Review of Paper Souls by Allie Burke

91Omq2as16L._SL1500_From the author of the bestselling genre-defining Enchanters series, comes a new literary tour de force about Emily, a young woman balancing two worlds between her fingertips: the one that is real to her and the one that is real to everyone else…

The question is: which one will she choose?

Never romanticizing what it means to be a twenty-something schizophrenic in a world broken by normalcy and half-baked fairytales, Allie Burke’s latest novel unites Emily and her world at large, spanning from the streets of Russia, to the sheets of her bed, to the idiosyncratic comfort she gets from worlds that don’t exist at all.

Woven with angst and darkness, bursting with heartache, Paper Souls tells of the irreparably damaged and broken, and how they survive.

I finished Paper Souls a few weeks ago. It’s taken me this long to figure out exactly how to review it. Upon gobbling up the last pages, I felt every single emotion all at once. I wanted to write the review right then and there. But…what do I have to say? Everything and nothing. How do you describe something extraordinary with mere ordinary words?

Some authors tell us a story, others show us. Burke injects it into our veins. We don’t meet Emily Colt, we become her; or, rather, she becomes us. And, again, she doesn’t tell us or show us what it is like to have schizophrenia, she gives it to us. From this intimate transferal, she teaches us the most beautiful of lessons…that we aren’t any different than Emily. And from this realization, that we, all of us, some part of us, is Emily, we fall in love with her, and ourselves, and all the beautifully tragic perplexities that make up each of our tortured psyches. Delicately weaved into the pages is a new appreciation and understanding of humankind, of human nature.

The prose is rigid and raw, sexy and disturbing; a deep crimson river of love and heartache coursing through us. The story line is harsh and soft, simple and complex; a perpetual contradiction. And it works so perfectly, magically. Each word, a gift.

Some books are like fast food. This book isn’t meant to be devoured, although it is so deliciously tempting from the outset. The filet mignon of literature, you’ll want to savor each word, each page, each experience. Let the buttery goodness linger, and slip down into your soul. Fulfilling you in a way you never knew words could.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for the unexperienced reader, the innocent human. This book requires a soul to nurture it and appreciate it for what it is – pure unbridled brilliance.

If you think you are ready to experience something you’ve not yet encountered, if you’re ready to let your mind go, pick up a copy. But know, this impeccable writer and this exquisite tale will leave you changed…forever.

Available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

61EW9hVHD4L._UX250_An American novelist, book critic, and magazine editor from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.

Connect with Allie on her website, Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

The Struggling Artist: Obstacles by Arleen Williams

Piece of cake, I thought, when Lisa Stull offered the opportunity to write a guest post on the obstacles faced by writers for her “Struggling Artist” series. My obstacle is obvious to me … I never have enough time. Twenty four hours each day just doesn’t cut it. Not for a full-time job, a writing career, a family and a life that includes time for friends, exercise and reading.

But as I began to formulate my thoughts for this short piece, I had to admit I was often more productive on a daily basis during the academic year when I’m teaching a full load than come June when the long unstructured days of summer stretch before me.

RB62030673127I’m not alone in this. I have writer friends now retired from pesky day jobs who talk of how much more they got accomplished in a day when they were still working full time. Now the To Do list seems to grow with no logical explanation. They have nothing they have to do so why can’t they find the time to get something written? I get this because the same thing happens to me. Each summer, and even during quarter breaks, I make To Do lists that still hold unaccomplished items by day’s end. Even summer’s end.

As I ponder this, I realize the number of hours in a day or week is not the issue. Instead it’s the use of those hours that matters. I am a creature of scheduled structure. When I stick to a schedule, it’s amazing what I can get accomplished. When I let myself slide, when I drink that first cup of coffee and click on the computer before doing my morning exercises, the day begins in a downhill slide.

During an academic term, I am ruled by a clear structure of class and office hours. I struggle to schedule writing, exercise, chores, family, friends into the holes in the day both before and after the work routine. And I’m constantly shifting, trying to find the perfect routine: write before work, exercise after? Or the reverse? I find a perfect rhythm, it’s going like clockwork, then boom, something happens: husband has surgery, in-laws visit, a long birthday weekend in the San Juan Islands. The schedule is shot and so is the writing. Summer arrives and the same thing happens. The schedule is gone and I flounder.

So, flexibility is not my friend. I’m not one of those folks who can pull out a scrap of paper (or the technological equivalent) and work on a novel anytime, anywhere. My solution? Sit at my desk each Sunday year round, summer or winter and plan the week before me, blocking out time for all I cherish, and then, the hardest part of all, garner the self-discipline to stick to that schedule.

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Arleen Williams is the author of three books. Running Secrets, the first novel in the Alki Trilogy, is about the power of friendship in helping overcome the dysfunction of family and life. Biking Uphill, book two of the Alki Trilogy, touches on thought-provoking contemporary political issues including immigration. The Thirty-Ninth Victim is a memoir of her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder.

Arleen teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades. Arleen lives and writes in West Seattle. To learn more, please visit www.arleenwilliams.com.

Connect with Arleen on Facebook and follow her on Twitter

 

 

The Struggling Artist with Author Dave O’Leary

It’s raining again in Seattle. It always does at this time of year. I can hear the drip drip drip outside my window and feel an extra bit of cool from the moisture in the air. It makes me put on a hooded sweatshirt, makes me shiver a bit even after doing so. Having set the clocks back, it’s already dark by 5:00, and that brings with it the temptation to curl up under a blanket on the couch and watch an old movie, something seen before, maybe something funny like Spaceballs, or something with a bit of heartbreak like The English Patient, or something with a good speech at the end like Last of the Mohicans. I must admit I love the bit where they’re on top of the mountain with the wind blowing and the sun going down, and the guy is going on about all the future change to come but implying that none of that really matters because they were once there. They stood on top of the mountain. They lived their lives, played their part. That’s all anyone can do. That’s all that matters.

It’s the artist who thinks otherwise.

It’s the artist who says, “Yes, that’s all true, but just let me get this little thing down.” And the artist hopes that little thing will affect the future, inform the future, maybe even change the future. And that thing might just be a sentence, maybe only a phrase. It could be a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, a chord progression with an accompanying melody. Whatever it is, it’s something that the artist believes has the strength to survive, something that will transcend, something that will live beyond even the mountain and the sunset and the wind.

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And I sit in my basement tonight listening to the rain, and I think about that scene on the mountain where one Native American passes his knowledge on to two white people, the Native American being the last of his kind. It’s gorgeous. It’s meaningful. It absolves. I can relish in the strength it provides, but I can’t rest easy. I can’t simply die happy and content on a mountain after a life of work and struggle and loss and love. I feel compelled to reach for something more. I feel compelled to leave behind something that is not just biology, something that is purely me and yet external.

That’s the struggle for the artist.

And it isn’t about fame or riches or Amazon sales rankings. It isn’t about being on the radio or in the magazines or seeing strangers on the bus reading my books. It’s simply about leaving something behind and having maybe just that one person years from now pick it up and leaf through it to a certain marked passage, pages that nearly fall from the book for the amount of use they get, and after reading, the person closes the book, holds it close, squeezes it as if to wring more meaning from the glue that binds the pages, and says quietly to himself or herself, “Nice.”

As a musician, one sees that reaction right away. In the moment of playing a monster E chord, the crowd erupts. The world ignites. The writer does not see that. The writer has to imagine. The writer has to hope and wonder. The writer has to have faith. The writer has to be like that Native American on the mountain, strong in his belief that he was here, that he worked and struggled and made his life, that he mattered.

That he will matter.

It’s still raining now. My last beer is empty. My girlfriend is upstairs on the couch curled up under a blanket and watching a movie. Down here in my writing room, I notice a spider in the corner, a daddy longlegs. I consider it briefly and let it live. I stand up, walk over to the bookcase. I run my fingers along the rows of books and stop on one, Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense. I flip though it to a marked passage, read, then flip to another marked passage and read some more. I set it back on the shelf next to a Haruki Murakami book and say to all the books, to all the authors whose lives are here, even to my own two books there on the top shelf, “Nice.”

Then I go upstairs. I open a bottle of red and pour two glasses. I give one to my girlfriend. We toast to the rain, to the warmth of the couch, to us. And I silently toast to the struggle, to that other part of the struggle that is not the artist, that is just a man living and sitting next to a woman and rubbing her legs, to remembering that sometimes it’s good to stop writing, to look around, to feel, to love, to simply be, to be able to look at my future kids and grandkids and give them reassurance of my existence, or to reassure them of their own when years from now when I am gone they pull a book from the shelf and say to a friend, “Check this out. My grandpa wrote it.”

The friend will take it then, “That’s cool.” He’ll flip through the pages, will look at the front and back covers, will ask, “Is it any good?”

“I don’t know, but he wrote it.”

dmnet_banner_02Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. His second novel, The Music Book (Booktrope, November 2014), is a collection of the writings O’Leary has done about Seattle bands for both Northwest Music Scene and the now defunct Seattle Subsonic. It is a fictional narrative wrapped around and within the actual music, a story about live music in Seattle and, more broadly, about the power of music in our lives. A CD of the music experienced in the book will be released by Seattle indie label, Critical Sun Recordings.

His first book, Horse Bite (Infinitum), was published in 2011.

Connect with him on his website, Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

The Music Book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Struggling Artist: Writing…You Make Me Question Everything by Caroline A. DeJong

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember being eleven-years-old, creative, inspired, and hopeful. I’ve always had stories to tell; I’ve always lived vicariously through my characters. And I haven’t changed much in thirteen years. At twenty-four, some of my hopefulness has faded, as nothing has come easy, but I’m never giving up, because I know this is my true love. I love writing, but with the trials and tribulations I’ve been through, it makes me question why I chose this path. Let me explain.

I wrote my first, not-very-well-structured screenplay at age twelve. At the time, it was a brilliant masterpiece that I’ll never discard. While there are errors and the lack of character development is horridly blatant, I’m fond of this screenplay because it started it all. It showed me what I could do. At Loyola Marymount University, my screenwriting degree helped me understand structure and how to create vivid characters. I learned so much, but unfortunately, haven’t made a full-time job out of my degree. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity of writing a script for Larry Levinson Productions. My TV movie won’t be coming out this year, sadly, but it’s possible that it might the following year. Cross your fingers for me!

My foray into writing screenplays helped me discover that I wanted to tell stories. I didn’t limit myself to screenplays, however. I’ve written short stories, essays (academic and otherwise), and a novel. The stories I tend to tell are about love. Love is so universal, yet so different for everyone. I like to share different perspectives on love, as I’d hope that every one of my readers will relate in some way.

And that’s why I love to write. I love relating to my characters without having to spill all my guts out on paper. I can essentially hide my pain in a character. That’s priceless… and much cheaper than therapy. Some stories I write are based on personal experience, some from things I notice, and some from dreams. But everything I write about is from a part of me that needs to express all that I see, hear, and know. I’ve stuck with writing because I love to evaluate everything in life. What writer doesn’t?

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But there is a downside to being a hopeless (and hopeful) writer. I think my writing-heavy resume hasn’t helped me in the inevitable job search each frantic twenty-two year-old embarks on. Sure, I’m working with Booktrope to get my first novel published; I’ve written for a production company; I had an essay published as a teenager… but none of that seems to matter in the corporate world. This utterly confuses me. Don’t corporations want good writers? Isn’t writing an invaluable skill? Have I not proven that on my resume? What else can I do to get a job? My writing background might be hindering my job search. But should I give up on my dream (or omit writing jobs from my resume) to find non-creative jobs? I wish I could say that I’ve figured this one out.

But my journey to writing success can’t be stopped, as there’s something beautiful about writing. Writing is the most liberating experience I can think of. There is nothing like it. You can step into someone else’s shoes for just a moment and learn what they go through. Writing makes you expand your horizons. Writing is living. This is where I get my sadness, angst, and frustrations out. I also find peace when I write. While I’ve gone through many trials and tribulations to become a writer, I find that I cannot give up. Who would I be to give up on the one dream I’ve had since childhood? I know it’s my most authentic dream merely because I’ve wanted it since childhood. Children see the world as uncomplicated and unwavering; I knew my goals before I was cynical. That should count for something.

So here’s my advice for all writers (and creative people alike): don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever give up. If this is your dream, and you whole-heartedly believe you’re good at your craft, don’t give up. Your passion should be emulated. Your dedication is amazing. While you’ll hit rough patches, you have to follow your passion. What is life without passion, anyway? I write because it makes me happy. And that is all I can ask for.

If you love to write, write. There’s nothing more uncomplicated than that. Do what you love. You’ll be rewarded. Maybe you’ll question everything before your big break, but your heart will always be in the right place. Trust me.

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Caroline at Stonehenge in May 2014!

Caroline A. DeJong grew up in Washington State. She is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, and currently lives in Los Angeles (to get away from the dreary Seattle rain). She loves reading, coffee, watching TV, and people-watching. She is signed with Booktrope to publish her first novel, These Four Years, a New Adult Romance set in college that delves into love triangles, sorority and fraternity life, and how to survive newfound independence.

Find Caroline’s writing at www.carolineadejong.com.  Follow her on Twitter: @carolineadejong

The Struggling Artist: The Casualties of Writing by Shay West

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

We’ve all heard those words at some point before in our lives. Maybe it was an English class or like me recently, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And most of us discern their true meaning. But there’s also another meaning that I imagine many authors know all too well.

I didn’t set out to be a writer when I grew up. My life revolved around science and nature, though I did dabble in writing when I was in middle and high school. But I never took writing as something I would do forever and ever. I eventually earned a PhD and am now a professor at the same university where I earned my bachelors degree. My job is the best in the world: sharing my love of biology and nature with my students, winter break off, summers off. what’s not to love?

While in graduate school, I had a dream that haunted me even after I awoke. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man and his camel, and the nature of the metal beasts that were bearing down on him as he lay on the scorching sand. The more I thought about it, the more I began to answer the questions in my own mind until I eventually had quite a large scenario. A friend encouraged me to write every detail down and before I knew it, several months had passed and I now had several planets complete with alien creatures with a history all their own. It was exhilarating and exhausting; working on a PhD is bad enough but add writing a novel into the mix? It didn’t leave much time for other stuff.

And that included my husband.

photocatIt didn’t hit me until after the marriage had dissolved just how much he had come to resent my new-found hobby; he was always so supportive to my face, telling everyone about my books and coming to most of my local signings. I tried to include him in all aspects of the writing, asking for advice, for him to read my stuff (he never did), to come to conventions with me (never did that either).

My ex never had any hobbies or at least none that he pursued with any interest. I’ve always had lots of “stuff” going on in my life: undergrad, grad school, friends, family, hobbies. It’s just who I am. I like keeping busy. Writing was just something new that came along. I never planned on it but writing crawled under my skin and refused to let go. Once the flood-gates opened, I had idea after idea pop into my head, characters clamoring to be heard. I finished one book and before I knew it, I was finishing another and another and another.

I’ve heard it through the grapevine since the divorce that my ex left because he never felt like he came first, that I had too much going on, etc. I can’t really deny that as I have always had lots going on. And no, I couldn’t put him first all the time. That’s not to say I never put his needs first but I guess he wanted to be first ALL the time. Could I have put the writing aside, spent less time with my family and friends? *shrug* Of course. But would that have been fair to ask of me? Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on who you ask.

Did my foray into writing kill my marriage? I don’t think it’s that simple. There’s never any one thing that ends a marriage. Did it play a role in the eventual decline? I have to be honest and say yes. Would I do things differently if I could do them over again? Again, with the honesty…no.

I suppose there are people that will laud me for this post and yet others that will deride me. Being married to a writer is definitely not an easy thing and I sincerely applaud anyone who sticks by their author spouse through thick or thin. My advice for those just now taking the literary plunge? Make sure to be honest with your spouse and ask about their feelings on the matter because they might not like sharing you with plot lines, editing, dialog, promoting, social media, conventions, conferences. Does that mean that you have to give up on your dream? Not at all! Our dreams are part of who we are.  Just be aware of the sacrifices that might end up being made because of them.

small author picShay West was born in Longmont, CO and earned a doctorate degree in Human Medical Genetics from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical. Dr. West currently lives in Grand Junction, CO with her two cats. When not writing novels, she plays with plushie microbes and teaches biology classes at Colorado Mesa University. She is the author of the Portals of Destiny series and the Adventures of Alexis Davenport series. She has also been published in several anthologies: Battlespace (military scifi), Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior (fund raiser), Ancient New (steampunk/fantasy), and Horror in Bloom.

Connect with Shay on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and WattPad

The Struggling Artist with Author February Grace

By the age of 38, I had lost my eyesight.

What little remained was of no practical use to me.

I was led everywhere I went.

I set my sleeve on fire on the stove, trying to pretend I could still cook.

My meat was cut up for me, so I wouldn’t have to struggle with the knife.

Don’t even ask me about trying to navigate public restrooms…

There was talk about applying for a leader dog.

Three hospital systems told me that they couldn’t help me. One wanted to let a resident make the attempt.

Then, I found the most amazing doctor with the University of Michigan Health System, and he knew of a surgeon there who specialized in the kind of problems (genetic) that had caused my blindness.

She wasn’t taking new patients, but she agreed to see me.

She also agreed to operate on the left eye (the worst of the two) and told my husband it should take about half an hour. The plan was to remove the destroyed lens that was obstructing anything from reaching my retina and put in an implant.

Things did not go to plan. Not even close.

108 minutes of surgery later (all of which I was awake for—sedated, but aware) she emerged from the O.R. to tell him the good news was that I still had my left eye. I’d almost lost it, and they had no idea if I’d be able to see out of it.

The High Top Pink Converse-polanext day when they took the bandages off, it was like a scene from a movie. They asked me if I could see anything. Painfully I forced my eye open and said, “My shoe is pink.” (I love hightop Chucks, what can I say…) The room erupted into cheers. I could see SOMETHING.

But alas, the plan to give me new lenses. My eyes were too weak and misshapen to support them, and the one they’d put in had to be removed.

All in all, I had six surgeries on my eyes in 2009. Four were for complications. While I was left with some use of my vision using special aphakia glasses (very heavy, thick, and disfiguring) when I have to take them off or in many situations such as bright light, trying to see above/below my glasses, etc. I am legally blind and always will be. Even the correctable vision I have regained has limits: my eyes tire quickly, and it is difficult for me to read or look at a screen for long. Light conditions must be nearly perfect for me to be able to see.

These things would challenge anyone; but they were even more challenging as a homeschooling mom and aspiring writer.

I say ‘aspiring’ because at the time I had only written one novel: by the end of 2009 I was working on my second manuscript but my vision was failing again.

Fast forward to summer 2010, when my whole world, health-wise, fell apart. Long story short, I ended up having eight surgeries unrelated to my eyes and battled a massive infection. 22 days without solid food was part of that hell, as was 33 days of IV antibiotics and a recovery time that took well beyond the year itselfd37b399a43e1b5e086868dc84dfa4a3c.

In addition, my vision started to fail again. In early 2011 I had another (and hopefully my last) eye surgery.

Imagine, trying to write a novel in and among all of that? But that was what I was desperate to do.

Once, while I was recovering from a surgery, I woke in pain in the middle of the night, alone (I was sleeping upright in a large chair in the living room by doctor’s orders) and with my heart pounding.

On the wall nearby was the comforting sound of a three-faced clock I loved, that I set to reflect the time zones of friends near and far. All three faces clicked in unison, ticking away the seconds, and though I couldn’t read the faces to see what time it was, I had a thought occur to me that sparked an entire novel.

As my heart beat along with those ticks, I thought, “What is a heart if not the ultimate clockwork?”

I grabbed the notebook we used to keep track of my medicine doses and scribbled that and a few other notes in there, then somehow, I managed to fall back to sleep.

That is how GODSPEED began, and how I finished it over the next year and a half a bit at a time, surprises even me now.

I had to get creative. I had to listen to the book read to me by a program (Natural Reader is my choice for best voices) then I would speak changes to be made later into my iPod’s voice recorder.

When I couldn’t sleep I’d lay there and dream of story ideas, and I’d write with a giant sharpie on big sticky notes and shoved them all in a binder. I couldn’t read them at the time, but later on, when I went back and deciphered them, not only did they make sense but I ended up using nearly all of them in the book.

It took from that night in the summer of 2010 when the idea was first conceived until spring of 2012 for GODSPEED to become a real book: I published it with the help of friends and a select team of professionals as support in 2012. Then, the book was picked up by Booktrope Publishing and it was re-released in 2013.

So when I say I know a little about struggling to write through challenges, you can take my word for it. With my multiple disabilities, continued visual impairment, and also a battle with Bipolar Disorder and others, writing has been, and continues to be, a struggle since the time I was writing GODSPEED.

Why do I keep doing it?

Because that story felt like it was burning in my heart and would until I shared it with other people—I had to tell that story.

Then came the story of an unlikely pair of Fairy Godparents matched up to work together and my next two novels, both also published by Booktrope, (OF STARDUST and IN STARLIGHT) were born.

I have typed blind at times to finish all my books. Unfortunately I can’t write new content using dictation (my brain doesn’t work that way) so I fumbled through a combination of writing on paper and on the keyboard as I could. Sometimes I wrote propped up on pillows when I couldn’t hold my head up.

Sometimes I was, and still am, too ill to write anything at all, or blocked due to the side effects of medications I must take: and still, I struggle.

There are stories still left to tell, even though I have gone through periods of a year and a half or more when I couldn’t write at all.

Still, I struggle with eye pain and limited sight and still I get creative to try to outsmart my own brain into giving up the words it sometimes hides from me so completely. I know they must be there, because I am still here.

If you are struggling with a physical challenge of any kind that impedes your ability to write but you have the will and desire to continue, I urge you, continue. Even if it’s a sentence in a week. Even if it’s a flash story in a month. Write something. A few lines of poetry…anything to keep you connected to words.

The stories we tell are the threads that bind us all together as humans. Though our struggles vary, the end result is the same, we battle on to do the things that matter.

Your writing matters.

Don’t give up. Keep trying, and take courage.

You never know how it could all turn out in the end.

~February Grace

 

new hat 2 - Copy -  smallestFebruary Grace is a writer, artist, and poet who lives in Southeastern Michigan. She sings on key, plays by ear, and is more than mildly obsessed with colors, clocks, and meteor showers.

 Find out more about her and her writing at www.februarywriter.blogspot.com

…and you can usually find her on Twitter @FebruaryGrace

 

 

 

 

New Name! Booktrope! Writing updates!

If there was ever a time for an update, now would be the time! Friends, fans, strangers, I have some exciting news and updates to share with you.

10568881_967755389917470_3640004102020807304_nFirst, many of you have probably noticed that my name has changed across the interwebs. If you haven’t, well, take a quick gander at the top of your screen. Ah… yes, it’s different ;) The new name marks an exciting new chapter in both my personal and literary life. It was only fitting that my new pen name be representative of the most wonderful and beautiful thing in this world, my fiancé. I am honored that he has offered to share his name with me. Honored that he has offered to share his life with me. He is the most kind, most loving, most supportive partner anyone could ask for. Before I met him, I was good and had a lot of potential. Now that I am with him, I am great and unstoppable. Buddy, thank you, honey, for everything you do for me, for all the love, support, and inspiration. I love you so very much!

Secondly, I am so very excited to announce that I have signed on with Booktrope! Iff279844e25ee5a4abfb93ac79cc0611 am honored to be working with such an immensely talented and incredibly supportive group of artists. Stay tuned for more updates as time goes along. For those not familiar, Booktrope is a hybrid publishing company that bridges the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing. To learn more about them and read their amazingly talented authors, visit their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.

new-writerFinally, I am also excited to announce that progress with Ugly Beautiful is coming along quite nicely.  I hope to have the manuscript completed and ready to be ripped apart by an editor by the end of this year (if not much, MUCH sooner!).

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and living!

2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Interview with Audio Book Narrator Nicol Zanzarella

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Between my recent addiction to listening to audiobooks and the release of my very own audiobook, I have become quite fascinated with the narration and production process.  This week I sit down with friend and narrator, Nicol Zanzarella, to discuss: (1) the benefits of audiobooks and their rise in popularity; (2) producing your own audiobook and how best to work with an audiobook narrator; and, (3) tips and insights on how to become a narrator. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

~ AUDIOBOOKS AND READERS ~

A lot of readers (shockingly!) have not yet tried audiobooks. For me, I love how voice narration can make a story come to life in a completely different way than in written form. Why do you love audiobooks and why should readers give them a try?

You know, I must admit, I do still love and value an actual book of pages in my hand. I am one of those readers who loves to mark up books and underline and make notations when the spirit moves me, even if I am reading for pleasure. I think a love of audiobooks has to begin with a general love for a good story in any form. And certainly, as one who loves her job as a narrator, I think the right storyteller can elevate the experience of taking in a good book. It can really bring another dimension to the process. The other reason I think they provide a great value is actually in relation to your next question…

We live in a busy, busy world.  Audiobooks allow me to read more! I can listen while I drive, do chores, shop, exercise, etc. This is one reason I think we are going to see an uptick in audiobook popularity.  Where do you see audiobooks in the future?

…I agree with you, I see so much room for audiobooks to grow in popularity, and for all of the reasons you bring up. So often, we hear people say they don’t have time to read. Audiobooks allow people to reclaim that time. In this world, when we have to do at least three things at once to be able to keep up on some days, audiobooks not only allow us to catch up on the ‘reading’ we need or want to do, but might even enhance our experience doing those things. I don’t know about you, but sitting in traffic or house-cleaning can actually become fun adventures with a good story weaving its way through your mind. 

~ AUDIOBOOKS AND AUTHORS ~

As an author who has recently put two books into production, I wonder, what do authors need to know (and do) to make working with a producer easier?

I would say that communication is the key. This means an open communication on all fronts: story, tone, characters (their sound and their journey). If you are working directly with the narrator as producer, it is also important to be clear and upfront regarding payment arrangements and time expectations.

Once you feel good that you and your narrator are on the same page – a willingness to trust and let go is also key.

For authors ready to hire a narrator, what should they look for in a narrator before they hire one?

I would say, be sure you are listening for what you really want to hear:

  • Choose a narrator whose voice/sound quality feels like it will match the tone of your story. Pay attention to the style and feel of the voice. Listen to how they work the narration because that is how we view your voice as the author.
  • Listen to the character voices, both male and female. If you have special dialect needs be sure the narrator can handle those needs.
  • It is also important to listen to the quality of the recording. If all of those wonderful performance traits are there and exactly what you’re looking for, you want to be sure your readers/listeners can hear it clearly and without distractions or noises.

In the end, it is your story. We are an instrument used to enhance the telling of that story, and hopefully help your story reach a wider audience. If you stay true to your vision of how it should be told, I think the right narrator choice will be clear.

I used Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to find and hire my narrators. Is this the main forum for this or are there other places for authors to meet potential narrators?

Our industry is evolving, so there are a few ways this can work.

It used to be that narrators would be hired directly through publishers or producers and this practice still exists There is great value in the talent pool and quality of the finished product when going this route.

We now also have the creation of ACX, which is a melting pot of novice and veteran narrators and where the narrator also takes on the task of producing. This is currently the main forum for authors who aren’t working with a major publisher or don’t have a budget for hiring a liaison producer, to hire narrators for their projects. It gives narrators a chance to seek out work from authors as well.

I think you will always find room and ability for communication between authors and narrators, whichever avenue you chose to pursue.

~ BECOMING A NARRATOR ~

I’m intrigued with the process of recording an audiobook. Walk us through how you do it.

I am sure we all have our own little nuances, and particular habits, but the first rule, of course, is to read the book in its entirety before going into the studio. Aside from the obvious reasons of being sure we know the journey of the piece, we also need to do this to be able to have a complete understanding of who our characters need to be and what they sound like. Sometimes we are halfway through preparing the book before we might find a note on the sound of a character’s voice or the kind of accent he or she might have. If you start recording before you have all of that information that equals quite a lot of wasted time for everyone involved. Or a lot of pick-ups at the end of the process…

We usually only have time for one detailed pass through an entire book so, while I am reading, I am marking the text and taking notes on the side.

I mark the text for any notes I need as to how the narration should flow. I am also, at this time, distinguishing the dialogue for each character so that when I am recording, I don’t have to stop and try to figure out who is speaking when and to whom. I look for any words that I might need a definition or pronunciation note for, or any research of that sort.

Simultaneously, I take notes on each of the characters and look for clues that might tell me how they sound (tall, short, muscular, out of shape, from Massachusetts, smoker, smooth voice, etc…) or who they are. If it is a complicated story arc, I might also make some chapter notes.

Lastly, I keep a separate note page for any questions or clarifications I may need from the author or author’s representative. It wasn’t always the case that narrators were in direct communication with the authors so this opens up the collaborative process.

The day before I go into the studio, I review the characters to make sure I am confident in who they are and how they sound. I make one last pass through my notes to be sure all of my questions are answered and then I get into the recording booth and go…

I know a lot of people who would like to do audiobook narration. I would think those who are more theatrical would be best suited for this kind of career (or hobby). What do you believe are some of the pre-requisites for an individual interested in doing this?

Many of the narrators I know come from a variety of backgrounds. Producers will often look for people with a strong theatre resume, experience performing heightened language (i.e. Shakespeare or classical theatre), an MFA, voiceover work, radio or broadcast experience, etc…

These things are not always a prerequisite. Audiobook narration is a different beast than any of them. However, it is imperative that you have some ability to perform, to tell a story, to feel a rhythm and keep people engaged.

Along with some talent for storytelling, narration requires a certain amount of stamina and self-discipline. You are often alone for hours on end talking to yourself in a very small room. You must respect your voice as the instrument it is. You will cut evenings short, give up chocolate and cheese (at least on recording days), cancel on friends hanging out late in a smoky bar (do those even exist anymore?) and you probably shouldn’t scream for your favorite team at a baseball game the night before you are heading into the studio.

Actually, Sean Pratt, a fellow actor/audiobook narrator who offers coaching services for actors and narrators, has a terrific blog post about a ‘test’ he developed for folks who are considering this line of work and I think it really sums up what our daily routine is like:

http://seanprattpresents.com/wanna-audiobook-narrator-first-see-can-pass-test/

I offer that this is not a job for the faint of heart, but if you love and revel in the process, you are more than halfway there.

For those ready to start, what do they need to know and what online (or offline) resources should they look into?

The answer to this question is near and dear to my heart. I will beg your pardon if this sounds like a sales-pitch, but to me, the answer doesn’t make sense without a bit of the story: Bob and Debra Deyan of Deyan Audio (http://www.deyanaudio.com/), multiple Grammy and Audie Award Winning audiobook producers, are the people who gave me my start in this business. Years later, they are mentors and people I consider family. We just recently lost Bob Deyan to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). As a way to carry forth Bob’s legacy of excellence and dedication to our art form, Debra, along with some talented colleagues, decided to form The Deyan Institute of Voice Artistry and Technology (http://www.deyaninstitute.com/).

This is a perfect first stop for anyone who might be ready to jump in. They offer beginner classes on the creative narration process and the technology behind recording (as these days we are both narrator and producer), a well as master classes and workshops for experienced narrators or voice artists, classes on the business aspect of our industry, and even seminars for authors on making your book into an audiobook.

Along with ‘classroom’ education, I recommend really listening to audiobooks; visiting the various websites, blog posts and articles written by narrators, authors and publishers alike; and keeping up with developments in the business practices and technological advancements within the industry. Our narrator community is a wonderfully generous and chatty bunch. You will most likely find some great information and advice this way.

I’m always impressed with the crisp and clear sound quality. I’m assuming narrators must have special equipment?

There are varying degrees of home studio set-ups and types of equipment. Much of this will depend on the kind of space you live in and what kind of budget you are working with. Sound quality is key though, and, in my opinion, should be the first thing taken into consideration before making a decision as to what will work best for your particular space and budget. Some people build a studio in a closet or a room in their home. Others have free-standing isolation booths built into a space in their home or office.

The very bare basics, which also come in various qualities and prices, include and are not at all limited to a condenser mic, pre-amp, up to date computer system that can handle the most current programs, a monitor, and audio production software (i.e. Pro Tools).

~ ABOUT YOU ~

How long have you been a narrator and what made you start?

I have been a narrator for almost three years. It was something I had been interested in for quite some time. I actually grew up around the radio business. My father ran a nzheadshotlocal radio station in the county I grew up in and I would sit for hours and watch the djs talk into a mic. Years later, in my acting life, I had a secret love for reading stage directions for great plays. I loved getting to showcase the overall framework of a play and move, vocally, along with the shifting tones of a piece as it progressed from beginning to “The End.” Sometimes, when it was right for the play, the stage directions would serve as a character in and of itself. The only drawback to doing that job as an actor is that you always want the opportunity to dive into a specific role and act!

Narrating an audiobook is the merging of those ideals for me. I get to tell the story AND dive into the lives of (ALL) the characters. It is indeed my dream job. And when I walked into that studio on my first day I felt a huge piece of my heart open and I just knew I was home.

What do you know now that you wish you did when you first began narrating?

When you start a new job you always worry that there is something you won’t know how to do, or do “properly.” I wish I trusted myself a little more right off the bat. It is only now that I am learning that I don’t have to be afraid of my own style, my own way of doing things. I have a better understanding of my sound, my rhythm, my process, and those places where there is (always) room to improve.

I wish I could have relaxed into “who I am” as a narrator right away. Although, without that road to travel we don’t get to grow into who we are to become. It is such a lovely community of storytellers and we each, all of us, literally have our own voices, our own styles – and in this particular community, we celebrate our differences, make room for our similarities, and learn from one another… it’s a very nice place to belong and I feel privileged to receive such a warm welcome.

Where can readers find books narrated by you?

Please feel free to visit my website: www.NicolZanzarella.com

Or, you can also find my work on Audible.com or iTunes…

Where can authors interact with you about potential new projects?

I would love to interact via email at: infoLittlePest@gmail.com.

You can also find me on Facebook (Nicol Zanzarella StoryTeller) or on Twitter @NicolZanzarella

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Just how happy I am to have connected with you and your work. I truly thank you for being interested in sharing a piece of my story. Have a great day everyone! 

 

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

 

On Marketing: Social Etiquette & Choosing Your Network

Business handshakeOne of your greatest sources for potential new business is your competition. Networking with your peers is absolutely essential if you wish to be a successful entrepreneur. But successful networking isn’t about just building a big following or knowing who to ask for help.

Choose your network CAREFULLY

Be cautious of who you network with, as these individuals, as well as their products and even how they act online, become a part of your brand. Even a simple retweet can say a lot about who you are and the product you sell. Customers and other potential networkers will examine your social media presence to get a feel about who you are, how you interact with others, and that may influence how they feel about your product before they even know anything about it!

I don’t know about you, but I want to be associated with the very best. I want to network with others who inspire me, who take marketing and their craft seriously. People who are in it for the long-haul. So be wary of who you build your brand with. And don’t be afraid to change who compromises that network as time goes along. You must remain flexible, not only in your marketing techniques and business plan, but also in selecting who you consider your partners.

Networking isn’t a one-way tweet

This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. A person who is new to the scene reaches out to you. They are confused. They don’t know what they are doing. They need help. They bat their eyelashes and offer you a cookie. If you are like me, you want to help them (you also like cookies) and, no matter how busy you are, you make time for them.

Then… this person sends a quick “thank you” and disappears from your life completely… until, of course, they are once again the damsel in distress and need your help.

While it isn’t possible to return the favors of each and every single person who reads your words, retweets you, or shares your posts, you should endeavor to remain mindful (and exceedingly grateful) of your biggest supporters, and not only send them your thanks, but also help promote them too!

Until next time,

Happy Marketing!

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Book Review: The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide by Schuler Benson

The Poor Man's Guide - FRONT COVER PROMOTIONALTwelve stories, fraught with an unapologetic voice of firsthand experience, that pry the lock off of the addiction, fanaticism, violence, and fear of characters whose lives are mired in the darkness of isolation and the horror and the hilarity of the mundane. This is the Deep South: the dark territory of brine, pine, gravel, and red clay, where pavement still fears to tread.

The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is the debut collection of stories by Schuler Benson. The stories center on the inhabitants of rural America and for the most part are quite dark and gritty.

The characters and their stories are distinctively simplistic and yet they pack quite a punch, but not in the way you might expect. Often with short stories there is this shock and awe when you reach the end. Here, something different happens. There is a palpable sadness intricately weaved throughout the book with a sprinkle of humor here and there. The heavy impact of the stories sneaks up on you and slaps you right in the face when you reach the end of the collection. It hits you, how very much you loved everyone you met. And more than that, how very much you can relate to these ordinary, everyday people. And you find yourself wanting to start reading it all over again.

It is evident that Benson’s muse threw a noose around his heart; the stories bled onto the page. And it feels as though he has left more than just a piece of himself in each of these stories; he’s left a piece of all of us.

Grab your copy here

Schuler Benson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Kudzu ReviewHobartThe Idle Class, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, a storySouth Million Writers Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, and he placed second in The FallenPortfolio Sky Review’s 2013 Speculative Fiction Launch Contest. He completed his undergraduate studies at University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in the MA program at Coastal Carolina University. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is his first book. You can find him on Twitter at @schulerbenson and on Facebook at /schulerbenson.

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.