The next author to be saluted in our Eastern North Carolina Facebook Group is a fellow with a delightful name. The name itself has a history, I’m sure. Dean writes history about people and things that are connected to his family. So who cares, you might wonder. You will because he is related to people of note in the United States. One book is about ancestors of his who were part of the Hatfield/McCoy bloody feud.
But this book is about his family’s connection to Native Americans. Check it out.
I have not been posting in the past few months because I’ve been busy writing books and organizing events. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. My latest book is a collection of short stories that were chosen for inclusion in the Next Chapter Literary Magazine for the past three years. But I also have been writing other stories and taking care of my sick husband, who is now as close to thriving as a 83-year-old can be after suffering from sepsis pneumonia last November.
The title of the book is Little Bits: A Collection of Short Stories, and it is now available through Smashwords and other ebook publishers.
So now that I’ve accomplished that, I’ll be back to writing about the books I’ve read and reviewed because, yes, I’m still doing that. Some of the books I’ve read most recently are by the authors who participate in the Authors’ Sunday events I’ve been organizing at the New Bern Farmers’ Market. So look for an eclectic group of reviews.
Erika has traveled to and lived in many countries because she thinks the world is cool. Starting at age 18, she has lived in, or traveled to, 30 countries. Before she settled down to raise her family and publish her books, she worked as an au pair. Now she’s focusing on teaching children about at least some of the places she’s lived and traveled.
Her first book, Mission to Australia, is about an intrepid foursome of young travelers visiting Australia. The group of children is interesting in its own right since one of the travelers must use a wheelchair, but is undaunted by difficult places to access. The group represents many different cultures and ethnicities.
Questions for Erika
What compelled you to dream of visiting and living in different countries? Honestly, I have no idea. I did not grow up around people traveling to other countries. I just thought it sounded interesting and after visiting my first country, I enjoyed learning about the culture, history, and seeing the new sites so much that I wanted to see as many as possible.
How did you become an au pair? What hoops did you have to jump through to? There was a program I found online. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the details, but I know I requested to be an Au Pari in Spain. I believe I was provided with some information about families who were interested in me, and it was up to me to select. My grandma spoke Spanish so she spoke to them, and that was it. I requested the time off with my boss and I headed to Madrid.
Did you have a friend who inspired you? Or did a book lead you in that direction? Neither. I did not have any friends or family who traveled abroad. In fact, several of my families asked me why I wanted to go out of the country. I really have no idea what inspired me. I’m assuming seeing certain movies or pictures of places around.
Did you have to convince your parents that it would be safe for you to pursue this dream? Yes, but I was 18 when I first traveled, so there wasn’t much they could do to stop me. So, they chose to support me instead.
How did you pick the countries you wanted to visit? If you’re referring to Spain specifically, I didn’t do a lot of research. I just knew I wanted to go and since I had the program looking out for me, I thought it was a safe option. For countries since Spain, I research how safe it is, the best time to travel based on the weather, and what sites I want to see / experiences I want to have (i.e., all tourist sites, more cultural experiences, art, etc.)
What research did you do about the countries you wanted to visit?
I chose Spain because I believed I was Spanish (only recently learned I am Mexican) and I wanted to learn more about my heritage. After that, I started looking into the countries that I had heard about from people I have met on my travels, through people I have met through FB/FB groups, and now through my travel podcast.
What were your duties? It honestly wasn’t a good experience, so I usually don’t go into details as I don’t want to deter others from doing it. I honestly don’t believe my situation was the norm. I was supposed to teach the children English, but I only did this once. The rest of the time was spent cleaning and taking care of the kids. I believe my host family took advantage of au pairs, unfortunately.
Do you still keep in touch with the families? No.
Did you stick to just English-speaking countries? If not, did you already know the host country language? I spoke a little Spanish because of what I had learned in high school, but I was not fluent. I definitely spoke better Spanish when I came back though!
When you decided to be an author/publisher, did you go to school to learn how? My degree is in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing. I did not go to school specifically to be an author/publisher. I spent a long time doing my own research, joining author/publishing groups, taking online courses, and asking a lot of questions. Luckily, there are some authors/publishers who are happy to help new authors/publishers.
And do you plan to do more traveling with your family? What was your son’s reaction to visiting other countries? I believe you said he’d already visited two. Oh yes! We just got back from two weeks in Ireland. He had a wonderful time and came back with so many memories and experiences. When we asked him his top three experiences, he could only narrow it down to eight. Now we talk about him possibly doing summer camp in another country. We still have a long time to think about that, but that’s how much he loved the experience.
My son was only five when I first took him out of the country, so he doesn’t remember it as much, but he loves looking at the pictures and I know it’s helped to make him interested in other countries and cultures.
What is the next book in the series? Ireland!
And, lastly where are you and your family going next? This is tough because we keep getting different ideas, but I think it’s going to be southern Italy.
My usual way of writing a book is to think out the blot in my head and then write it down, editing as I go. That way I have the skeleton of the story already to roll. Then as I write down what I’m thinking I go back and catch as many errors as I can.
That’s how I wrote my first two novels, Terror’s Identity and Emily’s Ride to Courage. The process took several years each, but I had pretty clean copy to send to the publisher. Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect and errors do slip in.
As I was writing those books, I had my critique partners look at each chapter and give me ways to improve the story. Since my husband and I moved half way through the writing time, I not only had my Maryland critique group help me, but then my North Carolina group weighed in. Thanks to them all.
Also, while I was writing the stories, I did the research to make sure the stories rang true. What? You didn’t realize that fiction authors have to do research? With my first published novel, Terror’s Identity, I had the main character move from very-high-scale Lake Forest, Illinois, to not-even-close-to-high-scale Dundalk, Maryland, because I follow the old adage of get your main character into trouble and then make the trouble worse. I also had to research whether the U.S. Secret Service had anything to do with investigating terrorists groups in our country. Fortunately, one of my neighbors worked in the Secret Service and was very helpful.
For Emily’s Ride to Courage I had to research more than I already knew about horses; easier, in a way, because we were living on our horse farm and I have studied about horse almost my whole life. Still, I had to make sure I had the medical parts correct. (Thank goodness for a friendly vet.) I also had to research American medical services being provided by Army personnel in Afghanistan where Emily’s mother goes missing.
Now on to how I wrote my third novel, Earthquakes. In November of 2018 I decided to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of that year’s NaNoWriMo contest. Not something a manic person should ever do. Especially someone like me who likes to edit as she goes. But I put my editing aside and plowed ahead, writing 50,235 words by November 26th. (Good thing my handsome devil knows how to cook and is very supportive of my writing endeavors.)
Then I took a couple of days to bask in the glow of having accomplished my goal and to get my heart rate down to normal. Plus getting some much-needed sleep.
The next challenge was to see how much of the story made sense, where I needed to do research. Since the story takes place in 1942 Hollywood, CA, and though I was indeed alive and living there, I was only a bit older than one year. The people in my birth family couldn’t be of much help, being either dead or extremely forgetful, I had to go to history books and the internet. I also unearthed the family photo albums.
Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think. Sarah
Then my critique groups and said Handsome Devil, told me what was working and what wasn’t. When it was done and people had given feedback, I sent the manuscript off to my favorite editor, Teresa Crumpton of AuthorSpark. She’s never steered me wrong and is a font of advice and information.
Fast forward to October 2019 and I sent the manuscript to a small indie publishing house that promptly turned me down. In part, they turned me down because I hadn’t edited the book as carefully as I should have. Though they kindly said it was too intense for their house.
Then I sent it to Jera Publishing and they expertly formatted the story for publication and designed a dynamite cover. But the editor there has the patience of Job, since she has cheerfully made the changes I found each time I looked at the manuscript and hasn’t charged me a dime more. Even when the manuscript was sent to IngramSpark for printing, I found more errors. Now I think I’ve caught them all and the book will be a physical presence in hard copy and eBook formats on January 30th. But I will never write a book that way again. It’s best for me to plod along correcting as I go, so I’ll go back to plodding and keep the manic part at rest.
Writing the perfect opening is
hard work. I’m reading a spy novel at moment because that’s the only way to
learn a genre. I’m not a big fan of the author’s style of writing, but this is
not the first book I’ve read that uses this format.
The book is Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich (2009,
Doubleday/Random House, ISBN 978-0-385-52407-0) and is the second in a series
about a doctor named Jonathon Ransom, who actually isn’t spy, but his wife is.
Anyway, the opening scene is a news announcement on Reuters news service
of a car bomb explosion, then the action centers on Jonathon Ransom for a
couple of pages.
And then the reader goes to Chapter 1, which describes in great detail
an exclusive apartment building in a ritzy part of London, where the reader follows
the intrigue of an intruder into one of the apartments. The owner of the
apartment is murdered by intruder and then the detective who investigates what
is considered a routine suicide determines is actually a murder.
Then we jump back to Jonathon and along the way get a detailed
description of the workings of a ultra-secret spy organization in the U.S. In
my view, there are a great many details that could have been left out, making
this a much tighter and compelling read.
But I’ll continue to read so that I can understand what sells in this genre
and how not to fall victim to this style of writing.
In the meantime, I have to figure out what’s going to work for my young adult
spy/murder/romance historical fiction book set in 1942. At the moment, the
title is EARTHQUAKES because it’s set in Los Angeles and my Jonathon has nightmares
about the devastation an earthquake can cause. But also because of the
metaphorical earthquakes Jonathon is experiencing in his young life.
The family has just learned their maternal grandfather died on Corregidor, Philippines and their father is now missing. Both men are Marine Corps officers and Naval Academy graduates. There’s one earthquake.
Earthquake number 2 is finding their next-door neighbor stabbed to death
in his house. Plus, people keep breaking into Jonathon’s house to find some secret
I’ve tried several openings, such
as having Jonathon wake up one morning from yet another earthquake nightmare
and have to rush to get ready for school. First, though, he’s feel pressure to
calm down the daily fight between his older brother and their mother about why
he should or should not quit college to enlist in the military to save America
from the invaders.
My editor says that publishers reject stories that start with dreams or
with the protagonist waking up.
Also, I shouldn’t start with the first word being a sound. In this case “whump,”
because his brother is pounding on the kitchen table below Jonathon’s bedroom.
One of my critique group women wants me to have a real earthquake
described in the first page or two, but that’s not what I want. I want to focus
on the metaphorical aspect.
At the moment I’m stuck, but I’ll keep mulling it over in my head and it
will come to me. In the meantime, I’ll working on making the rest of the novel
perfect. Or as close as possible.
I think the first paragraphs in my other two novels are good and
compelling set ups. Terror’s Identity starts out with:
sixteen, guys are supposed to tough, right? But when Mom
pounds of the
stairs to our bedrooms shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,”
tough is not what I feel.
My second novel, a middle-grade horse book, Emily’s Ride to Courage, starts out with:
Usually, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass and the
of a tractor cutting a hay field perks me right
Not this time. This time I only feel dread.
I hope those make you want to read
further. Thanks for reading. And, as usual, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah
I’m reading a young adult to review. The story line is decent, but the grammar is atrocious. The usual modern day practice of using a singular subject and plural object. “She put her books on their desk” kind of wording. Makes me cringe. But now, we’ve got the ambiguous gender language thrown into the mix. People who really aren’t sure what they are: male? female? a little bit of both?
So we end up with saying things like “She looked at Gingerpuss and kissed them on their lips.” Huh? Makes me visualize a three-headed person.
Couldn’t we come up with something that explains the concept without butchering our language too much?
Am I the only person who finds this annoying and confusing? Let’s all try to come up with a more compelling term that is at least marginally within the rules of correct grammar?
I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our already confusing language without adding this kind of fallderol.
That’s my rant for the day. Aren’t you glad it is a short rant?
For some of us 2018 was not a wonderful ride, what with bad health and bad weather. But we survived and even had moments of great happiness. I hope for you it was a fulfilling year.
But now we have the bright shining adventure called 2019 before us, where the plans we’ve made and the plans we will make still have the potential to be fulfilled.
For me, it’s the joyful grind of revising and polishing the rough draft of a novel that I wrote during the month of November. All 50,829 words of it. Revising is hard work, but so fulfilling because what I end up with is much better, shiny with promise. I can improve the flow. I can check to make sure I got the facts correct. Yes, even in a novel, the facts have to be right.
For instance, one of my critique partners pointed out to me that bananas would not be readily available for a teen-aged boy to eat in 1942 Los Angeles. So, I had to see what would be available. I “googled” availability of bananas in L.A. and found a photo of a big white blob in a night sky with thick streaks of light appearing to emanate from it. Well, if you use your imagination, you might think this looks like a bunch of bananas. But if you’re imagination is this good, why aren’t you writing stories? Turns out it’s not bananas, nor is it a UFO. But the big white blob in the middle is a weather balloon being spotlighted because somebody thought it was a Japanese war plane come to bomb the city in February 1942.
Careful, Sarah. Finish this novel before you start another.
Anyway, now Johnathon eats a handful of strawberries grown in his own yard.
I also have to make sure the experiment he does in chemistry class is actually a believable experiment. The one I put down at first was having him slowly heat up powdered potassium until it melts and then add vinegar to see what happens. Well, I can’t find that such an experiment is possible. From what I can find out, potassium would just burn, rather than melt. So now I have to find an experiment that will work.
Isn’t that fun? Already, I’ve learned two new things.
I’m pleased to say my “beta” readers are enjoying reading my story, which is tentatively named “Earthquakes.”
What are you reading while you await my latest book?
Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.
These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.
Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe
Rachel Rene Russell
Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.
Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?
My New Crush Gave to Me
Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.
BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.
Illustrated by Tim Wesson
At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys. They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.
BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.
Much as I hate to admit it, this year’s almost done. It’s almost time for the gift-giving holidays. So, I thought picture and chapter books would fit the bill. I’ll mention older kids books next week.
BUT, I also have to mention that my 2nd novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage is, as of today, live on Kindle! “Over the Moon, Alice,” as Ralph used to say in the Honeymooners TV show. I know, I know, he was threatening her bodily harm, but I’m just going to jump that high. It will be out in paper back next Friday through Amazon.
It’s always a pleasure to read one of Mr. Smith’s books. His illustrations are quite charming and intriguing.
A Perfect Day
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Mr. Smith’s beautifully carries along this story about a perfect day. But is the day the same for all the creatures enjoying it? Cat thinks it’s pretty because the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. Dog likes the day because it’s warm and he cools off the wading pool that’s been filled for him by Bert. Chickadee is happy because the bird feeder is full, thanks to Bert. Squirrel, on the other hand, is not as happy because his way to the seed is blocked. Never mind, he finds the corn on the cob that’s been dropped for him by Bert. Uh oh! Here comes the bear, who turns everybody’s perfect day into a not so perfect day. He eats the corn left for squirrel, and bends the birdfeeder pole to get to Chickadee’s seed, and dumps Dog’s wading pool water all over his big brown body. Then he rolls through the flower bed and squishes Cat’s daffodils. Which makes it a perfect day for Bear. Inspired by the loss of a friend, and a bear that visits Lane’s back yard, the book is bound to get lots of readings by children and their readers.
I found the information about Ragdoll cats interesting. An ex-sister-in-law has two of them and she had tried to explain them to me, but this is a much better description.
Adventures at Tabby Towers: Disappearing Darcy
Shelley Swanson Sateren
Illustrated by Deborah Melmon
Part of series about a cat hotel, for cats whose families are going on a trip without them, this story features a Ragdoll cat named Darcy. Ragdolls are large, passive cats that will flop like a ragdoll when held. They are very affectionate and loyal to their humans. Darcy is very unhappy staying at Tabby Towers, because his special friend, Joy, is in the hospital for heart surgery and he’s not allowed to be with her. Joy is unhappy because she’s frightened and doesn’t have Darcy to comfort her. Tabitha Catarina Felinus a.k.a. Tabby Cat is granddaughter to the Tabby Towers owners and loves staying there when she can. She’s worried about Darcy because he won’t stop crying, even though she’s giving him extra attention. Darcy escapes and runs back to his owners’ house in the rain, where Tabby Cat and her grandmother find him. They sneak him in to see Joy and of course the nurses find that Joy’s much calmer holding her beloved Darcy, so they let him stay for a while. There are several lessons about cats and their behaviors gently taught in this book and human behaviors are also hinted at. Nice, sweet read beginning readers will enjoy.
This a part of series that always starts with “Come Home Already.” The characters are well depicted.
Come Home Already!
Illustrated by Benji Davies
Duck wakes up to another glorious morning which he plans to enjoy with his friend Bear. But Bear has gone fishing and he didn’t invite Duck! Can’t be! Bear, however, is quite happy to be off by himself for a change. Duck, on the other hand, is not thrilled with the idea. What’s he to do by himself? He doesn’t want read or paint or cook or play his drums or watch a movie. He misses his friend. Bear, on the other hand, is not doing as well as he planned. He can’t set his tent up, and it starts to rain, and he doesn’t catch any fish. In the meantime, Duck decides to look for bear. Bear is now scared how that it’s dark and he hears noises. The noise is, of course, Duck who helps set up his tent and set things right in his camp. Bear is glad to see him and admits he missed him. After a restful night, the two friends head home. But Bear sighs when Duck says he’ll always be by his friend’s side. Sweet story about friends and when to be quiet.