I am proud to share this amazing guest blog post from author and poet Kathy Davis for her upcoming blog tour for her book, “Passiflora”, which I will be reviewing on May 10th. Please enjoy this wonderful post the poet shared with us all.
Inspiration and the Cabinet of Curiosities
Imagine a stash of foreign objects that people inhaled or swallowed—by accident or on purpose—and had to have surgically removed from their throat, esophagus or lungs. Buttons, hatpins, bones, nuts, nails, screws, a doll’s eye, dentures, a Christmas ornament, keys, opera glasses, a crucifix and more. You can spend hours exploring a collection of 2,374 of them in the Chevalier Jackson Collection at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, many neatly displayed in drawers whose contents you are welcome to examine.
Jackson was an otolaryngologist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who developed methods for removing obstructions from airways and food passages. He saved and cataloged everything he removed (and the stories behind them)—a quirky obsession (his middle name after all was Quixote). But don’t writers do something similar? I have an equally weird collection of oddities stored in my journals—unusual objects, places or stories I was drawn to record, some of which emerge in my writing, including a few of the poems in Passiflora.
My father inherited a shoebox of photographs taken at a family graveside funeral during the Roaring Twenties, picture after picture of people lined up behind a casket mounded with flowers. But someone had snipped off the top half of each one so that the family and friends gathered were only shown from the waist down and couldn’t be identified. Who was it that the scissor-wielder was trying to hide? Years later, I described the photos in a piece for a fiction-writing class. “That’s so creative!” the instructor said. “Who would take pictures at a funeral?!” I was too embarrassed to say that, well, actually my family did, and tucked the idea away out of shame until a variation of it emerged in the poem “Starlings”: Her own mother careful/to cut faces from the photographs.
“Ruins, Trophies, Palms” was inspired by a warning a friend received from her neighbor that a wolf had been seen just off their country road. “Don’t go outside,” the neighbor said. “It’s too dangerous!” A practical, yet intrepid, person, my friend was skeptical. We don’t have wolves in Virginia. Venturing out, she did find a wolf, but one that a hunter had preserved through taxidermy and was using for target practice. It was full of bullet holes—an image just itching to find its way into a poem.
Not looking where I was going, I collided with a stranger one evening in the French Quarter in New Orleans. When I turned to apologize, I was startled to see a woman who had painted her hair and body white and was naked except for two white ceramic fig leaves glued over her breasts and a white drape from the waist down. She frowned and quickly moved on while I gaped. Later, I saw her posing as a Greek statue in Jackson Square, dollar bills collecting in her cardboard box. Her image emerged in “At the Boundary of Desire.”
The Gospel Chicken House in “Revelations” operated for over 35 years in the county where I live. The owners equipped the long low structure of an old poultry barn with the sound equipment, seating and concession stands needed to hold a Saturday night music ministry for several hundred attendees, most of whom considered it their church. I visited once before it closed to listen to that night’s band and enjoy a hotdog and some pie. Much of the evening’s experience made it into the poem: Welcome to Saturday night live/at the chicken house. Yep, that’s how they opened the show.
There are other little oddities from my “collection” scattered about in Passiflora. The number on the ambulance I followed in “Battle City” was, as described, the unlucky 13. (Who thought that was a good idea?) And Sarah Cannon in “Mrs. Cannon Passes the Parthenon on Her Way Home from Work” truly was a hillbilly comedian on stage and an elegant pillar of Nashville society in real life, a duality that still fascinates me. I don’t have my curiosities stored tidily in drawers like Jackson—they’re jotted down haphazardly in a mismatched assortment of notebooks—but I value them no less. And they help make writing fun.
Kathy Davis is a poet and nonfiction writer who received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her poetry manuscript, Passiflora, won the 2019 Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in February 2021. She is also the author of the chapbook Holding for the Farrier(Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Blackbird, Diode, The Hudson Review, Nashville Review, Oxford American, The Southern Review, story South and other journals. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been a finalist for Best of the Net and the Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction. After raising their two boys, she and her husband moved to an old farmhouse outside of Richmond, Va., where she tends a wildflower meadow when not writing.
“Potentially the difference between a blockbuster and a flop, kid!” Hollywood answered, chewing on a cigar and pouring two fingers of scotch.
In all seriousness, it is unfortunately true that more than a few cinematic gems have been buried by their lackluster titles. A good title, by contrast, can get someone to click on a trailer, read a two-sentence description that can clinch the deal, or fill a theater seat on the power of the curiosity it has inspired alone.
At the very least, a good title gets a moviegoer to ask, “tell me more”… and a really good title gets a moviegoer to say, “Okay, show me.”
And this is why Blake Snyder emphasizes in Save the Cat! – his methodology that revolutionized the language of storytelling – that you are not tasked with simply coming up with a title for your movie.
You’re tasked with giving your movie a killer title.
It’s a mission so important—so absolutely paramount—that we hammer it home in great detail in the “Cracking the Beat Sheet” online course. We also offer an arsenal of tips and pointers because, after all, imagine pouring your heart and soul into writing a story for the ages, pulling every string to get it into the hands of a decision-maker (or at least an intern) at a production company or major studio, only to have them look at the title, and with a “meh,” toss it onto the “maybe later” (maybe never) pile.
Tragedy! One that would ruffle even Shakespeare’s… ruffles! So let’s prevent it!
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
We all know a good title when we read one. But what makes a title good?
Years ago, Blake offered us an important clue to cracking that case. He pointed out that “a good title must say what it is! and yet give us a fresh, intriguing invitation to your party that gives us a hint of the type and tone of the festivities we’re about to attend. And that’s some tight writing right there.“
So as you can see—and as many of us have had the displeasure of experiencing—it’s no easy task, nor is it a small one. And to prove that it’s a task on which even the biggest films may stumble and fall, allow me to share the example we use in the Save the Cat! “Cracking the Beat Sheet” course:
In 2014, Tom Cruise starred in a movie called Edge of Tomorrow, which was phenomenal by both audience and critics’ accounts with a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The premise was basically Groundhog’s Day in the middle of an alien invasion. A man with no combat experience is forced to relive the same day over and over again until he can figure out how to thwart a devastating extraterrestrial attack.
The problem was, none of the excitement of that premise was hinted at or captured with the title “Edge of Tomorrow,” slick as it sounded. And one of the most vocal lamenters of the title’s failure was Doug Liman, the film’s director. He openly blamed this title, which was forced on the film, for the movie’s disappointing box office returns.
“I ended up having to call the person (the Warner Bros. executive) and apologize for pointing out that they were wrong,” he said. “And they started titling it the title I always thought it should have, which is Live Die Repeat. But they tiptoed around it, and when we make the sequel, it’ll be permanently titled Live Die Repeat. The sequel will be Live Die Repeat and Repeat.”
Guess what? That’s a title that says what the movie is.
Hopefully, you’re now fully convinced that a title matters a great deal, and you’re mentally running the “Say What It Is” test on your current script titles.
And if you still only find yourself on the edge of inspiration, we’ve packed our online course with wisdom and tricks to tip you over.
Happy writing! Or shall we say… live, write, repeat!
Jennifer Zhang is a screenwriter and filmmaker who wrote, produced and sold her award-winning debut feature “The Evil Inside” shortly after working with Blake Snyder and adopting Save the Cat! storytelling principles in her screenwriting. She is the instructor featured in the “Cracking the Beat Sheet” online course, and has most recently garnered early festival buzz for her feature-length independent thriller “Charon” which has picked up multiple official selections and “Best Writer” nominations.
About Save the Cat!
Save the Cat!® is the bestselling story methodology introduced by screenwriter Blake Snyder in 2005 with his first book, Save the Cat!. Snyder’s acclaimed ideas, methods, and software have provided thousands of writers with the resources they need to develop their screenplays and novels.
Save the Cat!’s
WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING TOUROFCracking the Beat Sheet
Story Development Cards
Tour Begins February 22nd
First, what is Save the Cat!®?
Save the Cat! provides writers the resources they need to develop their screenplays and novels based on a series of best-selling books, primarily written by Blake Snyder (1957- 2009). Blake’s method is based on 10 distinctive genres and his 15 story beats (the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet). Our books, workshops, story structure software, apps, and story coaching teach you everything you need to unlock the fundamentals and mechanics of plot and character transformation.
About the Save the Cat! Cracking the Beat Sheet Online Course
This course is designed for writers to turn their idea into a movie or novel. This learn-at-your-own-pace online class helps you develop the 15 key “beats” or “plot points” of your story. Strung together, in the right order, these 15 beats make up the blueprint to a successful screenplay or novel.
You’ll Turn an Idea into a Story by Learning to…
• Create a solid beat sheet that will serve as the road map, and “backbone” of your story
• Identify and know the key components of your story genre • Learn the clichés of your genre so that you can break them like an artist
• Plot your hero’s journey and “transformation” • Troubleshoot your story idea for viability
• Write a compelling logline or elevator pitch
This Course Is for Those Who…
• Want to troubleshoot an existing story
• Have so many great ideas and struggle to choose “the one”
• Are ready to write but not sure how to start
• Are determined to finish a half-written story
• Want to learn
This Course Includes…
• Over 3 hours and 17 minutes of original video production
Introducing Save the Cat!®Story Cards, consisting of Save the Cat! Beat Cards and Save the Cat! Scene Cards, all designed to outline and develop your story.
Save the Cat! Beat Cards
Crack your story from the “Opening Image” to the “Final Image.” Save the Cat!® Beat Cards provide writers with the 15 key plot points to map out your script or novel. Every set contains 15 individual index cards with helpful explanations of each beat to form the foundation of your story.
Save the Cat! Scene Cards
Every scene of your story needs to communicate “place,” “basic action,” “emotional transformation,” and “outcome.” The Save the Cat!® Scene Cards help writers nail the purpose of every scene. Each set of cards contains 40 color-coded cards broken down by act, with 10 extra cards because we know you’ll need them.
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Grab your coffee and join us today over at our blog, where we launch another blog tour for Save the Cat! We talk about their online course and their story cards, interview the Save the Cat team, and host a special giveaway you don’t want to miss.
I ran a small press for seven years and published 13 books, including three New York Times Bestsellers, three Hoffer Award Winners, and a book that was optioned for a film. We averaged 6,000 copies sold of each title—including two titles that sold more than 20,000 copies each.
To put that in perspective: the average U.S. nonfiction book sells fewer than 250 copies per year and fewer than 2,000 copies in its lifetime. The average author-published book sells 250-300 copies in its lifetime. Sales of 5,000 copies of a book is considered respectable by a Big Five publisher, and a “home run” by a small publisher.
We achieved success without traditional distribution and on a shoestring budget. And one of the keys to our success was using e-newsletters and websites that promote books.
There are dozens of book promotion newsletters (more than 100 by some counts), and I used many of them as a publisher. Earlier this year, after having used these newsletters for many years in my marketing efforts and after having done extensive market research on the industry, Kathleen Meyer and I launched LitNuts, an e-newsletter to bring the “Best of the Indies” to booklovers.
Today, I want to give you a quick overview of the industry, and tell you why readers should take a closer look at book promotion newsletters and why authors and publishers should include them in their marketing plans. I’ll also tell you why we decided to launch LitNuts despite the crowded playing field.
The Book e-Newsletter Industry
You are probably familiar with some book promotion e-newsletters. Some of the more prominent ones are BookBub, Bargain Booksy and eReader News Today. And for every large one, there are many other smaller ones like Book Basset, the Choosy BookWorm and the Frugal eReader. Beyond industry giant BookBub, there is a group that would best be described as mid-sized family-run businesses, and then there are a bunch that are produced by individuals.
They all follow a similar business model in that the e-newsletters are free to subscribers, and authors and publishers pay to have their books featured in the e-newsletter. The cost to be featured ranges from as low as $10 (even less in some cases) to several hundreds or even thousands of dollars (in the case of BookBub).
The newsletters are great for readers. In addition to being free, the newsletters mostly focus on bargains, and everybody loves a bargain.
The only problems from the reader’s perspective are 1) the focus on bargains means a limited universe—not every great book is $2.99 or less, and 2) uneven quality because the only requirement for most newsletters is payment—they are not looking at quality, which means there’s a more-than-middling possibility that the 99 cent “bargain” you just downloaded isn’t worth the time you spent to download it, let alone read it.
There are additional problems from the perspective of the author or publisher, including convoluted promotion “packages,” tiered pricing structures, and a maze of sometimes complicated order forms.
Despite the problems, newsletters are a great way for readers to “discover” books, and a great way for authors and publishers to get their books out there for “discovery.” But obviously, there’s room for improvement. That’s why Kathleen and I started LitNuts: we felt we could do some things a little different—and ideally, better.
What Makes LitNuts Different?
One thing that makes LitNuts different is our focus on indie books. No other newsletter has this focus. While the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster) and their ~250 imprints focus on million-dollar deals and the next big bestseller, indie publishers are nurturing new authors and emphasizing quality and innovation over profits. In addition, books from independent, university, small and micro presses have been professionally edited and designed, ensuring a level of quality. (Note: We will also feature author-published works that rise to that same level of quality and meet our standards.)
Another thing that makes LitNuts different is that while other newsletters focus on bargains, LitNuts features books at all price points, including lots of new releases and award winners. In addition, we feature collections of short stories, essays and poetry—forms of writing that most newsletters exclude simply because collections don’t usually sell as well as book-length works.
Finally, we’ve made things easier for authors and publishers: no convoluted “packages” to analyze…no tiered pricing…no waiting to see if the date an author wants for a book promotion is available. It’s a very affordable $25 to be featured in LitNuts, and our simple order form allows you to select the date of your book promotion.
Submitting Books to Promotional Newsletters/Websites
Another thing that can be complicated from the author/publisher perspective is coordinating promotions. A lot of times, an author or publisher is planning a sale and will want to schedule multiple promotions in conjunction with the sale. You can do it yourself, but if you want to run multiple promotions at the same time, be prepared to spend lots of hours at the computer filling out order forms.
There are some economical services that will handle submission to multiple book promotion newsletters and websites if you are giving away free, promotional copies of an e-book:
Taranko1 on Fiverr: Will submit free e-books to multiple promotion services for as little as $5.
Author Marketing Club: No charge, but they don’t submit for you. Instead, they have consolidated on one page links that take you directly to the order forms of multiple promotion services. You still have to submit the books yourself, but having all of the order forms in one place will save you time.
That said, when it comes to submitting books that are on sale for $0.99 or more, you’re pretty much on your own. Which is fine…you can do it! It just takes time. But I will tell you about a service that I recently came across called Book Rank, which has two options: 1) “We Build It” Promotion Services, in which they select the book promotion newsletters/websites for you, and 2) “Build Your Own” Promotional Services, in which you tell them which venues you want to use.
I’ve not used Book Rank, and the “We Build It” prices are not cheap. But the “Build Your Own” service looks pretty reasonable. It’s $50 plus 6.9% of the total cost of the sites you want to submit to. You can choose from 33 book promotion newsletters/sites (soon to be 34 when they add LitNuts), and your cost will be $50 + the total cost of doing a promotion with each newsletter/website + 6.9%. That’s not a bad deal. But you need to know which ones to use.
And then, of course, there’s BookBub. BookBub is expensive, but it gets results. The catch is that you have to apply to be featured in their newsletter—and they are very selective. They only accept 10-15% of the books that are submitted to them. Some of that has to do with price; BookBub requires that “your book must be discounted to at least 50% off the predominant recent price” and “your book cannot have been offered for a better price in the recent past.” In other words, you essentially need to price your book at the lowest price in its history to have it included in BookBub.
BookBub looks at everything else, too: book cover, professional reviews, online reader reviews, awards, etc. BookBub doesn’t give a number, but I tell people you’d better have at least 25 reader reviews averaging 4 stars or better on Amazon or Goodreads before submitting to BookBub (some say 50 reader reviews averaging 4.5 stars).
If you think your book will qualify, submit it to BookBub. Prices range from as little as $113 (to promote a free e-book to a very small audience) to as much as $4,000 (to promote an e-book that costs more than $3 to a large audience). The average price to promote a 99 cent e-book is currently $600. That’s a lot—but you will sell hundreds, if not thousands, of e-books as a result of doing a promotion with Bookbub.
Book promotion newsletters are a dynamic component of the overall book industry. They are a boon to readers, bringing you a wide selection of books to consider for your next read. And they are a boon to authors and publishers, and should be part of any marketing plan. But as with all things, proceed with caution. Readers need to be wary of the disproportionate focus on “bargains” that may not be bargains at all, and authors and publishers need to do their homework on which newsletters actually get results and which ones are just taking your money.
Ideally, book promotion newsletters bring readers and authors together…providing readers with more choices, and authors and publishers with an economical way to share new titles. And ideally, the book promotions will generate enough sales to at least pay for themselves. But even if an author or publisher just breaks even on a promotion, I think you can regard that as a “win.” You got your book into the hands of more readers, which should lead to more online reader reviews (worth their weight in gold) and more word-of-mouth marketing (the Holy Grail of book publishing).
So, LitNuts brings you books of short stories, essays, or poetry that many other newsletters refuse to include (because collections don’t sell as well as novels). LitNuts also features new releases and award-winning books that other newsletters exclude because of price. (Many newsletters feature ONLY ebooks priced at $2.99 or less, which is fine – but not all great books are $2.99 or less!).
For authors, you’ll be happy to hear that LitNuts founders Mike O’Mary and Kathleen Meyer handled publishing and marketing for an indie press for more than 10 years. This is important because that means they understand the challenge of getting your books in front of readers.
LitNuts is an affordable vehicle that focuses on indie books and has engaged subscribers. Their goal is to help authors increase their book’s sales rank with online retailers, generate more reader reviews, and create positive word-of-mouth.
Toward that end, they are building a subscriber base of booklovers who want to hear from indie presses. And we are focused on keeping things simple and flexible for authors. They offer a flat price of $25, so it’s simple. No tiered pricing or convoluted advertising offers to analyze.
At the same time, they give authors the flexibility to advertise short story, essay and poetry collections, to link to your website so book lovers can purchase directly from you, and to set the price of your e-book according to your needs.
About LitNut and owners Kathleen Meyer and her father, Mike O’Mary:
LitNuts is a woman-owned, family-run business founded by Kathleen Meyer and her father, Mike O’Mary, who share a love of literature and reading. Kathleen is an avid reader with 10 years of marketing experience, including with Dream of Things, a small press founded by Mike in 2009. During its 10 year history, Dream of Things published three New York Times Bestsellers, three winners of the Hoffer Award, and one book that has been optioned for a film. Kathleen and Mike drew upon their experience of publishing and marketing books on a shoestring budget to create LitNuts, in the hope of helping other indie presses achieve success.
Authors and readers, visit LitNuts.com to sign up for their newsletter, where you can hear about incredible books from indie publishers that you wouldn’t hear about anywhere else.
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Join us WOW’s blog The Muffin as we celebrate the launch of LitNuts.com. Follow along the tour for excellent guest posts written by the owners, reader their interview with us, and enter a giveaway.
November 7th @ Michelle Cornish Visit Michelle Cornish’s blog today and you can read a guest post about a closer look inside the world of publishing. https://www.michellecornish.com/blog
November 10th @ Books, Beans and Botany Blogger Ashley Hubbard shares LitNut’s experiences with some of their favorite authors. A fun guest post you don’t want to miss! https://booksbeansandbotany.com/
November 11th @ Literary Quicksand
Jolissa will be interviewing the LitNuts founders, and discussing everything you’ll want to know about this amazing new bookish newsletter.
Hi there everyone. I am honored to welcome writer Hayley Zelda onto my website today to discuss with you all the best tool for online promotion for any author of YA books and how to turn those books into a best-seller. Give her a warm welcome and enjoy this wonderful guest post.
These days, a YA book doesn’t turn into a bestseller just by its story alone. In many cases, much of the success can be attributed to promotion as well. Whether it’s an e-book, a paperback or a hardcover, there are many digital strategies you can use to help get your book out there.
Online marketing comes in many forms —there’s at least one option that can match your budget, skills, and specific marketing goals. Below are some ideas you can try online to YA novels.
The Sign-Up Form and the Mailing List
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have encountered those pop-ups asking for you to sign up or add your email address in exchange of a freebie. Sometimes, the sign-up form is also placed prominently on the top or bottom portions of a website. You may find them on sidebars, too.
This is an integral part of email marketing. Basically, the said strategy involves sending emails or newsletters to those who signed up (a.k.a. subscribers). With this, you can pique your subscribers’ interest by sending a sneak peek to your book or by announcing a book giveaway. To help you get started with your email marketing, you can use services like Constant Contact and MailChimp.
These days, many YA authors have their own websites where they have their own sign-up forms. Kelley Armstrong, author of Aftermath and The Masked Truth, has her sign-up form on the bottom of her website’s homepage while Broken Things author, Lauren Oliver, has it near the top.
The Author Interviews
Nothing can beat author interviews when it comes to putting the spotlight on you and your work. Even if you’re just debuting as a YA novelist, there are many magazines, organizations and bloggers out there who may consider featuring you.
Meanwhile, the Hunter’s Moon author, O. R. Melling, had a radio interview posted on Mixcloud. If you like discussing your book over the phone, look for local radio stations or podcasters. As much as possible, choose platforms that teens and twenty somethings prefer as they are your target readers.
Smaller scale sites are great practice and can provide great niche exposure as well. Sites like Wired For Youth are much easier to land interviews on and can still drive some great exposure. Don’t just search for platforms with a great audience though. Make sure you also prepare for the questions and the way you present yourself.
Ann Brashers, the novelist behind The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, features her YouTube interviews on her own site. The Hunger Games series creator, Suzanne Collins, has featured an interview on how site as well. You can get the video links from your interviewer and include them on your platforms, too.
The Cross-promotion with Other YA Novelists (Or Any Other Author for That Matter)
All writers get help from other writers. For most authors, it’s just inspiration. Promotion is another assistance that you can give and take. This can be a mere mention of another person’s work on social media. A recommendation through blog posts, vlogs, interviews and book conventions is more favorable though.
Aside from inspiring people, John Green uses his influence to recommend books written by other writers. Sometimes he just give others positive reviews like when he stated that Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette as the funniest novel he had in years.
When you’re starting out though, don’t expect that you’ll get on the radar of popular authors right away. Instead of wishing for their attention, you can find those who are in a similar situation like yours. Join Discord servers and Facebook groups meant for writers. You can scan for chats or posts from those who are looking for someone to cross-promote with. When there are none, you can post one yourself.
Writing feedback for each other’s books and having them published in your respective works could help. Each of you can use your social media pages and mailing list for further co-promotions as well. As much as possible, choose to work with someone who have similar niche and range for your social media reach.
The Fanfictions (and Other Forms of Fan Labor)
On his blog, Neil Gaiman once responded to a fan who asked about his opinion on fanfictions. The author behind the award-winning The Graveyard Book said it didn’t bother him. However, there are authors out there who preferred not to have their works used as bases for such kind of fan labor.
If you haven’t made a mark though, you might want to consider letting your readers make fan-fictions out of your characters, settings and/or plot. Platforms like Wattpad and Commaful are there for such pursuit. You can also allow them to create their own drawings or trailers based on your work.
Or, you can also get started by writing fanfiction yourself. Just remember not to exploit others’ works for commercial purposes. Make sure you’re not also lifting characters, settings and plots from the books of those who are against fanfictions.
Many writers have tried this out before they hit it big. Meg Cabot, the creative behind the Princess Diaries series, used to pen Star Wars fanfic. Even Gaiman admitted that he used Marv Wolfman’s horror plot for an essay he wrote when he was younger.
Just like the contents of your YA book, make sure you plan your promotion as well. Take some time in testing and revising your marketing campaigns accordingly.
About the Writer
Hayley Zelda is a writer and marketer at heart. She’s written on all the major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience.
I suppose it’s arguable that everything I’ve ever read about the era in which the Second Son Chronicles are set has, in some way, influenced the creation of the narratives. After all, there’s a certain amount of osmosis that happens with every book we enjoy. But within that broad-brush landscape, some highlights do stand out (in no particular order).
Alison Weir’s non-fiction has been a rich source of details about life in Medieval and Renaissance times. Regardless of the specific subject, her books describe in great depth what daily life was like during these periods – it’s an immersive experience, and the osmosis factor helped me to create the world of the Chronicles.
I also found inspiration in Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series, particularly The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Follett’s detailed depiction of the building of the great Gothic cathedrals got me thinking about architecture, engineering, and building from Roman times through the Renaissance and led to the inclusion of some building projects in my own books. His narrative of the inventive ways that those outside mainstream medicine of the day began to understand the nature of the spread of infection and the importance of hygiene and other methods for containing it helped inspire my own exploration of how people dealt with disease over six hundred years ago.
Whether it’s in the shield wall with Uhtred of Bebbanburg or in the fields of Agincourt with Henry V, Bernard Cornwell doesn’t shy away from the gritty and brutal realism of the battlefields of long ago. My battle scenes pale by comparison to Cornwell’s ability to bring the sights and sounds and stench and fear and blood-lust of medieval war to life. But I happily acknowledge my debt to him for showing how to make my battles more realistic than they might otherwise have been.
While the time period is much earlier than that of my stories, Jack Whyte’s re-imagining of the Arthurian legends in his Camulod Chronicles influenced a number of decisions I made for my own series. Whyte postulates a world that might have existed in post-Roman Britain and an entirely realistic history that could, in the absence of any surviving written record, have been the basis for the legends. So what does this have to do with the Second Son Chronicles?
My stories are set at the dawn of the Renaissance, a time when so much is well-known about the characters and events of northern Europe. Asking readers to accept that an entirely different set of royalty, nobility, and events could have existed seemed like too great a suspension of disbelief. But if Whyte could create an entirely imagined history, why couldn’t I create an imagined setting for my own narrative? If readers notice some similarities to northern Europe, then perhaps that only adds to the flavor of the world where my characters play out their lives.
I hope you enjoy reading the Second Son Chronicles as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing the stories to life.
At the dawn of the Renaissance, Alfred – the eponymous second son – must discover the special destiny foreseen for him by his grandfather. Now, the unthinkable has happened: Alfred’s brother is king. And it isn’t long before everyone’s worst fears are realized. Traditional allegiances are shattered under a style of rule unknown since the grand bargain that formed the kingdom was struck over two hundred years ago. These will be the most dangerous years of Alfred’s life, forcing him to re-examine his duty to personal honor and to the kingdom, while the threats posed by his brother constantly remind him of his father’s final words of advice. What choices will he have to make to try to protect the things he holds most dear?
Pamela Taylor brings her love of history to the art of storytelling in the Second Son Chronicles. An avid reader of historical fact and fiction, she finds the past offers rich sources for character, ambiance, and plot that allow readers to escape into a world totally unlike their daily lives. She shares her home with two Corgis who frequently reminder her that a dog walk is the best way to find inspiration for that next chapter.
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Join us as we celebrate the launch of Pamela Taylor’s blog tour for her book Pestilence. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win the first three books in her series “The Second Son Chronicles.”
I am honored to share with you a fantastic guest blog post from author and poet Elizabeth Hazen, as part of the wonderful blog tour for “Girls Like Us”.
For Christmas, which seems like three lifetimes ago, my parents gave my husband a book of interesting words from around the world*. An engineer who has a soft spot for spoonerisms, puns, and wordplay in every form, he found instant delight in this book. Did you know that Germans have a word for the weight we gain from stress-eating? Kummerspeck. Or that the Scots have a word for that awkward pause when you’ve forgotten the name of the person you’re introducing? Tartle. Among my favorites are the whimsical Swedish smultronställe, a place of wild strawberries; the romantic Italian dormiveglia, the space between sleeping and waking; and the essential Japanese tsundoku, that pile of unread books on my bedside table that grows with each passing month.
Needless to say, I took that book of words from my husband, adding one more to my stack.
Getting through my tsundoku – or at least managing it – is one of my goals for this summer. I am a teacher, and the summer brings with it the beautiful freedom of longer days and fewer responsibilities, but the lack of structure –ironically, frustratingly, and inevitably – invites bad habits and a gradual decline into despair over the time I fear I am wasting. As a result, I know I need to impose some kind of schedule – a routine that will keep me on track. Part of that routine, I have decided, will include reading more poetry.
One of the lessons I most love to teach to my seventh-grade students involves defining poetry. We examine a range of definitions – the top of our heads being blown off, the best words in the best order, language at its most distilled and most powerful. We can debate the specifics, note our preferences, but that words are the poet’s medium is indisputable. Imperfect, delicious, malleable, living, breathing words. It is my love of words that I always return to during the darkest moments, and boy are these days dark.
In a review of my recent collection, Girls Like Us, Nandini Bhattacharya defines the poem as “ineffable interrogator, ethicist and chronicler of human history.” Indeed, I certainly have found more accuracy and truth in poems than in the newspaper, more solace in poems than in meditation or exercise, more freedom in poems than in the endless walks I take to escape the confines of quarantine. As when I was in the thick of adolescent depression, poems come to rescue me, to remind me that the legacy of human sadness and loss and pain is infinite, but so is our legacy of resilience and power and change.
Perhaps poems allow us to do what the Dutch call uitwaaien: “to take a break and walk away from the demands of life to clear one’s head.” Or maybe life demands poems, and it is precisely in these moments of trauma and fear and violence that we must dive in head-first. Whatever they do, I am grateful for them. Here are several recent collections by women that I highly recommend. Each, in its own way, has given me what the Icelandic call radljóst: enough light to find my way.
Difficult Fruit by Lauren K. Alleyne, Peepal Tree, 2014
Thrust by Heather Derr-Smith, Persea Books, 2017
American Samizdat by Jehanne Dubrow, Diode Editions, 2019
The Miracles by Amy Lemmon, C&R Press, 2018
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, Knopf, 2016
Code by Charlotte Pence, Black Lawrence Press, 2020
How to Exterminate the Black Woman by Monica Prince, [Pank Books], 2019
American Lyric Trilogy by Claudia Rankine, Graywolf, 2004, 2014, 2020
The State She’s In by Lesley Wheeler, Tinderbox Editions, 2020
*The book of words I refer to is Other Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World by Yee-Lum Yak with illustrations by Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Elizabeth Hazen is a poet, essayist, and teacher. A Maryland native, she came of age in a suburb of Washington, D.C. in the pre-internet, grunge-tinted 1990s, when women were riding the third wave of feminism and fighting the accompanying backlash. She began writing poems when she was in middle school, after a kind-hearted librarian handed her Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. She has been reading and writing poems ever since.
Hazen’s work explores issues of addiction, mental health, and sexual trauma, as well as the restorative power of love and forgiveness. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. Alan Squire Publishing released her first book, Chaos Theories, in 2016. Girls Like Us is her second collection. She lives in Baltimore with her family.
Most of us have heard that walking is good for our bodies: walking can reduce our risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dementia, diabetes, several types of cancer, and more. Some of us have heard that walking is good for our brains: walking can help improve our decision-making, boost our executive function, and fuel our creativity. And many of us have heard that walking is good for our emotional well-being: walking can boost our mood and can be a valuable tool in the battle against depression.
But what about loneliness? Can walking help there too?
We believe so. A study my company undertook last year revealed that women who regularly walk with their friends are 2.5 times less likely to feel lonely often.
Why is it that walking together is so powerful?
First, we are social beings and we are wired to crave — and enjoy — shared experiences. Researchers believe this comes directly from our biological need to belong: our ancestors were a whole lot safer walking in the woods with their tribe than they were walking the woods by themselves.
Second, our hormones help. Walking increases levels of oxytocin — a hormone that heightens our connections with others. So when you walk with a friend, your biology helps foster a deeper, more meaningful connection. And yes, oxytocin is the same hormone that is released during childbirth and nursing, which makes sense because it encourages us to bond with our babies.
Third, extensive research shows that our brains process differently when we are walking. Because only part of our brain is occupied with putting one foot in front of the other, the rest of our brain is free to roam, to think more deeply. More importantly, when we are walking together, we can comfortably take the moments of quiet to process and give ourselves the chance to think, and connect, more deeply.
Finally, because conversations tend to flow more easily and because walking together provides an activity — and one that takes place away from home — it is far more comfortable to invite a new friend for a walk than to invite them to your home. Indeed, many mom friendships have been formed from the question “Do you want to take a walk after school drop off?”
In short, walking together can be an incredibly powerful antidote to loneliness. It provides the perfect environment for conversation and connection. It offers time and space, free of distractions. It gives us the increased pleasure that comes from sharing an experience. It delivers a blast of oxytocin that encourages us to connect with one another. And it provides an easy way to begin to connect with a new friend.
About the Author
Joyce Shulman, founder and CEO of 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid reaches millions of moms each month with hyper-local and national e-newsletters and websites, social media content, video and her Weekly Walk podcast. Having created a one-of-a-kind digital platform, she connects families to the wonders of their own communities and inspires women to chase their dreams and crush their goals.
Her most recent endeavor, 99 Walks, is on a mission to combat loneliness and improve fitness through the simple act of encouraging moms to walk together. Her mission? Nothing short of getting a million women walking.
Throughout her two decades as an entrepreneur, Joyce has guided SAHMs, teachers and even MBAs to success. Joyce shares how moms need to “take care of mama bear” and avoid the “martyr mom syndrome.” Her experience in business and leading mompreneurs makes her a coveted speaker where she shares tactics for beating burnout, fueling creativity, goal crushing, how walking can fuel productivity and performance, and more.
Joyce received her Bachelor’s in Business Management from the University of Maryland and her Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, from St. John’s University School of Law. After law school, she spent more than a dozen years as a New York City lawyer where her practice focused on complex commercial litigation.
A self-confessed idea junkie, in 1998, Joyce abandoned law firm life to liberate her entrepreneurial spirit and focus on the things that are most important to her: family, community and empowering women to chase their dreams.
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Grab your coffee and join us in celebrating the launch of Joyce Shulman’s book Walk Your Way to Better. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book.
As we tread through the New Year, we find some, if not all, of our resolutions falling by the wayside. However, one doesn’t have to wait till December 31st and the rush of holiday feels and stress to decide to make changes. Any day is a good day to take care of yourself, and one of the best things you can do is introduce some self-care into your life.
With self-care becoming a growing topic I want to be clear about what it’s not. It isn’t a license to make unhealthy choices or shirk responsibility. It’s not about spending sprees or throwing around money you don’t have. In a world full of consequences, the last thing it should encourage is a bucket full of regrets when you must face the music from your choices.
Our world is ever -spinning and growing, and ever rushing us from one moment to the next. Self-care is about the pause where you allow yourself to smell the roses, as it were. Where the must crucial aspect is an honest internal dialogue. Taking a few moments to quietly address and asses your needs whether they are emotional, physical or mental. Once you figure out what you are in need of to achieve balance you then select an activity to improve that.
So here are some simple things you can do every day to both provide yourself with care as well as opening up dialogue within yourself, so it becomes second nature.
GET MORE SLEEP. Countless studies show that the majority of us are not getting enough sleep. We probably all know better sleep equals better mood, but did you know it also helps prevent weight gain, improves memory, hand eye coordination as well as strengthen your heart? It truly is one of the best things you can give yourself and will help you in making the most of your day. It will make the good days sweeter and provide the strength to get through the bad ones. Yes, despite what many other articles will tell you bad days are sure to be par for the course. There’s no amount of self-help, positive perspective or vitamins that can guarantee a great day every day.
LEAVE YOUR PHONE OFF FOR 1 HOUR. You may wonder how this even applies to self-care. Well, it does, on two levels. Studies show us time and time again that all this technology, social media, and unbound access to more information than any human could every use has a definite downside. It impacts our self-esteem, self-worth, stress levels, concentration, as well as wear down our ability to read most nonverbal cues. Another benefit is this routine time disconnected allows you to reconnect to yourself. You will hear and grow that inner voice that is telling you what it needs. You can spend an hour when you wake up without your phone, or at least an hour before bed. Use this time to read, journal, or even day dream.
TAKE 10-15 MINUTES OUTSIDE. Remember when you were younger and your best days were spent outside, with friends having adventures? Maybe you were on your bikes till the sun went down, or ended the day sitting on a porch with a cold drink or frozen treat. Whatever the case may be, and probably without you realizing it, your mind and body reaped the rewards of the fresh air and the sun shinning on your face. However, the world of adulting leaves us very little time to kick off our shoes and walk through the grass. Endless errands, appointments and responsibilities keep us in our cars, offices, or other building. before we get up to do it all again tomorrow. So, carve out just 10 minutes each day to find your way outside. To feel the sun on your face, the breeze on your skin and the smells that surround you as you take a deep breath.
SAY NO. I can’t say this enough, we spread ourselves too thin. We may have the best of intentions, but we do. Women more so then men feel the inner conflict of guilt that leads them to agree to things they don’t have the time, funds, or plain interest in doing. We mostly do this to prevent hurt feelings or guilt. There’s only one way I can say this, and that’s bluntly. No matter who they are, no matter what you may have to offer…. they can make it without you. Your involvement alone is not enough to make or break any person’s event or favor. They will get by without you, you need you for every moment of your life. Say yes when you can, or when you want to, but say no when you can’t. Every single time, no matter the reason.
DO YOU. This is the part that’s different for everyone, but every single day you need to do one thing solely for your own personal joy. It doesn’t matter how many people depend on you, whether it’s at work or home. From children to coworkers there will always be someone you have to make time for. If you are willing to give it to them then there’s no reason to keep it from yourself. It may be getting yourself your favorite treat on your way to work, taking control of the playlist for your commute and singing out loud, or giving yourself a small upgrade when you’re at the store. It can also be the big things once in a while. Like making up a bucket list, spending a day off going on an adventure, buying that outfit you’ve been eyeing, or having a date night once a week at a new restaurant
I like to tell people that the end of my 30’s marked major changes for me. I became a mother young, and wife even younger. I lived my life for everyone else. My children, husband, parents, friends and any person in between. Then I got in over my head with a person who meant the world to me. Unfortunately, they also suffered from addiction and I found myself being called upon for favor after. The experience of those years led to two major moments. The moment I changed my perspective about almost everything in my life, and the moment I decided to share my story. I learned how to listen to myself. To figure out who I am, what I want and what I need. I also learned how to take all that love, focus, and support I gave to almost everyone and to finally start giving it to myself as well. When I decided to share my story, I spent almost two years writing my novel. Silver Spoons: One’s Journey through Addiction. Despite how many or few copies I may sell I’ve already reaped the benefits of writing it. I saw a dream come to life in finishing a novel, pride at accomplishing something not everyone can do, and peace. I found peace with hearing people tell me their stories. We sadly live in a world where everyone knows an addict or someone who loves an addict.
With all of these experiences and while I have your attention. I would love nothing more than everyone reading this to take care of themselves. Love yourself, nurture yourself, and craft your own stories. I promise you, you’ll never regret that choice
Silver Spoons: One’s Journey Through Addiction takes an intimate and raw look at the current face of addiction and recovery. Talking about the current opioid epidemic, we follow a young couple while one of them goes through the recovery process. Told through letters, we get an understanding of their relationship as it struggles through his addiction and resulting recovery. From detox, rehab, sober living and the 12 steps of A.A, you get a raw and honest look at the effects of addiction and how they affect relationships.
AUTHOR NOTE: There is explicit and graphic content.
Print Length: 380 Pages
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Independently Published
Silver Spoons: One’s Journey Through Addiction is now available to purchase at Amazon.com.
About the Author, Sarah Dickinson
Sarah Dickinson is a lifelong resident in beautiful upstate New York. Mother of two amazing daughters and three equally awesome rescue dogs, she is the author of Silver Spoons: One’s Journey Through Addiction. She currently attends college and is in the midst of switching careers. When she isn’t doing it all, she reads comic books, blogs, and takes weekend getaways.
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Visit our blog today and you can read an interview with the author of Silver Spoons: One’s Journey Through Addiction and also enter to win a copy of the book!
Hello everyone. Today I am happy to share with you this special spotlight on the novel Georgia Stories on My Mind by author Jackie Rod. First, here is a little bit about the book itself.
Come visit Georgia within these pages as you read heartwarming stories shaped by local traditions and legends. The characters live life to the fullest through joys and hardships. Inhale the essence of Georgia’s revitalized small town squares while eating hand- scooped ice cream on a park bench. Each town has its own magic. Sometimes the most real things in life are things we cannot see but those that deeply touch us, as the folks in these tales learn. Share smiles and shed tears as you travel the curving road of life with these Georgia characters. Are you ready for an unforgettable experience of hope, faith, trust, reconciliation, and love?
Print Length: 259 Pages
Genre: Short Story Anthologies
Publisher: Touch Not the Cat Books
Georgia Stories on My Mind is available to purchase on Amazon.com.
About the Author, Jackie Rod
“A good book transports me to another time and place. It lets me feel the sensation of heroes and heroines— dark loneliness, deep passion, a father’s pride and a mother’s grief.” Jackie Rod is a fiction writer, loving wife of a legal beagle, and mother of three children who has blessed her with seven fantastic grandchildren. After Jackie retired from teaching, her love of words and stories led her to begin writing fiction. Reading and traveling enrich her life and she jumps at the opportunity to teach a workshop or attend a writing conference. She belongs to five writing chapters/groups. Jackie’s work can be found in twelve published books on Amazon, in several Metro Atlanta libraries, and independent bookstores.
And now, I am happy to share with you all a wonderful guest post from the author herself, Jackie Rod.
Family and Friends
Faith, family, friends and purposeful work are the blessings of life. Today we will focus on family and friends, major components of our lives. They can bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. Usually it falls somewhere in between. We tend to apply our values and viewpoints to our family and friends, even if their perspectives may not be in line with ours.
Most of the time we identify with friends who hold similar values. In times of trouble we can turn to them for solace and comfort. In times of triumph we celebrate together.
Family members, on the other hand, may have viewpoints diametrically opposed to ours. Often arguments can last for years and affect participation at holiday gatherings and other family events. Some people had rather miss an event than have to deal with their anger and feelings of hostility toward others.
Over the years the actual differences of opinion may be forgotten, but the hard feelings remain and are never addressed. Folks can be stubborn. Of course, these same things might hold true for friends and neighbors with whom you disagree. We could write them off and discontinue any relationship rather than address the issue and try to work it out.
Some people are toxic and need to be eliminated from our circles so that our zin is not out of balance. Perhaps a good therapist would offer techniques and strategies for us to get over our hurt feelings and anxiety.
In the end, we all get on with our lives and make allowances for those we love and overlook the failings of best friends, at least the ones we continue to talk to.
Addressing the misunderstandings can begin a process of healing. Put away the pettiness. Forgiveness is a powerful force.
Remember the joy you receive each day from a wonderful family and friends. Notice the light in their eyes when you flash your beautiful smile. Stay bonded, stay thankful, and stay blessed.
— Blog Tour Dates
Today @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Grab your coffee and join us as we celebrate the launch of Jackie Rod’s blog tour of her book Georgia Stories on My Mind. You can read an interview with the author and win a copy of the book.