Author Spotlight: Mary Jane Miller Talks Iconography and Spirituality 

I’m happy to add another post in my Author Spotlight series today – this time, in the religious art genre. In previous spotlights, I’ve featured authors who have written science fiction, young adult adventure, children’s picture books, middle grade historical fiction, financial literacy, memoir, fiction with a mental health theme, guide books for addressing different family topics and spiritual self-help. Thanks for reading and now…

Meet Mary Jane Miller, author of The Mary Collection and Icon Painting Revealed, both books inspired by her journey as a self-taught icon painter. Icons are a type of religious art which was originally used by the Christian church to teach religious doctrine. Miller is knowledgeable on the icon tradition’s long history and in this Author Spotlight, she gives us insight into why she enjoys writing and painting in this genre, her experience with the publishing process, and advice for others hoping to write a book and follow their calling in life.

Buy Mary Jane Miller’s books and find out more about her work at http://www.sanmiguelicons.com/.


Tell us about your books.

I have written two books. The first one is The Mary Collection: A Meditation on the Madonna and Child, which includes 18 images that capture the great mystery of Mary and her unending motherly love. I created a DVD that documents how I painted that collection of icons over a period of one year in my studio. The second book is Icon Painting Revealed, which is a step by step illustrated guide to the process of icon painting and how it reflects and enriches one’s spiritual life because I believe the process of painting icons is an interior journey. Egg tempera is a challenging technique but I tried to simplify the process with this book. I also published two coloring books, Ancient Image, Sacred Lines and One Mind, One World  – both of these offer spiritual imagery that is bold, historical and fun to color. There’s a journal space beside each image for jotting down reflections and insights.

Icon Painting RevealedWhat is your inspiration for creating these books?

The infinite range of imagination and potential found in classic iconography influences my writing. I like to imagine a world where there is no good, better and best, only a desire for kindness and mercy. I am inspired by a world where we are grateful for all that surrounds us and where we attempt to connect and respect each other without losing our individual identities. My work is committed to a global culture of non-violence, respect, justice, and peace.

What was your writing process like?

I have a mind full of images and journals filled with words and concepts. I think I write like I paint. I love the beginning and the end and that the middle is filled with variables. As an artist you cannot help but be attracted to everything visual and sensory, the tools are paint, color, form, brushes, shadow, light, proportion, abstract and unknown. I suppose writing is the same. Making words come alive on a page for the reader is good story telling – you’re trying to share what the mind sees and translate it into words.

I paint several paintings at the same time and write on many topics at the same time. I like variety so when I go back to something unfinished, the words take a new order because something has changed in my absence. All strokes and sentences become new again.

What publishing route did you choose and why?

I have only used Lulu.com, which is a way to self publish. I would say, for me, I noticed that the competition is intense to get published because there are so many great writers and artists. I don’t want to compete or get rejected. I have my story to tell from my own experience and, up until now, I have been targeting a fairly unique market for iconography. I have lacked confidence at times but my story is getting clearer and, as I’m getting older, I want to leave a legacy of what I’ve learned.

Tell us about how you’re marketing your work?

I do a variety of things. I run a couple of different websites where I write and showcase my art. I also publish article online and in print publications. I am active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. I put my books on Lulu.com and Amazon. Lastly, I teach workshops and retreats each year.

One Mind, One WorldAre you working on other projects now?

Yes, I am currently working on a larger book about the absence of women in iconography and their silent voices in the Christian church. The format will include icon history, biographical info, and insights over 20 years working in the egg tempera medium and with iconography’s ancient visual language. The book will include large images painted by me and text description beside each one.

What advice do you have for other writers who may want to write a book?

Get up at night and write that idea down. Leave your work alone from time to time, the middle is not always the middle, creative things happen when you let go of the agenda and initial outline. Watch out for too many words. Go with your heart.

What has been your favorite part of this journey so far?

At 62 I never thought I had anything to say much less the grace to say it. I have surprised myself and wonder how I am here now doing this. Sometimes after reading something 50 times you can still find it interesting, it is spectacular. You might change one little word and it is like adding the final stroke to a painting. Words and ideas on paper are like paintings for me. Recently poetry has popped up unexpectedly in my orbit, a few words in the correct order can be so simple, something like,”live in the light”. No explanation is offered, four words, yet it opens a world in the reader’s heart and causes us to stand back and breathe. Beauty always does that.


Thanks so much to Mary Jane for sharing her thoughts with us. To learn more about her work and to purchase her books, check out these sites:

Books by Mary Jane Miller

San Miguel Icons

Modern Catholic Iconography

The Dialogue for World Peace

Sacred Icon Retreat

 

I want to read more Author Spotlights!

 

 

 

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Author Spotlight: A. K. Downing Talks Into the Air, Young Adult Adventure Novel

I’m thrilled to be featuring another great writer in my Author Spotlight series today – this time, in the young adult adventure genre. In previous spotlights, I’ve featured authors that have written science fiction, children’s picture books, middle grade historical fiction, financial literacy, memoir, fiction with a mental health theme, guide books for addressing different family topics and spiritual self-help. Thanks for reading and now…

Meet A. K. Downing, author of the novel Into the Air, an intriguing read in the YA genre, yes, but perfect to be enjoyed by adults as well. The novel weaves a story about a world after life as we know it now – a world in a dark, underground compound with allotments on everything from light to food. A strong female character named Mia Bryn leads readers through a story about journeying into the dangerous unknown, surviving surprising obstacles along the way, and learning to trust your instincts.

In this Author Spotlight, Downing gives us the inside scoop on her inspiration for writing in this genre, her experience with the publishing process as she navigates through as a first-time author, and advice for others hoping to write a book.

Buy Into the Air on Amazon and find out more about A. K. Downing at http://akdowning.com/.


Is this your first novel? Tell us about your inspiration for writing the book.

First I’d like to thank you, Mandy, for highlighting Into the Air on your Author Spotlight series. I am so honored to be asked!

Into the Air is A. K. Downing's first novel.

Into the Air is A. K. Downing’s first novel.

Yes, Into the Air is my first novel. Over the years, I’ve written creative content for clients, but never a work of fiction. The inspiration for Into the Air began as my kindergarten-age daughter and I walked home from a play date. She was making up a story and mentioned a name. For some reason the name stuck with me, and later that night I wrote it down the best I could remember. Around the same time, my husband and I became hooked on “prepper” shows. I started to wonder what the earth would look like a hundred years after a catastrophic event. I was even more interested in how people would resurface and rebuild. A few months later, bits of the story started to take hold… and the name my daughter made up suddenly had a purpose

What was your writing process like for this book?

I didn’t have much of a process – at least initially. I didn’t create an outline. I didn’t start at the beginning and work chapter by chapter. Ideas came in jumbles. Bits of dialogue woke me up at night. At times, the ideas came so fast it almost felt obsessive. But the story evolved organically, which allowed it to build and become more complex as the years passed.

Almost all the writing took place after my daughter was in bed, or was jotted down while sitting in traffic during my morning commute. When I thought the story was in a good place, I asked 5 people to read it. Each person responded with relevant insight and comments. I rewrote large amounts of the book based on their input. Then, during the final year, I was fortunate to be introduced to an editor who pushed me to rewrite, revise and rethink. Rethinking the story three years into writing it was incredibly hard work, but it made the novel stronger and much more engaging.

What publishing route did you choose (self-publishing, traditional publishing via an agent, crowdsource publishing) and why?

I promised myself I would initially try traditional publishing. I sent queries to agents – 75 of them – which as any author can tell you, is a long and tedious process.  During this time, an author friend sang the praises of self-publishing. She reminded me that even if I was fortunate enough to be picked up by an agent, there was no guarantee that agent could “sell” the book to a publisher, or that the publisher would successfully market the book. The more I heard, the more self-publishing appealed to me. Amazon has a fantastic print-on-demand book division called CreateSpace. They also offer Kindle Direct. Working with these two online resources, I was able to design my own cover, format the inside of my novel, and publish it in both print and Kindle versions.

Tell us about how you’re marketing the book? (website, book signings, videos, etc.)

My online efforts revolve around a novel-focused website and pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. By design the site has minimal content. It features a short video and a few reviews, but my goal is to use it as a jumping point to Amazon and Goodreads. In the next few months I hope to add a blog feature to the website, which will focus on items in the novel. For instance, do underground compounds actually exist? Yes, they really are out there.

Other than social media, my marketing efforts have just begun. Like the book, they are evolving organically. Friends have introduced me to gift shop owners, teenagers I know are talking about forming Into the Air study groups, and a book group in Nashville made it their next read. Recently, IN Community magazine agreed to run a story about the book, and there are other local publications I plan to contact, as well as the local libraries. As someone who has worked in an agency for longer than I care to admit, I know that marketing isn’t a race. It’s a slow drip that continues to spread.

Are you working on other projects now?

I am currently working on the sequel to Into the Air – and it feels so good to be writing again. The second book is roughed out. I know the sequence of events and Mia’s path. Just the other day I had an ah-ha moment that changed the focus of chapter 2. All I can say is Mia and Archer’s adventure continues with new characters, returning faces, and more mysteries revealed.

What advice do you have for other writers who may want to write a book?

Six months into writing, when I foolishly thought my book was close to completion, my husband burst my bubble and told me that the average first book takes 3 years to complete. I thought he was joking.  My advice for other writers is to stick with it. As you can imagine, I had low points while I was writing – times when I wanted to quit. But I also had some amazing feel good moments. Writing isn’t a race and if you love your story and your characters, the work is worth it. The other thing I learned is not to underestimate the power of a good critique. Negative feedback hurts to hear, but if it festers long enough, you’ll start to see how the story can evolve and become better.

What has been your favorite part of this journey so far?

I love these characters. I love Mia’s naivety and spirit. I love Archer’s strength and determination. It is an amazing feeling to know they are out there for others to discover. A friend recently told me that she had a huge crush on Archer. At the time I laughed, but the idea that she connected that much with one of the characters made me feel giddy. I guess mostly I feel immensely lucky to have had a story emerge the way it did, and to hear that people who have read Into the Air are ready to read more. Stay tuned!


Thanks again to A.K. for taking the time to share her insight with us.

I want to read more Author Spotlights!

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I haven’t done an Author Spotlight post in a few months so it’s definitely time for one! In previous spotlights, I’ve featured authors from a variety of genres, including: science fiction, children’s picture books, middle grade historical fiction, financial literacy, memoir, fiction with a mental health theme, guide books for addressing different family topics and, now, spiritual self-help.

Meet Tanya Carroll Richardson, author of the upcoming book Angel Insights and also Heaven on Earth, a guided journal published in 2015. I met Tanya once many years ago and I could tell she had a great sense of adventure and passion for life. She has directed some of that passion for life towards helping people “make sense of their past, present and future as an intuitive, and help them make contact with their spiritual support team—especially their angels.”

In this Author Spotlight, Tanya gives us the scoop on her motivation for writing in this genre, how she reaches out to readers, her experience with the publishing process and advice for others hoping to write a book. Thanks, Tanya – and look for web links in the interview if you want to learn more about Tanya and pre-order her book!


What motivated you to write in the spiritual self-help genre?

I’ve always been very spiritual, and I got into the self-help genre about 12 years ago when I became very ill. That also brought me to a new level of faith. I don’t identify with any one religion, so Llewellyn—a mind, body, spirit publisher—was a perfect fit for me.

Tell us about your new book and any previous books. Any new projects in the works?

My latest book, which is out May 8, is Angel Insights (Llewellyn Worldwide). It’s a 300-page nonfiction book about angels: who they are, how to communicate with them, how to get more help and guidance from angels. I have been interviewing people about their angel encounters for over a decade, and I am also a professional intuitive (meaning I give psychic readings) and work closely with angels in my sessions with clients. I came out with a guided journal in 2015 called Heaven on Earth (Sterling Ethos), and in November of 2016 Forever in My Heart: A Grief Journal (Ulysses Press), releases. I am also working on a series of romantic fantasy novels, but I’ve had to put those on hold temporarily while I write guest blogs to promote Angel Insights.

HighResAngelCoverWhat has been your experience with the publishing process?

Well, I got very close to selling a novel about 15 years ago. I had agents at big houses like Little Brown pitching it at the edit meetings and whole teams of people at a house taking it home to read over the weekend. My agent felt really excited about the book and told me from the beginning it would go to auction (this is the dream: a bunch of publishing houses bidding on your book and jacking up the advance price). After about a year it all calmed down. No one made a solid offer. My agent was wonderful, and so supportive. But really it completely broke my heart. I let the experience devastate me. I got a job at a magazine where I ghostwrote nonfiction stories and found that very safe and fulfilling, and just hid out from the book world for a long time. I don’t look at it as a mistake because everything happened for a reason. I learned a lot about writing at that magazine, and I worked on my health and went deeper with my spirituality.

The genre I was originally writing in, literary fiction, is not my calling. My calling is to help people make sense of their past, present and future as an intuitive, and help them make contact with their spiritual support team—especially their angels. The books I write now are a wonderful compliment to that, where I can touch a large amount of people instead of being limited by a one-on-one session with a client (although I LOVE those one-on-one sessions). It was tough getting back into the book world though, when my nonfiction agent and I sent the proposal around for my 2015 guided journal I had a bit of PTSD, worrying that it would all come to nothing again. But I was wiser, a better writer and more determined this time. And I had the emotional maturity to realize that one “failure” isn’t even close to the end of the world. Writers really require two things: a thick skin, and the ability to pick themselves up very quickly and try again after rejection.

What methods have you used to reach out to your readers (social media? YouTube? tv/radio? book signings/discussions?)

I’m so glad you asked this question! I have a good Facebook following and a decent Twitter following. My husband helps me make my YouTube videos. I’m obviously working all of those to presell and soon sell the book. Also I have a FANTASTIC publicist at my book company, and I am doing an article for Mind Body Green (website) and a series of articles for Beliefnet (website) to promote the book. I’ve also been doing radio shows and podcasts. The great thing about PR is that it works—people seek you out and order your book if they like your podcast or article.

HeavenonEarthI was having lunch with a friend yesterday who is the senior editor at an imprint here in NYC. And we were agreeing that all anyone wants to know anymore is: “How big is the author’s platform?” It’s to the point that you get sick of hearing that word “platform.” Platform is especially important in nonfiction. The author’s platform is how many potential readers they can reach on their own, without the help of the publisher or extra promotion. When agents and editors are looking at an author’s platform, they will grade it based on how many Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest followers the author has. It’s not enough to simply have these accounts open and active. They want to see a large number of followers. Same with YouTube. How many subscribers does the author have? How many views and comments are on the videos? If you have strong ties to a print or online publication—say you are the staff editor of a magazine or have a weekly online blog on a big website—that will also reflect very favorably on your platform. And of course if you’ve published books that sold well in the past those figures are a slam dunk for your platform. Publishing is getting more and more competitive, and publishing companies are struggling more than they have in the past, so they want authors who are sure bets. Authors who are guaranteed to sell. Will they take a chance on someone with no platform and a great manuscript? Yes, they will do this for a certain number of authors every year, but I fear that number is getting smaller and smaller. This is different with fiction. In the fiction market a good, sellable manuscript is still king. Of course how well or not well your previous fiction books have sold counts enormously. It can be frustrating if you just started an FB author page and struggled to get 500 likes from friends and family. Don’t get discouraged. But do push yourself to try and increase that platform as much as you can, even if you are a fiction author. Buy some Facebook ads to attract people to your page who like the subject you write about. Pitch articles that are a tie-in to your book to big websites. Or if you are a fiction author enter contests, apply for grants and publish in literary journals.

What’s your writing process like?

I don’t really have writers’ block, which I know is very real for some people. I think that is partly from working at newspapers and magazines for so long where there were very tight deadlines. There was no time for writers block. Also, I’m a pretty outgoing person and a natural risk taker, so I’m not the type to be shy about showing my writing or afraid I will write the “wrong thing.” In the past few years since I’ve been writing books again, I find I start planning the book in my mind and take detailed notes for several months before I start writing, and before I get my agent involved and start thinking through a book proposal (if the book is nonfiction). I’m in that process now of planning and note taking for my next nonfiction book, which will be about what I’ve learned as a professional intuitive.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those hoping to write a book?

Yeah, just go for it! Think of how many times you read a book and hated it, or picked up a book at the store and thought, “This idea is so simple.” Look at the whole thing, including the publishing process, as an adventure. And remember being a writer is only one part of your life, and fame, on any scale, doesn’t always have much to do with talent or hard work, so don’t judge yourself if things don’t work out the way you hope. Have fun with it! The book inside you could inspire someone else or even change their life.

Thanks again to Tanya!

To preorder Angel Insights for yourself or anyone who is curious about angels, here’s the Amazon link:
amazon.com/Angel-Insights-Inspiring-Spiritual-Guardians/dp/0738747955

Also, if you’re interested in receiving a one-on-one intuitive reading from Tanya, check out this link to learn more:
http://tanyablessings.com/angel-readings-with-tanya/

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Some people go out of their way to help others and it can make all the difference. Last month I met Susan Sofayov at a writing conference. Besides being willing to share writing tips and information, she impressed me with her generosity and kindness. Susan offered to read my friend’s children’s book manuscript at our table over lunch so she could discuss and give immediate feedback. My friend was so appreciative and happy for that time.

As I talked with Susan more, I learned that she wrote her book, Defective, with the same generous spirit. Through the story, which is about a young law student who is diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, Susan gives insight into the mind of a person battling mental illness. Susan told me that she wanted readers to understand that “though not curable, mental illness, in many cases, can be controlled and people with mental illnesses are everywhere, living productive lives.”

I think we all know someone who is living with mental illness (whether ourselves, our family or friends) – it is such an important issue in our society. Susan’s book helps the reader to understand better and empathize more.

Find out more about Defective on its book website and on Facebook. For musings from Susan, follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Sofayov


Where is your home base? 

I grew up in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, but I’ve lived in Mt. Lebanon for the last fourteen years.  I’ve also lived in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv.

DefectiveBookCoverTell us a little bit about your writing life – how often do you write? Do you have a writing routine?

I wish I had a routine!  My husband and I run a real estate development/management company, which takes up more time than I would like.  Lately, when I can eke out an hour or two of writing time, it’s spent revising.

I refer to myself as a monogamist writer.  Unlike some writers who have multiple projects going at any time, I work on one piece until it’s declared finished, which means I can’t stand looking at it anymore. The project I’m currently querying is called the Kiddush Ladies.  The best way to describe it is a Jewish, Steel Magnolias, only darker.

Tell us about what inspired you to write Defective? How long did it take you to research and write it? What was your writing process like for this book?

A combination of events inspired me to write the book, but the most important was my own diagnosis of bipolar II disorder at age 46.  I wanted people to understand that, though not curable, mental illness, in many cases, can be controlled and people with mental illnesses are everywhere, living productive lives. If you read the book and see yourself in the main character, Maggie, please get help.  You owe it to yourself and the people who love you.

I guess you could say I researched for almost forty years and wrote the book in two months. The revising and polishing took over a year. This was the first thing I ever wrote outside of grant proposals, so I had a lot to learn, especially about back story and passive voice.

What was the publishing route for this book? Did you have success right away with your query being accepted?

I sent this book out to agents too early.  It wasn’t ready so I received a bunch of rejections. Once it was ready, I participated in a pitch event on SavvyAuthors.com and received three serious requests.  In the end, I decided to go with Black Opal Books, a small boutique press.

What advice do you have for other writers who are hoping to get published?

Join a critique group, go to conferences, learn the rules of novel writing and publishing, and grow a very thick skin. I’ve seen a lot of writers who take critiques of their work very personally. Other writers who offer to critique your work generally want to help. If you enter a critique situation wanting to only hear good things, you’ll never grow as a writer.  When I went to my first conference, an editor painted my manuscript with red ink.  A year later I saw her at another conference and practically hugged her. Her insights led me to a contract with a publisher.

 

Thank you to Susan for sharing – and thank you for stopping by the blog!

 

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Pittsburgh. It was my first conference and I was not disappointed. I felt like I was really part of a community of like-minded people, all gathered to share and learn. In addition to attending several panels led by editors and agents, one of my favorite parts of the day was meeting fellow members who have successfully published their work.

Several of these published authors brought their books to sell and as I walked by the tables, one book in particular caught my attention because the author had set out a binder of her research materials. As a history buff and historical fiction fan, I was drawn to this binder of newspaper clippings, transcripts, photos and other examples of investigation and discovery. The book is called Prisoner 88, based on the true story of 10-year old prisoner in Idaho during the 1880s. The author is Leah Pileggi.

Thank you to Leah for taking the time to share some of her insight into writing books, her road to getting published and advice for all of us on the journey.

Learn more about what Leah is up to on her website and on Twitter.


Where is your home base? 

I live in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, but I grew up in Kane, Pennsylvania, the “Ice Box” of Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny town in the middle of the Allegheny National Forest, and it’s generally the coldest place in the state. And I thought everybody grew up watching logging competitions!

Tell us a little bit about your writing life.

I generally write in my study next to bookcases stuffed with children’s books and writing resources and story ideas. I write every day, but the amount varies. When I’m in the middle of a book project, I generally work on that first. I might also write a journal entry, a Facebook post, a letter to the editor. This morning, I wrote a dialogue between two of the characters in my novel just to see how they would talk about a certain subject. It might or might not become part of the book.

Prisoner88_Final_CVR_300 (2)What inspired you to write Prisoner 88? How long did it take you to research and write it?

Prisoner 88  was a story that was waiting for me to find it. I heard about a 10-year-old prisoner in the 1880s when I took a tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise. Nobody had researched the boy, so I got to do all of the digging. I worked (from Pittsburgh) with the Idaho Historical Society and consulted lots of experts:  hog farmers, an Idaho judge/historian, an Old Pen historian, and descendants of the boy. I studied Mormon publications and histories of Chinese in the Old West. I read newspapers from that time and the trial transcripts. There was no record of how the boy survived his time in prison (for shooting a man in a saloon who had threatened to kill his father), so I wrote my version of how this boy might have survived. The whole project was probably five years from writing the first word until publication.

What was the publishing route for this book? Did you have success right away with your query being accepted?

I’ve never sent out a query. I think I had sent this manuscript out once and gotten it rejected. But I was sending out other manuscripts and getting loads of rejections. I almost gave up on children’s writing. I decided to send what I felt was my best manuscript (Prisoner 88) one more time, and then I would pursue journalism. I found that Emily Mitchell from Charlesbridge was accepting submissions (I read it in the SCBWI Bulletin in the publication column). It seemed like a fit, so I wrote a heart-felt letter, printed out the manuscript and sent it off.

Two weeks later, I got an email from her, and I thought, “Well, on to journalism.” Her email began, “Thank you very much for sending me your manuscript, Prisoner 88. Now relax – this is not a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.” She went on to say that she loved it and they were putting together an official proposal for acquisition. I called my husband, and he thought I was having a stroke! I rode my bike around the neighborhood aimlessly. I probably cried. Prisoner 88  was plucked from the slush pile. It really can happen.

What advice do you have for other writers who are hoping to get published?

Read everything you can in the genre in which you’re writing. Know what’s out there. Don’t imitate but learn from authors that you love. Read carefully. Look at structure. Read their work out loud. Read your own work out loud. Even if the dog thinks you’re nuts. Get feedback from writers. Friends are great, but you need input from people who have studied writing, so find a critique group. If you’re stuck, start something new, just to refocus your brain. Then go back. Get perspective. Go to writing conferences (check carefully what is being offered – they are not universally worth the money). Focus your energies on the writing process.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two books, both set in Pittsburgh. One is middle-grade nonfiction about the Fort Pitt Block House. The other is a contemporary novel—working title Looking for Louise—a story of an 11-year boy whose world is falling apart. It deals with divorce and friendship and with race relations today and in the 1950s. Pittsburgh icons Teenie Harris and Porky Chedwick both make appearances. Both books are close to being finished, but I haven’t sold either one yet. Fingers crossed.

 

Thanks for stopping by the blog!

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Rhyming can be tricky in children’s books and that’s because it’s challenging to get a natural flow and rhythm. But when rhyming is done well, it works and kids love it. For example, in my opinion, here are three books that use rhyming effectively: Iggy Peck, Architect  by Andrea Beaty, Baby Danced the Polka  by Karen Beaumont and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site  by Sherri Duskey Rinker.

Another rhyming book that works is Dinosaur Boogie, the newest project from Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, a children’s author and freelance writer based in the Pittsburgh area. I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth to learn more about her new book and her love for the process of self-publishing. She also shared some words of advice for aspiring writers.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her work, visit her website. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too. If you want to order Dinosaur Boogie, head to this link. Thanks, Elizabeth!


Dinosaur BoogieTell us all about Dinosaur Boogie.

Dinosaur Boogie  doesn’t have much of a plot but it has a purpose: get young readers moving and grooving like dancing dinosaurs. The text is written in rhyme intended to evoke song lyrics and the illustrations by Felix Eddy seem to dance right off the screen. This book is only available as an ebook on Kindle right now and I loved using the pop-up text feature to add dance move prompts for kids to try.

What about this book’s theme inspired you to write it?

My self-published books are largely inspired by my children. My oldest has been a dinosaur fanatic since he was little and long ago asked me to write something about his favorite extinct creatures.

Tell us about how you go about publishing your books? Traditional publishing, self-publishing – and why?

I actually really enjoy the process of self-publishing. It’s not as intimidating as many people think it is. I love making a connection with an illustrator, working on concepts and layouts together, fine-tuning my text and finding an editor to review and revise it (pro tip: ALWAYS hire a great editor to review your writing!) and then working with a graphic designer or on my own to lay out a book for publication. I have helped other authors bring a book idea to self-publication and love the feeling they have when they see their work completed. The traditional publishing industry is still an extremely powerful and valuable piece of the writing community, but there is also a place for well-written and targeted self-published works. My books have helped me build my network, expanded my workshop audience, and helped me develop wonderful new professional relationships as well as contribute to my writing income.

What advice do you have for other writers who are hoping to write a book?

There is so much excellent advice out there, but I think all writers can benefit by identifying their goal. Just like in running (which I do as often as writing), you need to know what you’re training for and working to achieve. That can help keep you focused and on track. Do you want to sell a book to a traditional publishing house? Or do you want to write a book for your family? Goals are so important so that you can celebrate successes when you reach them.

What was your writing process like for this book?

Lots and lots and lots of revision on the text. Though there are very few words in this book, I worked on the rhyme and rhythm for many months.

 

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If you love the sci-fi genre, then this Author Spotlight is for you. If you love books set in a dystopian future, then you’ll love Scott T. Barsotti’s upcoming novel called SINGLE VERSION.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Scott, a Pittsburgh-born and raised author and playwright who recently moved back to the ‘Burgh after living in Chicago for many years. In this Author Spotlight, Scott tells us all about his upcoming novel and the relatively new route he’s taking to get it published. Plus, he gives some great advice about what you need to do to finally finish writing a book.

I already pre-ordered his book and you can, too, via this website. To learn more about Scott, visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @barsots. Thanks, Scott!


sv cover 2editTell us about the plot of your book.

My novel SINGLE VERSION is a sci-fi novel with horror elements set in a dystopian Chicago. In this world, C.U.R.E., a massive private paramilitary company, has effectively replaced the police force in all major cities, and the general public is almost fully armed. At the same time, the population of cockroaches has exploded worldwide. The story is told through the eyes of a young man whom we’ll know only as “Palazzo,” a willfully unarmed pacifist. Unprotected in an increasingly perilous world, Palazzo is also severely entomophobic, making the very ecosystem that surrounds him a source of creeping, crawling dread.

The book begins with Palazzo taking us through what is a typical day for him in this Chicago. He goes to work as a counselor, has unnerving encounters on the train, survives run-ins with groups of armed businessmen, and kills some cockroaches along the way (just a few of the quadrillions). He goes to the bank. He feeds his cat. But this day, there are some strange differences: a woman he meets in the afternoon is gunned down in front of him and hundreds of bystanders later that day, and a stranger gives him a flyer for a clandestine group that call themselves “Unarmed Citizens.” Meanwhile, the news becomes more haunting and unreliable by the minute, and C.U.R.E.’s influence expands rapidly into all aspects of daily life. In the days, weeks, and months that follow, Palazzo tries to maintain some shred of sanity and normalcy as society erodes around him. He loses family. His co-workers disappear. And if he listens closely enough, he hears increasingly ominous sounds emanating from unknown sources; at times, it seems as though the sky is screaming.

Palazzo soon learns that his neighbor, Simon, is a member of “Unarmed Citizens.” He attends a meeting with Simon, which sets into motion a series of events that will put him in the unlikely position to change C.U.R.E., and therefore society, from the inside out.

What about this sci-fi genre appeals to you?

Sci-fi and horror are both genres that are about possibilities, and that’s very exciting to me. As a reader I’m drawn to these speculative genres as well. These genres can really ignite the imagination for both author and reader, but they also have a unique ability to peer into the human condition. No matter how high the concept gets, a good story is always honest and accessible. Sometimes adding a layer of the fantastical helps us dive deeper into a difficult topic.

How and why did you make the transition from being a playwright to a novel writer?

I actually started out writing fiction, mostly short stories. What I consistently got the best feedback on was the dialogue in my stories and the way I built character through conversation and interaction. That feedback led to trying playwriting, which then has become an entire career for me. When I was in grad school I tried twice to write novels but didn’t push through to completion on either of them. I had more success with plays, finishing them as well as finding an audience for them. So this novel is, in a sense, a return to my writing roots. I still primarily consider myself a playwright, though.

Tell us about Inkshares and why you chose this route for publishing your novel.

Inkshares is a relatively new publishing enterprise that operates in a manner similar to Kickstarter. You kick off a campaign for your book and then try to attract pre-orders through a combination of appealing to your own network as well as building a following through Inkshares social features. If you hit your pre-order goal, the book is published. Inkshares has the production, distribution, marketing, and editorial capabilities you’d expect from any publisher, they just democratize the process of how they select/publish works. Traditional publishing works for some people but a lot of authors have trouble making connections there (even writers with an MFA like myself) and desire to connect more with readers before publication. That’s a big reason I went this way. I want to share the book with readers immediately (after a few more rounds of editing of course); this process seems to me to offer more active engagement with the people who will be reading my book in its first run, rather than dealing exclusively with folks in the publishing world. It requires you to put yourself out there in a different way that’s scary and exciting.

What was your writing process like for this book?

I like to have big blocks of time with which to write, somewhere in the range of 3-6 hours in a sitting. If I can’t set that aside, I’ll instead read something I recently wrote, or sketch something out, maybe do some research. When I’m sitting down and writing something new I like to make an event of it and have those big chunks of time, that’s when my creative energy gets to flow. I have kids, but even before they were in the picture, I’d do a lot of writing on weekends, or after 9pm. I’m most productive after the sun goes down. One thing I did differently with this book is I wrote it out of order. When I’m writing a play I often write scenes more or less in order. With the book I jumped all over the place.

What advice do you have for other writers who are hoping to write a book?

KEEP WRITING. The hardest part of finishing a book is finishing the book. I generally am not a writer who writes every day–which is the approach of many writers–but I do interact with my writing in some way every single day. If I’m not generating or editing I’m researching or promoting. I’m always doing something. I read a lot of articles and essays to keep my mind awake.

Writing a book takes a long time and you have to be patient with yourself. Don’t edit it to death before it’s done. A lot of a first draft won’t be very good but once you have it all down, even in skeletal form, it’s easier to work with it, rewrite, supplement, trim down, revise. When you have a complete draft, you learn so much about your characters and the world you’re creating, you really get a sense of your story’s shape and scope, what elements you need, what you don’t need. For me that whole process is infinitely smoother when the ideas are out of my head and down on paper. But you gotta finish the first draft, the fun really begins once you crawl out of that swamp.

Any last thoughts or words that you’d like to express?

PLEASE consider pre-ordering SINGLE VERSION. I’m currently entered in a contest through Inkshares that’s sponsored by the media brand Nerdist and ends on September 30. I’m in the top 10 in the contest (out of over 300 entries) but it’s massively beneficial to me to finish in the top 5. Basically, it fast-tracks the publication of my book and opens it up to other cool opportunities. Visit my project page, and consider pre-ordering today!

 

For more Author Spotlights, click on the authors below:

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