, I wake up one morning with an idea or see something in the newspaper, as happened some years ago on vacation when, upon reading about the housing collapse of 2009, I sat down and wrote House of Cards. Then, I sit down and let the story and the characters take me where the story leads. Sometimes, I’m surprised by what ‘they’ say and where we end up. Seriously. When I get into one of those ‘spells,’ I can lay down 3000 to 5000 words a day. I’ve written some of my novels in two weeks. Then, there’s always the dreaded editing process!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
It’s not the writing that I find so challenging as much as I am challenged by the marketing of my books. With almost a million books published in the United States each year, the real question for independent writers is: how can I make my voice heard about the ‘noise?’ Now, believe me, there are legions of people out there who would be happy to take your money and ‘help’ you with marketing your books. Early on, I used a New York City-based marketing assistant who came highly recommended. She produced nothing! The threat of a lawsuit resolved the situation quickly, but it only points up the fact that independent authors have to be careful who they trust.

Given the above, what are some of the things independent writers should definitely do to help themselves.
Well, there are some very basic things you need to do to at least get your name out there. At the very least, you need a Website! Then, on Amazon, be sure to take advantage of their Author Central and Look Inside offerings. No one should be without these. Also, secure a few professional reviews for your books. I have used houses such as Kirkus, Feathered Quill, Reader Views, Readers’ Favorite, and Pacific Book Review. There are others. You can’t post the entire review on Amazon, but you can post excerpts. As well, you can use excerpts from these reviews on the backs or jackets of your books. Get on Goodreads and populate your author page. If you’re into Facebook, post there. Twitter, too, though I have not found Twitter to be a viable means by which to advertise books. Join the gang on Navigating Indieworld, including their board on Goodreads. There are other things you can do, of course, but these represent the bare minimum.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
If I were in college today, looking to begin career in literature or journalism, I’d select a school with a premier English department, faculty members who have published in the area or genre I find interesting, and latch on to a major professor who not only can hone your skills but teach you the ‘secret handshake’ needed to enter the world of published authors. In reading the biographies of authors with agents, I am struck over and over again by the number I see who have Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees. This is especially true of authors you find in such literary magazines as Big Muddy, Glitter Train, and Ninth Letter, and so forth. Being published in these magazines is almost a rite of passage for many budding authors, and the MFA is their ‘union card.' I’ve also read that many agents read these magazines in the hope of spotting new talent early without having to go through the agony of diving into their ‘slush pile.’

Have you had any success with literary magazines?
Minimal, though it’s been an interesting exercise. After four failed attempts to find an agent and enough rejection e-mails to paper the loft, I decided to see if submitting short stories to the literary magazines mentioned above and others might not garner some interest among agents or at least give me something to point to in my query letters. Alas, there was No Joy in Mudville, save for one story, “Unforgiven,” which won an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters’ September, 2015, competition. Given that Glimmer Train receives 40,000 submissions each year, I’ll take it!

Would you share an excerpt from this story?
Sure…

He gently, almost reverently, brushed the dust from the frame with the fingers of his right hand. “Those were great guys, Son. See the fellow on the left—he poked a finger on the glass—that’s Stanley Cohn, a wise-cracking Jewish kid from the Bronx. Boy, no matter how bad things got, he could always make us laugh. Kept us in stiches, all right, especially when he spoke with a Yiddish accent. Next to him is your dad, who was Roman Catholic, of course. He and I always attended Sunday Mass together. To his left is Walt Sutton. He was a devout Baptist from Dallas. And that’s me on the other end, an old Irish Catholic from Boston. Rank didn’t matter. Nor did religion or background. We were like brothers. We were never out of each other’s sight.” He paused and slumped in his chair, the picture frame falling to his lap. “Stanley was killed two days after this picture was taken when we were ambushed just to the south, in Carentan. Walt died in the Battle of the Bulge. Your dad held him in his arms as he passed. A medic tried to stem the bleeding, but his wounds were massive. it was late December, 1944. At Bastogne. We were attached, then to the 101st Airborne Division.The worst fighting I ever saw.” Cassidy shook his head as if even now he still could not believe it. “And to think Walt almost made it through the war. Your father never was the same after that. It was like the light went out of his eyes . . ..” His voice trailed off and his focus drained.


What did you do next?
Well, I was so buoyed by the Glimmer Train result that I lashed together all the stories I had written in 2015, and in early December, pulled from consideration those that had not yet been rejected and created my first short-story anthology, The Road Less Taken: A Collection of Unusual Short Stories (Book 1). I did the same thing in 2016 . . . waited until December, pulled any stories for which I hadn’t heard an acceptance or a rejection, and in January, 2017, published Book 2.

And how are these books doing?
Well, I ran a bit of a twofer at the end of April on Ereader News Today (ENT), my go-to marketing site. The Kindle edition of Book 2 was their Book Of The Day on April 24, 2017. It was discounted to 99 cents. I also discounted Book 1 at the same time. Both were made available for a week at that price. Now, the nice thing about Amazon is that if you have books in a series, they will create a Webpage dedicated to your series. This was the case for the two short-story anthologies, and so, when a potential reader clicked on Book 2’s Amazon page, he could not help but see that Book 1 also was on sale. Between the two books, I sold 300 copies that week, with Book 2 rising to an overall rank of #2,349 Paid in Kindle Store while reaching #5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Short Stories.

But you’ve also been writing children’s and YA books. Right?
Yes, my YA mystery/thriller, The Hypnotist, written under the pen name ‘Alyssa Devine,’ is in the Core Genre (Mystery) Reading Program at the local high school, where I guest lecture on mystery writing. And just this year, I’ve published my new children’s series, Stories for the Early Years. So far, the series comprises three illustrated storybooks in verse for K-3: Pepe [the penguin] Builds a Nest (about bullying); Rufus Finds a Home (about empathy); and Fuzzy Wuzzy (about listening to Mama!).

Who illustrated these books?
I did, but I’ll leave it to your readers to figure out how it was accomplished. Suffice it to say I had some help from my magical computer software.

So, where to now?
Good question. Besides the never-ending need to market my books, I’ve had calls to produce Spanish and French editions of Pepe Builds a Next. Apparently, the need for children’s books on bullying is great, regardless of the language, and several parents have approached me about the latter two editions. The Spanish edition, in paperback, should be available by the time this interview is published.

Thanks, Ted, for a most interesting look at your work.