21 March 2019

The Beginner's Guide to Winning an Election by Michael R. French [Book Review]

Today I am excited to share with you The Beginner's Guide to Winning an Election by Michael R. French. By the way, this is part of the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour, so go check out an interview with the author and then come back here!

About the Book

The year is 2025. The United States is afflicted with global cyber attacks, economic crashes, foreign wars, and lots of anxiety. State budgets for public schools are hit hard. In a student body president race in a small city Indiana high school, popular, charismatic Matthew has his own consultants, bloggers, oppo researchers, and funds from an unidentified source that have helped him win every election since ninth grade.

Over-achieving, introverted Britain is a novice to elections, but as a history wonk, politics fascinate her. She also has a crush on Matthew. After she joins his SBP team, someone hacks Matthew’s website, leaking stories that the candidate is far from the Eagle Scout he pretends to be. Matthew and his team of 15 call the stories “spineless lies.”

Britain is stunned when she’s scapegoated by Matthew as the mystery hacker. Kids dump on her for betraying the school leader. Her reputation in shreds, she decides to enter the presidential race to clear her name. No one gives the novice a chance, but that only makes Britain more determined to find a way to win.

With the help of her three good friends, “No more secrets” becomes Team Britain’s slogan. For a while she stumbles in her campaign, until the anonymous hacker begins leaving notes in Britain’s locker, telling her which rocks to look under if she wants to beat odds-on favorite Matthew. She puzzles over who exactly is helping her—her favorite history teacher, an apostate on Team Matthew, or one of the many “undecideds” that impact any election?

Every mystery solved leads Brit to face a more complicated challenge, some threatening her existence…

What I Thought

This was a fun, captivating book! While a young adult book, I thought that Britain was an incredibly mature character who is wise beyond her years. I would totally vote for her as President! I enjoyed the mystery and drama surrounding the election and felt completely roped into this world. I would say that this is a book worth reading, especially if you like young adult fiction or know a young adult that is interested in politics (either at their school or on a grander level!).

Definitely would recommend!

Be sure to purchase your copy on Amazon or add it to GoodReads!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

17 March 2019

Where Does Inspiration Come From? By Michael Thies [& Book Giveaway!]

I'm so excited about this blog post. When I first read it, it provoked so much thought. I hope you enjoy it like I did! Best of all, I get to giveaway a copy of the book to one lucky book lover. More on that after the post!

Inspiration. It’s the essence of writing. It’s one of the questions we authors get asked all the time. Who inspired you? What inspired you? How did you come up with the idea for your novel? Of course, the answers to these questions vary with every author and his or her respective novel. I want to take some time to go through my inspiration and how it varies throughout my different novels.

1) Dreams / Imagination / Youth

Okay, so first and foremost, I believe our imagination is a direct relationship on how we are raised as children. I was super creative and imaginative as a little child. I had so many dreams, and actually, I began writing at a young age. I remember I had this dream when I was younger, maybe 6 years old, about me finding gemstones in this dinosaur forest. After I had it, I wrote a little picture book for my parents, and thus, the first novel was born. I also was a big fan of Scooby Doo and so I created my own mystery story when I was in first grade about Scooby Doo. Then, by the time I reached middle school, I fortunately had a friend who had just as big of an imagination as me (and who was an artist) so he created some character sketches randomly. At this time I was huge into Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh and so we actually took those character sketches and made our own card game! Crazy, right? These character sketches also provided me with individuals who I put into a short story I created for my 7th grade writing teacher about a battle at a coliseum amongst gods and goddesses. As I was cleaning out my room in high school, I came along this short story, and reread it. I asked my friend if he still had his notebook of character sketches and he did (although he hadn’t drawn anything since those days), and thus I started my novel. Throughout my high school experience, and even in college, I continued writing and reading and having pretty crazy dreams and whenever I did have one, I would wake up and write it down. Those dreams will eventually become a short story.

Now, there are two interesting things I want to note here. First, did you notice how I said that my friend hadn’t drawn anything since middle school? The reason I mention this is because I believe we lose our creativity as we grow older. Many of us do, anyway. This isn’t a total generalization. But, there is actually a TedTalk about this whole idea by Sir Ken Robinson. Look at it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

The second thing, and maybe the more important thing, I want to draw your attention to is that I didn’t lose my imagination. How did that happen? Because I also believe that creativity and imagination is a skill. I think that we constantly have to sharpen our minds in order to continue to be creative and the best way to do this is to read books or participate in extra-curricular activities. I used to be in TaeKwonDo and whenever I write a fight scene in my novel, I think about how the fight would happen based upon my experiences during that. I read books like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones which actually have a large influence in my writing of the first novel, The Trials of the Core. And most importantly, I continue writing. Creativity is a skill. You have to constantly push yourself to go outside your zone as an author. Write flash fiction someday. Or maybe even just a six-word challenge the other day. Constantly write and just persevere because the more you do so, the more you are activating that part of your mind and the more you will be able to retain your creativity. You’ll notice this practice in sharpening our creativity if you have ever attended a writing workshop, or have had a creative writing class in high school or college. Many times the professors will give you a writing prompt and you are to write about it. This is what I’m talking about when I say creativity is a skill. It needs to be constantly sharpened and refined. Imagination doesn’t just happen, you need to make it happen, there has to be an impetus of some sort and so it’s time we go on to point number two.

2) Life Experiences

This is vague. And it’s meant to be. Everyone has such different life experiences that it’s hard to categorize it succinctly. But with my particular situation, my life experiences include a massive amount of traveling. I have been teaching English overseas for the past four years now. I lived for one year in South America, in Santiago, Chile. And for the past three years I have been working in China. Living in both of these environments has allowed me to really gather such great life experiences.

For example, there is a scene in my novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa where the main character, Prince Hydro, calls another character, Nivarre (their guide) a liar and discredits him in front of his followers. Hydro’s advisor and partner, Len, calms Hydro down and takes over the conversation. This is the scene:

Len turned around and cleared his throat. Then Hydro noticed something strange happen. Besides his advisor’s shift in language to Chaonese, he noticed Len bow and point towards Hydro, which shifted Nivarre’s gaze as well. After showing that token of subservience, he continued nodding and putting his hands behind his back, almost as if he were the passive one in the conversation. Occasionally, he pointed with his hands and slipped into Natural Tongue, but most of it was in Chaonese. Nivarre glanced at Hydro once or twice, but for the most part kept his eyes on Len and pointed to spots around the area. When all was said and done, Len gave another five golden bonds to Nivarre and then rejoined Hydro’s side. After putting the newly acquired coins in the small purse at his hip, Nivarre disappeared down an alleyway in the nearby flea market, the other slaves stayed still.

“You bowed to him?” Hydro contorted his lips.

“I offered him an apology for your effrontery which he accepted. With these people, Hydro, you must do things differently. Do not attack their character so publicly, for that is what they live by.”

This I added to my story during the final draft due to my time in China. For those of you who are unfamiliar with China, it’s all about the face. By the face I mean their reputation. Their “guanxi” as it’s called (which means relationship in Chinese). They don’t disrespect people in public, and if they do, it’s a major effrontery. In fact, Chinese people are rather passive aggressive to be honest. But, by bowing it’s a sign of respect. Hydro in this part of the story is traveling through a foreign country, so again, my life experiences I love to plant within the story in order to enrich it and to add more depth.

3) Relationships

We all have that muse in our life. Our source of inspiration, yeah? If you’ve ever watched Californication you know that Hank Moody has his muse which is Karen. I, too, have had a muse recently. For better or for worse, I have just come out of a rather intense relationship. Very intense actually. Although it was only for a few months, I will confidently say that, for the first time, I understand love just through how my body organically reacted during certain situations. The fights we had. Our struggles. Our joys. Her beauty. How we met. Our difference in social classes (she was a very successful entrepreneur who had celebrity status). All of it has been quite the inspiration for me. I would like nothing more than to tell our story, just in a fictional setting.

Now, coincidentally, we broke up right before I went on a trip to India. So, as I was in India, I again was fueled by my life experiences (as I mentioned in point #2), and so I am going to cast this literary love novel with India as its backdrop. What better place to do it to? The Taj Mahal is the perfect symbolic gesture of love. And I mean perfect in every sense. The caste system in India can represent our difference in social classes. It’s great. And this I believe is the last place that imagination and inspiration come from—through our relationship with others. Now, it doesn’t always have to be a significant other, but many times I know many other authors who base their characters upon people they know. We, as authors, are observers, we’re people watchers. So, it only makes sense that our imagination and inspiration is at least partially derived from those people around us as they have a great deal of influence on us.

Actually, all of my relationships that I’ve been in have caused me to come up with the “Six Pillars of a Relationship.” I was thinking about producing it as a book, but I don’t think that I am qualified enough to write a book about it, but everyone who I’ve told the six pillars to agree. I may end up making it a short novella and make it clear its based upon my own experience (and maybe interviews of others). But, this too, came to me while I was interacting with people. We are such an incredible race of animals. We can think, communicate, swim, innovate, etc. And sometimes the people you meet in your life are absolutely incredible, either in a good way or bad, but still they make an impression on you and will ultimately find his or her way back into your writing. That, I guarantee.

So, my advice to you, is to not live life passively. Go out there and make life happen. Get creative. Do a free-writing exercise daily. Travel someplace new you have never been and that would be totally outside your comfort zone. For example, many Americans always go to Europe because it’s easy—their culture is similar to our own. But, instead, go to Asia or even South America where it’s a completely different change of pace and you’ll be blown away with what you experience. I want to end with a quote by Kyoko Escamilla. Although she directs it to people in their twenties, I believe we can all find value in her wording at any age:

“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.”

About the book, Trials of the Core, courtesy of the author: 

As Edwyrd Eska approaches his two-hundredth year as Guardian of the Core, he must find an apprentice to train under him. His title and role compel him to safeguard and govern his universe, Gladonus, as each Guardian before him has done and those after him shall continue to do until relieved of such duties by will of the Ancients. Prince Hydro Paen, Eirek Mourse, and Zain Berrese—amongst other contestants—receive invitations to compete in a quest of Trials intended to determine who will become Eska’s apprentice. An old adage goes: “The toughest trials test you truest” – and these events challenge their fortitude through tenuous partnerships, intellectual rivalries, and battles of weapons’ mastery. Along the way, each contestant must attempt to overcome personal demons that haunt them. In this tale of ideal dreams and lucid aspirations, these competitors find theirs threatened by deceit, betrayal, sabotage—and even flesh—as all become vital to success…


About the Author: 

Michael Thies graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Creative Writing and Advertising. He published his first novel, The Trials of the Core, at twenty-three. Inspired by his writing and by the positive reviews and feedback he had received, he decided to change careers and went back to school at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to obtain his English Education certificate.

Before settling down in the States, Michael has decided to travel, write, and teach as an expat abroad. For one year he lived in South America and now he is currently residing in China for his third year. To follow more of his adventures, see more of his stories, and learn about more of the cultures, connect with him via Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bahKu9

Now, onto the giveaway! Enter via Rafflecopter below and the giveaway ends 4/1. Winner will be contact by email.  Open international (US can receive ebook or print if outside US, e-book only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

16 March 2019

3 Suggestions on a Saturday Night with author Joy Fielding

Yes that's right folks, Joy Fielding is my guest author today for my "3 Suggestions on a Saturday Night"! I'm so excited to have her here at my humble little blog. First, here's a little bit about her book "All the Wrong Places" -

About the Book (Courtesy of the Publisher)

Four women—friends, family, rivals—turn to online dating for companionship, only to find themselves in the crosshairs of a tech-savvy killer using an app to target his victims in this harrowing thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of See Jane Runand The Bad Daughter. 

Online dating is risky—will that message be a sweet greeting or an unsolicited lewd photo? Will he be as handsome in real life as he is in his photos, or were they taken ten years and twenty pounds ago? And when he asks you to go home with him, how do you know it’s safe? The man calling himself “Mr. Right Now” in his profile knows that his perfect hair, winning smile, and charming banter put women at ease, silencing any doubts they might have about going back to his apartment. There, he has a special evening all planned out: steaks, wine, candlelight . . . and, by the end of the night, pain and a slow, agonizing death.

Driven to desperation—by divorce, boredom, infidelity, a beloved husband’s death—a young woman named Paige, her cousin and rival Heather, her best friend, Chloe, and her mother, Joan, all decide to try their hand at online dating. They each download an app, hoping to right-swipe their way to love and happiness. But one of them unwittingly makes a date with the killer, starting the clock on a race to save her life.

Be sure to check out Goodreads to add your must read list! And now, take it away Joy!

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My Saturday night reading suggestion: This is easy. It’s BEAR TOWN by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman. This is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s fast-paced, absorbing, carefully plotted, beautifully written, and continuously insightful. Every sentence is a gem. I found myself constantly interrupting my husband to read him a sentence or two out loud. Ostensibly about a small town in Sweden whose almost total preoccupation is with its boys’ high school hockey team, this book - told from multiple points of view - grabs you by the throat in its opening chapter and doesn’t let go. I was totally surprised by this as, despite being Canadian, I’ve never been that into hockey. But you don’t have to know much about the game, or anything at all for that matter, to be hopelessly hooked. It’s a gem. You’ll thank me.

Saturday Night Movie Suggestion: If you haven’t already seen "Green Book,” see it. It’s a wonderful movie, superbly acted, and full of humour and grace. What’s more, it’s saying something important about people and prejudice and humanity in general. The movie concerns a black pianist in the ‘60s who hires a white driver to chauffeur him through the Deep South for a concert tour. The Green Book in question refers to a slender book advising black motorists where it will be safe for them to stay during their travels. It’s a terrifically entertaining story of two men who, despite initial preconceptions and prejudices, learn to respect and like one another. If you’re staying home and looking to catch something entertaining on TV, I recommend both "John Wick” and “The Accountant.” They’re both quite violent, but extremely satisfying and lots of fun.

Saturday Night Wild Card Suggestion: I’m a huge fan of puzzles. I can sit and do them for hours on end, and that includes Crosswords, Sudokus, Kenkens, and almost everything to be found in the “Variety Puzzle” books you can find in supermarkets, bookstores and local convenience stores. Lately, I’ve also started doing jigsaw puzzles. This began innocently enough - I bought a puzzle of Peter Pan, thinking it would be a fun thing to do with my two young grandchildren. I forgot to take into consideration that this particular puzzle was 1000 pieces, most of them blue! Needless to say, it was incredibly hard, and my grandchildren lost interest in about five minutes. I, however, persevered, and with the help of one of my daughters and numerous friends, we finally completed the damn thing. (It took almost three months!) Now I’m working on another one, this one of teacups and also 1000 pieces. (Also, really, really hard!) So buy a big puzzle, invite a bunch of friends over, and have a fun Saturday night.

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Thank you Joy! I encourage everyone to check out her thriller "All The Wrong Places" and be sure to check out my review too. Authors, if you want to be a guest on my "3 Suggestions on a Saturday Night" make sure you send me an email at npyles86[at]gmail[dot]com.

12 March 2019

My Interview with Author Joy Fielding

First of all, YAY about this interview. I couldn't believe author Joy Fielding wanted to answer my questions. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out my review of her book. Next add this book to your Goodreads list or pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Me: First of all, I want to say that you are one of my favorite authors! So, I'm honored you have agreed to a Q&A with me. My first question is about your latest book "All the Wrong Places." What inspired you to write a dramatic thriller about online dating?
Joy: It’s very hard to pinpoint the exact source of an inspiration. My mind is always full of ideas. The hard part is figuring out what to do with these ideas. I’ve always been comfortable with a good, strong plot and I love suspense. But one of the things I’ve always tried to do with my novels is to write about “real women." They’re not necessarily super-gorgeous or super-rich or super-sleuths. They’re the women I know - strong, capable, smart, sensitive, neurotic, funny, etc. and I want readers to read about these women and think, "I know her. That’s my mother or my sister or my friend, or my God, that’s me!” So I decided to tell the story of four women friends and relatives and what is going on at a particularly vulnerable period in each of their lives: Paige, reeling from the loss of both her live-in boyfriend and her job; her mother Joan, lonely after two years of widowhood; Paige’s best friend Chloe, dealing with her husband’s latest infidelity; and Paige’s cousin, Heather, whose insecurities and jealousies constantly overwhelm her better judgment. Online dating seemed a good way to connect the four women and also to introduce the element of danger and suspense. As a writer, you sometimes feel isolated, and having been married for 45 years (to the same man!), I’m fascinated by the whole notion of meeting someone online. I knew nothing about how it worked, and I have to thank my hairdresser for showing me the finer points of how it all plays out. Also, I wanted to write something current that would, at the same time, be of interest to women of all ages.

Me: You depicted the woes of online dating perfectly! What was your process when writing this book? Did anything about writing this take you by surprise?
 
Joy: My process for writing this book was pretty much my focus for writing all my books: I get an idea and sit with it a while, then when I think I’m ready, I write an outline, anywhere from one to twelve pages. The outline is like a blueprint of the important plot points that are going to happen, and it helps me to organize my thoughts. I try to summarize what the book is about in an opening statement of 25 words or less. I figure that if I can’t do that, then I really don’t know what my book is about, and if I don’t know, my reader won’t know. In this case, my brief synopsis was: 4 women; multiple dating apps; 1 serial killer. I had to know some basic things about each of the women. I had to know how I was going to structure the book, whose voice, or in this case, multiple voices, I was going to use. I had to know how each voice would be different from the others. I had to get in the head of a cold-blooded killer. I knew the beginning of the book and the end and a few key episodes along the way. Then I sat down, started writing, and waited to see what would happen. So, yes, in answer to the second part of the question, there were a number of things that transpired that took me by surprise. This is one of the best things about writing - the surprises. Sometimes it’s a character; sometimes it’s an event; sometimes you don’t even realize that you’ve already laid the groundwork and your subconscious knew all along. But as Flannery O’Connor once remarked, "if you're not surprised, how can you expect the reader to be?"

Me: I love hearing about your process. This leads me to a question I can't help but ask - are you a "pantser" or a "plotter"? And why?

Joy: I’m a definite plotter. I like to have a clear vision of where I’m going. I find this is particularly necessary when writing suspense. You have to know where you’re going in order to construct the plot and build the tension. You have to always be upping the ante; everything that happens has to be a little bigger than what’s happened before, leading to at the eventual climax. If you just start writing without any sense of where you’re headed, then all that means to me is that you’re going to be doing an awful lot of rewriting. That works for some writers, but I work best with a good, solid structure.
Me: I can see why that structure would be so important to writing suspense! So, the beginning sure took me by surprise! How did you get in the mindset of a killer?

Joy: It’s actually not that difficult to get into the mindset of a sociopath. (Not sure what that says about me!) But I’ve done a lot of reading about serial killers and psychopaths and what I’ve learned is that they’re really pretty simple - if awful - creatures. They’re totally self-absorbed, compartmentalize easily, and have zero empathy. The only real emotion they feel is anger. Since there’s nothing terribly complex about them, it’s not hard to get inside what is essentially an empty vessel.

Me: You really depicted the killer's mind excellently! What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

Joy: A typical day of writing usually starts between 9 and 10 a.m. I try to write for at least 3 hours. If I have no other appointments that day, I take a short break for lunch, then write for a more few hours. Some days I’ll work for only 3 hours, some days as much as 7, although I find 4 is the optimum number. It’s hard to concentrate and produce anything worthwhile if I go longer than that. I usually spend the first hour (or more) rewriting what I wrote the day before, so sometimes I don’t get a whole lot of new stuff done, which can be frustrating. I used to aim for 5 pages a day (between 2000-2500 words) but I find I’m slowing down a bit these days. Don’t know if this is because I’m more careful or just getting older.
Me: That still sounds impressive to me! If you could go back and give yourself any advice, what would you say?

Joy: If I could go back and give myself advice, I’d say to relax. Try not to worry so much about getting another idea. You’ll get one; you always have; you will again. And don’t worry about what other people want to read: concentrate on what you want to write.

Me: I love that advice! What books did you enjoy reading as a kid?

Joy: Oddly enough, as a kid, I don’t recall doing a lot of reading, although I do remember my fourth grade teacher reading aloud to her class every day a chapter from an adult novel called “Linegan and the Ants” (not sure if I spelled the name correctly). It was about a bunch of flesh-eating ants in Africa, and was later made into a movie called “The Naked Jungle," a much better title. I found the whole experience of listening to the book unfold to be thrilling. Not sure if this is when I decided to be a writer, but it was then that I realized the power of books to engage and even transform. Later, I loved all the Nancy Drew books.

Me: Same here! I loved Nancy Drew books. What books are you looking forward to in 2019?

Joy:
Books I’m looking forward to in 2019: The books currently on my nightstand are Michelle Obama’s BECOMING; CALYPSO by David Sedaris; AN OCEAN OF LIMITS by Thea Lim, and two books by my new favorite author, Fredrik Backman: THE DEAL OF A LIFETIME (and other stories), and US AGAINST YOU. I recently discovered Fredrik Backman after a friend recommended BEAR TOWN, a novel I can’t recommend highly enough.

Me: I'll have to check these out! What is next for you? Can we expect a sequel to "All the Wrong Places"?

Joy: What’s next for me? I have a new idea and I’m letting it percolate before writing anything down. Hopefully soon it will be sufficiently formed to start an outline. I don’t think there will be a sequel to ALL THE WRONG PLACES, as I’ve never done a sequel before. I always enjoy creating something totally new and different in style and content from the book before. But you never know. We’ll just wait and see what happens.

I can't wait to see what you come up with next! Thank you again for joining me and answering my Q&A! 

11 March 2019

On Books, Writing And Life: Interview with author C.S. Johnson (And Book Giveaway!)

I am so excited about this interview for a couple of reasons. First, at the end of this interview, you (the reader) get the chance to win a copy of the book Kingdom of Ash and Soot by Author C.S. Johnson. Read more about this incredible book on GoodReads!

Nicole: You are an incredibly successful author with several publications under your belt! What is your secret to keeping up with all that you do?

C.S.: Thank you for your kind words. I enjoy writing a lot, and I am always happy when my work is favorably received by my readers and critics alike.

I am pretty sure the reason I am so prolific with my writing is because my push for my own standards is high; so, in other words, it is rooted in insanity and insecurity. Having a story stew inside of me makes me think of demons needing to be exorcised. I like to think of my writing as a gift, but I also know that the best things in life are the things we have to work for (whether we like the work or not.)

I also really enjoy it, and I enjoy getting to bless people with my work. I have met a lot of really great people who have been touched by my work, and that desire to help others has never gone away.

I am publishing a book on college and student loan debt in March that I am going to use the proceeds for to give a monthly repayment to new college grads. It’s a charity idea I am working on developing, and I am so happy I will be able to help people that way (especially with my own mental health sadness that came with my student loan debt.) I am also hoping to do more to help others in need, but I know I will be in a better position if the work comes first; this makes sense – I need the books to be written before I can do things with them!

Nicole: I love how you are turning your writing into doing something good for others! You seem to really enjoy writing young adult fiction, what draws you to writing for this audience of readers?

C.S.: I think it’s a great field for me to write in because I don’t feel qualified as an adult to write adult fiction. I have to laugh when I admit that, but it’s so true. I like to read more adult fiction now – now that I’m finally in my 30s – but for a long time I didn’t understand why anyone would want to read it. Adult fiction can be dark and heavy-handed, and I prefer more of the fluffy-funness that YA and now NA can offer; I also like that aspect of it because I can hide a lot of heavier topics inside of my writing, and I find that allowing the reader some wiggle room to decide on how dark they want to make the story is much more inviting than making it all either shallow-candy-bar-book sweetness or angsty-three-course-meal-level-fullness. One of my goals as a writer is to read books that will stay with the reader after he or she is finished reading, and then I like to write books that, if you read them again, you will find something new.

Nicole: Oh I'd love to write that type of book - the ones that stay with you. So, what are you working on at the moment?

C.S.: I am working on the third book in The Order of the Crystal Daggers series, Heart of Hope and Fear. The book series has been an interesting one for me to write, and I’m hoping the final book in the series will give it a proper sending off. I have also joined up with a team of authors to write an anthology we will be publishing in January next year, and I am very pleased with my short story (The Ones Who See) is coming along for that one.

Nicole: That sounds amazing! What advice do you have for writers who can't seem to put their (virtual) pen to paper?

C.S.: Read the most absolutely asinine, stupidest book you can think of that’s made it big (WE ALL KNOW AT LEAST ONE!). If sheer anger that such a crap book was popular enough to sell big is not enough to drive you to your keyboard and go full-blooded monkey madness on it, you don’t want to be a writer; you want to have written something, and that’s not the same thing as wanting to be a writer.

Nicole: HA, that got me smiling! What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

C.S.: The typical day honestly varies; one of the best things I like about being a writer is that it’s like dancing with the most irresistible, infuriating date of your life in the dark. Sometimes you take over the lead; sometimes he insists you follow. Sometimes you fall, and sometimes he catches you. Sometimes you move so fast, you wonder that you’re able to keep your typing intact; other times you slow down so much you wonder if you’re moving at all.

Sometimes, of course, I take a break and interact with the other people around us. I like talking with my readers over email, and I like it even more when they talk back.

Nicole: Sounds amazing to me! What was the best writing advice you heard? What was the worst?

C.S. The best writing advice is just to read a lot. I learned a lot of my own social skills from reading, and not just from facts and flirtatious turn-of-phrases. Reading good writing, and a good variety, can really help you understand the world and other people better.

The worst advice I’ve ever heard is just to read the books you want to write. My favorite books to read are different from what I like to write, but I love what I like to write, too.

Nicole: Reading is so key! What books did you enjoy reading when you grew up?

C.S. I really enjoyed historical fiction. I have a collection of “Dear America” diaries and “Royal Princess Diaries” that I will be giving my own daughter. I also enjoyed a lot of the Star Wars expanded universe, and I still have a soft spot for what I call “smart romance.”

Nicole:  And what books are you reading now?

C.S. I just recently finished reading Till We Have Faces again. I try to read it every year. I love Lewis’ work, and each year I find myself identifying with different characters. This year, I found myself in more of Revidal, Oraul’s first sister. It is never an easy move to be the first love, and then become the second, and her life seems to have that trend no matter how much she was loved by her sister, and then her husband, and then her children. It’s very sad to realize that our first loves might not live up to all of our hopes.

Other than that, I am looking forward to getting my pre-ordered copy of Another Kingdom, and I have begun to read a “cattlepunk” book from R. J. Conte called Artificial Love. Since both are based in fantasy revisionism, I already know I will love getting to analyze them (I’m a literary nerd for style as much as story and substance).

Nicole: I'll have to check these out! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about your books and writing. 

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.

Now for the giveaway part! Enter to win a copy of the book Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C.S. Johnson via Rafflecopter below. US only. Giveaway ends 3/24.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

08 March 2019

5 Writing Habits of Famous Authors — And How You Can Adopt Them by Savannah Cordova

Image by voltamax on Pixabay
Who wouldn’t want to become a famous bestselling author? If you’re reading this post right now, it’s probably safe to say that it’s one of your dreams. However, an amazing book doesn’t just happen overnight. You need to put in the work to make it happen — and that means building writing habits that will lead you to success. Here are five writing habits of famous authors, as well as actionable tips on how you can adopt them for yourself.

1. Stephen King — write every day, no matter what.

One of the most oft-cited pieces of writing advice is to simply write as much as you possibly can — and while you may have already heard it a thousand times, this particular recommendation bears repeating. After all, Stephen King claims to write 2000 words a day, every day (even on holidays, his birthday, and during emergencies!) and he’s one of the most prolific, successful authors of all time.

This doesn’t mean you have to write 2000 words a day with no exceptions, and certainly not right away. But you should start easing yourself into a routine of writing at least a little every day. Use writing prompts or a character name generator, if you’re stuck on what (or who) to write about. Then try to set a specific time to write and stick to it, gradually increasing your word count over time. But don’t beat yourself up for skipping a day, or if you don’t think your work sounds good! It’ll take practice to get into the rhythm of constantly writing, and writing well. The key is just not giving up.

Now, speaking of setting a designated time to write…

2. Ursula K. Le Guin — get writing done first thing in the day, if you can.

Ursula Le Guin’s famously excellent writing schedule has been floating around the blogosphere lately, but just in case you haven’t seen it, allow me to enlighten you. She would wake up every day at 5:30 am, eat breakfast at 6:15, and start writing at 7:15. By noon, most of her work would be done for the day and she’d devote the rest of it to reading, music, cooking, and correspondence. This schedule ensured that she’d write when she was at her freshest, leaving the afternoon and evening to replenish her creative energies with other activities.

Not everyone will be able to do this — indeed some authors, like Franz Kafka and H.P. Lovecraft, have famously written only during the witching hour (though this may have had something to do with their dark subject matters). And if you have a job, kids, or some other obligation that occupies your morning, Le Guin’s pattern will certainly be harder to follow.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. You can wake up early. You can write a couple hundred words on your morning commute, or in between dropping off the kids. Or if you really can’t bring yourself to write in the morning — some of us are just not morning people, after all — the most important thing is still to just make the time at some point. Yes, work first thing in the morning if you’re able to, but it’s much better to write later in the day than not write anything at all.

3. Zadie Smith — write with no Internet connection.

This piece of writing advice from Zadie Smith’s famous “10 rules for writers,” distilled from her own experience, is undoubtedly hard to swallow: “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­Internet.” But trust me that it’s one of the best things you can do for your writing, and indeed for your concentration in general. Working without the constant looming distraction of the Internet (needless to say, that goes for your phone as well) will not only make you a better writer, but a more focused, even-tempered person.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what about research? Yes, we all claim we need the Internet to conduct research for our writing, but in practice it’s almost always more distracting than it is helpful. So if you’re writing sans Internet and you come across something you’re not sure about, simply make a note to Google it later. You’ll be surprised how little it matters, and how much work you actually get done.

Of course, if you’re writing a historical novel or other period piece of some kind, this may be more difficult to manage. But as long as you have all your notes and research materials on hand, you should be fine to spend at least a few hours “unplugged.” Bonus points if you work from a library, where you can do research using actual books!

4. Andrew Sean Greer — take down observations wherever you go.

This one comes from a personal perspective, based on advice Greer gave during a book event I attended in January 2019. One member of the audience asked whether he had really visited all the places written about in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Less; for those who haven’t read it, the main character travels to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, and Japan in just under 300 pages.

Greer revealed that not only had he been to all of these places, but that he took detailed notes on everything he saw during each visit — and that he lifted his descriptions of each place directly from these notes. That is to say, not a single detail about the settings was fabricated. From the architecture to the local cuisine, everything came from his own personal observations.

Again, as with the Stephen King tip, you don’t have to take it quite this far. But consider carrying a notebook with you, writing down details about the places you go, people you see, offbeat news you watch, and things you experience. You might find inspiration through travel, as Greer did, or you might simply start people-watching more carefully around your neighborhood. In any case, these real-life details are invaluable to helping your writing seem more vivid and authentic.

5. Muriel Spark — acquire a cat (or some kind of writing buddy).

Muriel Spark claimed that the most writing-conducive habit is none other than working with a cat nearby. As silly as this might sound, it’s hard to argue with her logic: “The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost.”

For those who aren’t quite ready to commit to a pet, you can always find a writing buddy — a human one, that is — to sit across from and motivate you. Ideally, this won’t be a close friend; or if so, it shouldn’t be a friend who’s willing to blow off work for a good time. Just like a cat, a solid, serious human presence should help calm and focus you, because you’ll be accountable to them. This person doesn’t even have to be a writer themselves; they just have to keep you writing. As, indeed, all these writerly habits hopefully should.

Do you have a tried-and-true habit that helps you write? Tell us about it in the comments below!

About Author Savannah Cordova @ Reedsy: Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. Naturally, she’s a big fan of plot twists (when they’re done right).

23 February 2019

3 Suggestions on a Saturday Night (Surrender to Passion Takeover!)



Another Saturday night and another amazing author! Today we feature Olena Kagui, another author from the romantic book Surrender to Passion.  So, take it away Olena!
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It’s finally Saturday night! So far we’ve survived blue Monday, scientifically the most depressing day of the year due to our empty bank account and tighter waistlines after the holiday season. We’ve also weathered through the Polar Vortex, not that we didn’t enjoy wearing fuzzy PJs all day. Finally, we’ve gotten through yet another Hallmark-sponsored holiday so we can now officially forget our New Year’s resolutions and stock up on discounted candy hearts and bubbly.

2019 has already felt like a long year. Yet somehow, it’s still not springtime. Luckily, it’s still socially acceptable to trade in all social plans and spend Saturday night doing the following three things:

Saturday Night Book Suggestion: Untold by Amy Spitzfaden. This book had me reading long past my bedtime! It is a captivating story with relatable characters that make you say “Wow, so it’s not just me!” I also loved the environmental theme that so many many of us are passionate about now more than ever! Find out more here.

Saturday Night Movie Suggestion: Annihilation seemed like a cool movie to watch with the lights off. Natalie Portman played the protagonist who joined a group of scientists on a dangerous mission to find out what happened to the men who died doing the same thing. You don’t have to be a feminist to get excited about this thrilling horror. One particular scene in this movie is probably the single most terrifying thing that I have ever watched on screen! Check it out on IMDB.

Saturday Night Twitter Suggestion: I follow Kelly Mindell from StudioDIY on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If she only stopped using environmentally-harmful balloons, I’d be totally obsessed with her! She loves colors and wants to make life a party with her home decor and everyday outfits. Even if you don’t wish your home looked like hers, her tweets will still bring a smile to your face! Check out her crazy designs here.


Olena is an aspiring author who enjoys all forms of writing from travel blogging to fiction. Born in Ukraine, raised in the Czech Republic and currently living in New York with her husband and rescue pitta Smiley. With a B.A. in International Relations from Anglo American University in Prague, Olena juggles various hobbies and interests while working on finishing and publishing her first novel! Olena recently published a story, Love as Blue as Hawaii in the Surrender to Passion anthology.

Love as Blue As Hawaii: Stephanie lives on a beautiful campus in Hawaii, has the perfect group of friends, and can’t help but feel like life is about to begin. But try as she might, she can’t seem to figure out where her almost-fiance Kevin fits in the picture—or why she keeps seeing her friend Kai’s face instead.




18 February 2019

All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding [A Book Review]

I have read Joy Fielding before and so I was really excited for the chance to pick up a copy of her book All the Wrong Places, courtesy of Random House. This is a book you should read if you have ever tried online dating. I guarantee you - this book is meant for you!

Here's a bit about the book, courtesy of Random House

Four women—friends, family, rivals—turn to online dating for companionship, only to find themselves in the crosshairs of a tech-savvy killer using an app to target his victims in this harrowing thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of See Jane Run and The Bad Daughter.

Online dating is risky—will that message be a sweet greeting or an unsolicited lewd photo? Will he be as handsome in real life as he is in his photos, or were they taken ten years and twenty pounds ago? And when he asks you to go home with him, how do you know it’s safe? The man calling himself “Mr. Right Now” in his profile knows that his perfect hair, winning smile, and charming banter put women at ease, silencing any doubts they might have about going back to his apartment. There, he has a special evening all planned out: steaks, wine, candlelight . . . and, by the end of the night, pain and a slow, agonizing death.

Driven to desperation—by divorce, boredom, infidelity, a beloved husband’s death—a young woman named Paige, her cousin and rival Heather, her best friend, Chloe, and her mother, Joan, all decide to try their hand at online dating. They each download an app, hoping to right-swipe their way to love and happiness. But one of them unwittingly makes a date with the killer, starting the clock on a race to save her life.

My Thoughts on This Book

This book actually wasn't quite what I expected! It starts out with a bang - and without giving it away - you are just dropped right into the middle of a really terrible and terrifying situation. Then Chapter 2 turns on its heel and you meet Paige. That's when you get wrapped up in the lives of Paige, Heather, Chloe, and her mother Joan. What I like about this book is that it takes you a step beyond the standard thriller and into the drama and lives of these four women. The low hum underneath all this drama though is that there is a killer out there and that leaves an unsettling feeling throughout the book. Overall, a fun exciting book that I would highly recommend.


I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post includes an affiliate link for which I will receive a small compensation if you purchase through my link.

16 February 2019

3 Things on a Saturday Night (Surrender to Passion Takeover!)


We made it folks - it's Saturday night! I'm excited to bring you the second author of the book Surrender to Passion - Victoria Spencer. Welcome, Victoria! Make sure you check out last week's suggestions too and also be sure to purchase a copy of this incredible book here. 

Take it away, Victoria!

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Suggested book: Under Winter Lights by Bree M. Lewandowski

I’m a sucker for dance movies and books, and this one is so fantastic! The author is a dancer herself, which really shows. Chicago ballerina Martina is thrilled when she’s chosen for the role of Clara in the Nutcracker, only to find out her Nutcracker is the mysterious Russian Maraav. Between their chemistry and Martina’s struggle with her overbearing director, this winter romance is a magical read.

Suggested Tabletop Game: Cockroach Poker

Nope, this isn’t some debaucherous game where you gamble dead bugs and your last shred of dignity in a seedy black market bar. I mean, I guess it could be, you do you.

Cockroach Poker is a fun, family-friendly bluffing game with some great, simple rules and even better art. It centers around trying to have as few cards as possible and every time you get caught in a lie, you have to keep the card. Great for when you’re too tired for Catan or Pandemic, or when the average age is a bit lower.

Suggested YouTube Channel: Binging with Babish

Other than the usual lo-fi channels I listen to when formatting or editing (and mentioned in my short “Making Peace”) I love Binging with Babish. He’s got a pretty big following, and each episode he takes a meal or dish from a scene in film and recreates it--both accurately and often with his own twist if it turns out monstrous.

I tried his strudel (inspired by that incredibly uncomfortable scene in Inglorious Bastards) just the other night and it turned out fantastic!


About Victoria

Victoria is a romance and erotic romance author from southern New England. She focuses on diverse and complex protagonists who want adventure as much as love. She travels around the eastern U. S. in her tiny house looking for her own adventures.

Her short, “Making Peace,” is featured in the Surrender to Passion anthology, and takes place within the same world as her debut novella, Changing History.

3 Elements of Imagination in Writing "Finding Myself in Borneo" - by Neill McKee

Today I'm proud to be hosting Neill McKee on my blog! He's going to be sharing three elements of imagination in his writing of the book "Finding Myself in Borneo." Be sure to check out what the book is all about by visiting this post here.

---- Post by Neill McKee ---

1. Childhood imagination comes true: In the beginning of my travel memoir, I explain how, as a child, I imagined escaping from my chemically polluted home town in Ontario, Canada. I saw mysterious shapes on a distant hill beyond the chemical factory and I imagined them to be rhinos, elephants and other wild beasts of a more verdant and inviting land. I called the place "Africa," but little did I know then that they were a foreshadowing of my future years on the Island of Borneo. As a young adult, I became more and more interested in Asia, rather than Africa, when I studied Zen Buddhism. Somehow, I wanted to get to Asia. Near the end of my last semester in 1968, I saw a poster on my university campus about teaching overseas, had an interview the next week, and almost like magic, I found myself as a high school teacher in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo) a few months later.

2. Borneo magic: The people of the small town I lived in, Kota Belud, were from three main cultures with many different religions and languages: native Kadazans (animists and Christians) who arrived in Borneo from mainland Asia, thousands of years ago; Bajau (Muslims), former "sea gypsies" who migrated from the Southern Philippines and Indonesia in the last hundred years or so; and overseas Chinese (mainly Buddhists and ancestor worshippers) who spoke about seven different Chinese languages or dialects. Fortunately, the lingua franca was Malay—a relatively easy language to learn—and, at the time, the school's medium of instruction remained English. This confluence of so many cultures and oral traditions led to me learning about many myths and magical tales, some of which I have interwoven in the stories of my book. I included accounts of ghosts, spirits, creation myths, and magic spells, including some sexual in nature, a pugai in Malay, used by the community to explain a person's sudden change in behavior or fortune. I detail such a magic sexual spell that was believed to be the cause of the death of our Australian school principal, who had converted to Islam and taken a second native wife, probably without telling the one he left in his home country.

3. My imagination ran wild too! I think it was this magic environment that helped with the creation of the North Borneo Frodo Society (NBFS). I lived in the shadow of Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu (the “Lonely Mountain”), the highest mountain in Southeast Asia (13,435 feet or 4,095 meters above sea level) and the only one like it in the whole of Borneo. In late 1968, my American Peace Corps buddy and I experienced an overpowering revelation (with a little hallucinogenic help!). We realized that Kota Belud was most likely J.R.R Tolkien's Rivendell. We developed our main theory: North Borneo is really the Middle-Earth of Tolkien's famous trilogy, Lord of the Rings. We carried on our research for the next two years: developing comparative maps, discovering the remains of Mount Doom, uncovering stories of an “oily man” (Gollum) who slinks in shadows of Kota Belud on moonlit nights, frightening local residents. We employed a Bajau man to forge small NBFS swords, still used by natives who live in the hills near the mountain. Through correspondence, people joined our society from all around the world. We wrote to Tolkien’s publisher and the great author became a patron of the NBFS, one of two he joined, so we later learned in a letter from the Tolkien Society of London. We even made it into his biography! Our efforts created new urban legends and myths which continue to be created and passed on today.

Thank you Neill! Be sure to find out more about the author by visiting his website at www.neillmckeeauthor.com.
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