Novel Publicity Blog Tour: “The Author Mindset”

Good evening, readers! I’m back with a book review today for Novel Publicity by Falcon Storm: The Author Mindset. The version I’m reviewing is the audiobook narrated by Craig Beck. Much as the cover suggests, the book is a guide to writing and marketing fiction.

Because the book is the first of its genre I’m reviewing, it won’t follow my usual review guidelines/format. If you’re up for the adventure that might entail–and I promise, it’s worth it–read on. 😉

[Disclaimer: As with all my book reviews for Novel Publicity Blog Tours, I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.]

Available NOW on AmazonBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, or Audible.

About the Book:

Do you feel as if your life’s purpose is to become an author and share the stories in your head with the rest of the great wide world? Do you long to write the next great American novel? You might already have a couple books under your belt, but want to take your productivity, talent, and marketing efforts to the next level. Maybe you’re just getting started as an author and feel lost in the multitude of tasks awaiting you. Or perhaps you’re stuck at square one, having no idea what to do, where to go, or even if you should be writing at all. In just a few short hours, you’ll learn the essentials required of the professional author. You’ll learn more than how to put words on the page; you’ll learn how to get into the mindset of an author and live there, carving out your niche in the literary world.

Review

The Author Mindset is an excellent introduction to the business of writing and lifestyle of being a writer. It’s short but sweet–the main section is only 66 minutes long, but it comes with extras, too. I was amazed at how much of the training I received in my grad school Writing & Publishing program was encompassed in this book.

The length makes the book necessarily to-the-point, which is wonderful to get writers actually writing, versus stuck in heady theoretical prose. The style is breezy, approachable, and never arrogant, which I appreciated, as it was written by a successful author. The length and voice of the book recommend it to multiple listenings and note-taking.

Speaking of voice, the narrator was an excellent choice. Who doesn’t love a good British accent? 😉 Seriously, I’ve learned the narrator is almost as important as the text in an audiobook. So, well-done, Mr. Storm (and, Mr. Beck–call me).

There were a couple of sections that I found to be a little unnecessary, personally, like how to organize your work space, but–for all I know, a full-time stay-at-home mom/part-time writer might find that info to be very helpful (there are specific mentions of navigating little ones). This book, much like many writing guides, is definitely subjective in how enlightening each person would find it to be. I would say absolutely everyone could get SOMETHING out of it, even if it was review. Although I had heard many of these topics before, given my educational background (but not the same professional experience!), it was quite helpful to hear them again, especially as condensed and digestible as this presentation was. If nothing else, it is a good tool to get anyone into “the author mindset” (keenly titled, Mr. Storm!).

I 100% recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t had some sort of training in writing. I do recommend it to everyone, though, especially those who could use a jump-start in knowing how to begin or how to resume writing . I could see how this would especially be useful as part of a series, which this looks to be. Great idea, Falcon, for making this book available in multiple formats; how great is it that you could listen to this on your commute so you’re all prepped to write when you get home?

My review, based on this as an instructional piece: 9/10.

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Audiobook Month & History of a Reluctant Aural Fanatic

This  Sunday, June 30, marked the end of several official things–but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the end of your celebration. End of the weekend? Carry that relaxed feeling into the work week! (Easier said than done?) End of June–but making way for that fun midsummer month, July!

As the last day of June, that means it is also the end of Audiobook Month. But if you’re like me, that’s something you celebrate every day all year! The Audio Publishers Association explains the campaign to increase popularity of audiobooks here.

As you may have gleaned from past posts, I LOVE audiobooks. In fact, they comprise the majority of my reading time these days. I listen to them whenever I’m in the car, be that my commute to work, a trip, etc. They sure make construction more bearable and epic.

Transform from this…

Embed from Getty Images
…to this, with the help of an audiobook!

In thinking about my love affair with audiobooks, I tried to remember when we first crossed paths. Although I mostly use audiobooks now during commutes and working out (OK, the latter activity is much less often than I’d like), I knew my history started long before that.

Hearing stories aloud is integral to the beginning of not only our personal development, but also the development of human culture. This fascinates me as a reader and a scholar of English literary history. Stories were told orally earlier than we can confirm–because there is no record of it, of course. 😉 Beowulf is widely regarded as the bridge between oral and written stories in English, hypothesized as having first been passed through generations orally before being written down. This is indeed a possibility, as storytellers back then made lines rhyme for memory purposes. (Think of the first stories we memorize–they are nursery rhymes. We memorize aural sounds even before we understand the story. The aural memory reinforces our development of story comprehension.) The poor translators have the additional task not only of translating Old English to Modern English, but also of making the lines rhyme and staying true to the meter as much as possible. Old English is not Shakespeare’s English; it is the Anglo-Saxon language that was in use around the times of 400-1100 A.D. It is entirely foreign to those without training, as you can see below. But with our understandings of nursery rhymes and aural memory, it is easy for us to imagine the importance of meter in ancient stories. Even so, to memorize something so epic in length is quite an impressive feat!

The original image of the Beowulf manuscript (via Wikipedia)

Many of us are lucky to have parents read aloud to us. For me, it’s one of my favorite memories. Our parents used to read to my sister and me all the time, and it was the only way they could get me to agree to go to bed. 😉 I’m sure it had an impact on our imaginations and love of reading from a young age.

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. <3

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. ❤

I also realized I used to listen to audiobooks all the time as a kid, with the help of this guy.

The one and only Teddy Ruxpin ❤

For those of you not in the know, Teddy Ruxpin was an electronic teddy bear who read stories off of a cassette tape that accompanied printed books, for kids to follow along. But after his mouth stopped working (I’m sorry, Teddy </3), I was left mostly to my own devices, no pun intended.
Actually, puns are always intended with me.

In mourning the untimely demise of Sir Ruxpin, I parted ways with audiobooks for a long time. I rented one in high school to “read” a book last-minute, but I discovered at 4 a.m. that night that this particular reader did not expedite my process. (One…of…those…slow…readers…you know the type.) 😉 I decided audiobooks would never be the same without Teddy. 😦

And then, in 2005, I sustained a traumatic brain injury. (If you’re new to my blog, you can read the basics of the story on my About page or Memoir Preview post.) Part of the injury included slower processing speed and multiple nerve palsies in my eyes. The palsies caused double vision, and I couldn’t see anything clearly at all, at first. Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the man has all those books and all that time but broken glasses? Now I had time off of school, but couldn’t see, at least, at first. But my story, luckily, had a happy ending. As I began to recover, I was able to start reading, albeit not conveniently. This is what reading a book was like for me:

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other--each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn't converge.

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other–each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn’t converge. I’ll never forget exactly how it looked: overlaid and askew.

What the text above looks like to normal eyes. (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

What the text above looks like with normal vision (and my eyes now). (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

Eventually, I was able to see a single image if I held it up to the tip of my nose (and then farther and farther away as I recovered). I read the entirety of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked with the pages touching my nose. I probably just looked engrossed, which was also true. It was the first book I read after my TBI; it and the musical really inspired me and showed me that being different is not only okay, it’s what makes you extraordinary. (I watched the musical with a patch over one eye, and Jennifer and I got special seating near the front–it was magical, in more ways than one!) I was determined to force myself to read in the traditional way, with a lovely paper book, and of course, with my nose so close to the pages, it was a constant aromatic treat, as well. (I wish they made a perfume of “new book smell.”) I wanted the pleasure of reading on my own; not someone else reading to me. However, after I got LASIK eye surgery two years ago, there was no pleasure in even keeping my eyes open, let alone reading–so I decided to give audiobooks another shot with the longest one I could find at the library. Perhaps the nearly 53-hour, 41-disc unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo was a little ambitious for post-surgery entertainment; I never did finish it.

Jennifer had a different idea after she got her LASIK: she asked me to read to her. She would call out, “Read to me, Seymour,” in reference to the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. I’d never seen it, but I recognized the tone of urgency. I looked up pictures to post the namesake here, but true to the name, it is pretty horrific, so I’ll let you Google that yourself. 😉
We had both just read The Hunger Games for my fabulous children’s/YA literature class with Alix Reid at DePaul, which opened up, or reopened, a whole new genre to me–and now, it is my favorite genre both to read and write. Jennifer and I were both hooked on dystopias, and I went to our local library to ask for suggestions. They recommended Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, an apocalyptic YA novel. At first I recorded myself on a computer, but it turned out Jennifer wanted a live performance–and perform I did. One thing I remembered about being read to, and hearing audiobooks, was when people did voices, and I did not want to disappoint. The main character, especially in the beginning of the book, sounded like she needed to have a “valley-girl” voice to go with her diary narration (despite her being from the East coast). After some verbal rotten tomatoes from Jennifer, I learned my lesson not to do extreme voices for exposition, which comprised about 75% of the book. (Click here to hear an example.) It’s not that the book was bad; it’s just how I heard the main character in my mind.

After a few days of reading until I lost my voice (usually about two uninterrupted hours at a time), I insisted that Jennifer switch to audiobooks. However, we both read traditionally after our eyes healed, until I started my new job. I began encountering horrid construction every single day, no matter what route I took, which made my journey take as long as two hours occasionally. Even blasting Taylor Swift or classical music couldn’t quell my frustration for long. “If only I could use this time to read,” I thought. Lightbulb! I began to check out several audiobooks at a time from the library, to make sure I was never without one. (I do recommend renting them when you can, since they can be expensive–worth it for favorites, but a costly gamble when you’re not sure.) It turned my route from frustrating to epic, as illustrated above. I eventually convinced Jennifer to join my fulfilling commuting habit by recommending my favorite at the time–and I think it remains my favorite.

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Click to go to Amazon and hear an excerpt.

In addition to being an amazing book, the voice actor does a wonderful treatment of the text. He is grave when he needs to be and light when the story calls for it. Somehow, he manages to do all different accents perfectly throughout the story, even when switching between characters in the same scene. (You’ll see why there are so many different accents in the same scenes when you read the book–I don’t want to spoil it!) I absolutely loved this book and reading; I thought it did a terrific job of bridging younger and older audiences seamlessly, and I had the pleasure of telling the author himself when he came for a book signing to a local bookstore recently. I also asked him when he’d be writing a sequel for this book, and he sighed in his hilarious way and said more people would have to buy copies of this one first before he’d be allowed to write a sequel. So start buying, people. 😉

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, read by Ari Graynor. Click the image to go to Amazon to hear an excerpt.

While Jennifer loved The Supernaturalist–indeed, she’d read the book in the past, but wanted to hear the audiobook–her personal favorite is City of Bones. I loved it, too. The reader is just right for this text–sassy, direct, emotional (when called for). I’m not sure she’d fit with a more “gentle” book, but this one was the perfect fit. The readers they have for the sequel books are also good. And if you haven’t read this one yet, you definitely should before the movie comes out, according to Buzzfeed and many other articles I’ve read this summer. (The movie looks AWESOME, but I can already pick out a few differences from previews.)

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

Another favorite! I loved Mandy Williams’s quiet, steady reading of this book. It really matched the feel I got from the main character. All of it was perfectly lovely; even the horrifying parts were achingly beautiful. I felt so connected to the titular character and her world. The sequel is coming out next year, and I can’t wait!

Enchantment

Enchantment, read by Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

This is the audiobook I’m listening to right now, and it’s already becoming a favorite. The book switches among many different points of view, and it’s an interesting technique. I definitely think it helps to have the dual narrators, especially of different genders, in order to differentiate breaks in P.O.V.

One audiobook I can’t believe I’ve never heard is anything read by Neil Gaiman. I’ve devoured his books reading them traditionally, but I’ve never heard one on audiobook. Because he’s one of my absolute favorite authors (perhaps favorite ever), I know I’d be very picky over how I felt his work should be read. There’s such a cadence in his language that makes the words as much a pleasure to read as the story itself. I have heard some of his videos on YouTube before, and his voice is very nice, so I’m sure his own narrations would be great. Actually, a radio production of Neverwhere was recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4, which I tragically discovered only after the broadcast was taken down. I hope it will be available for purchase/rental very soon; the cast included Benedict Cumberbatch and Natalie Dormer, two of my favorites–I’m sure it was phenomenal!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these favorite audiobooks I’ve posted are among some of my favorite books, period. A great voice can’t save a bad book, but a bad voice can ruin a good book, I’ve realized. A great voice + a great book makes for an amazing experience. Jennifer learned this earlier than I, when I valley-girl-read Life as We Knew It to her (it was only a few seconds at a time before I went back to my normal voice, which was of course hoarse from reading aloud for hours). I realized it the hard way when I forced myself to stick with a fantasy classic that a reader made WAY too dramatic. Every syllable was a different tone; when the main character was running, he wheezed through the sentences; when something was funny, you could barely understand him through his own laughter–which of course made it not funny at all. I’ve realized that you can’t let the reading/performance get in the way of the story–and isn’t that a lesson that we’re taught as writers, too? So often I’ve been guilty of that in the past, where a main character’s voice will overpower the story. It’s something I still have to watch out for, to this day. And if I am fortunate enough to publish something to audiobook someday, I know I will be very picky as to whom the narrator will be.

Speaking of audio versions of my own written work–as I mentioned in my “Noir–Poetry on the Radio” post, one of the neatest things I’ve gotten to do as an author was to read some of my work on DePaul’s radio station, which included a fairy tale and three poems I’ve written. The radio hosts invited me to read and discuss a whole hour of my own work. Click here to listen. If you’d like to hear just the fairy tale, it’s approximately the first twenty minutes. If you’d like to hear just the poetry, it’s near the end–the “Noir” blog post will instruct you where exactly to listen for that. I’d already experienced audiobooks by this time, so I was afraid to be too dramatic with “voices,” but I think if I were to do this again in the future, I probably would differentiate them a little bit more.

I hope you enjoyed my tribute to Audiobook Month. Even more so, I hope you will continue to enjoy audiobooks throughout the year. Besides myself, my sister is the only one I know personally who regularly listens to audiobooks, and I’d like to increase awareness of this fabulous medium. Why not make your adventures of shopping, commuting, and working out a little–or a lot–more epic? I’d also encourage people with visual challenges to use audiobooks; technology makes these books wonderfully accessible.  Swords and dragons not included with CDs, but you have your imagination for that. 😉

Memory of a Moral: “The Ladybug”

Hello all! I hope you are enjoying your weekend. I’ve had a busy one so far, but in a wonderful way: Thursday night was a fundraising party for Marianjoy, at which I gave a speech; yesterday I got to visit Jeremiah and his family; and today (Saturday) I went to a lovely wedding. I will expand on a few of those in greater detail sometime in the near future. 🙂

Cover of "City of Ashes (Mortal Instrumen...

Cover of City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments)

I wanted to share a poem I wrote tonight–and also the interesting way it came to me. While I was driving home from the wedding I went to today, I was listening to an audiobook in the car. I am obsessed with audiobooks; I discovered their magic last summer while plagued with insistent construction on every imaginable route from home to work. (My dad liked to joke that they were following me.) My extreme annoyance at the lengthy commute turned to joy when I realized I could fill the time with books, and I could be safe at the same time by being able to keep my eyes on the road.

The specific audiobook I was listening to today was City of Ashes, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s YA Mortal Instruments series. Clare has a particular talent for creating a compelling plot with gorgeous imagery and characterization. In this book, she was describing a character who, as a child, lit the wings of bugs on fire because he liked to watch them burn. (Thank goodness this was fiction!) It made me think about how morals must be taught and developed, because we are not born with them. It also evoked an immediate flashback to when I was a child–six years old, to be exact. I was shocked at how vivid the memory was, not only because I was so young, but also because my memory in particular has had its challenges. When I acquired the traumatic brain injury, my memory was significantly affected–luckily, this was temporary, and my therapists and family helped me put the pieces back together. However, there are a couple of memories throughout my life that I cannot recall, though friends and family may. Of course, forgetting is a natural part of being human, so it’s very hard to tell if these memories are part of a “big purge” or just normal behavior. I think any injury brings a certain amount of over-aware paranoia with it. As for me, it’s very hard to judge what is “normal,” because my dad never forgets anything, ever, especially if it is embarrassing or incriminating to someone else. 😉

Another interesting exploration of memory is the way in which people remember. Everyone is different, and it goes hand-in-hand with how they think. Through some of my post-TBI cognitive therapy, I learned that I think and remember in words–not surprising, for an author. 😉 Indeed, I can remember specific words very clearly (to many people’s chagrin), but abstract images are not my forté.

That’s why I was surprised by tonight’s vivid flashback from a time when my vocabulary was pretty limited. It was also an epiphany, of sorts, because I realized for the first time that the memory was a moment when I learned a very important lesson from my mom. With Clare’s mention of cruelty to bugs as a child, I recalled the instant that I “grew up” from being apathetic about pain in things I thought I didn’t like.

I was looking for a specific quote from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan about cruelty and innocence in children, and I found this poignant commentary by a fellow blogger, Jenn Krohn (whom I am now following) in her post, “The Cruel Innocence of Children”:

Barrie points out that children are “gay and innocent and heartless,” which is a perfect description of children. Young children (stressing the word young) rarely bite or pull hair because they enjoy inflicting pain on others—they probably don’t understand that they’re hurting their victims—but rather they enjoy the reaction and the attention that it gets them. That is the terrible nature of children’s innocence: they are without empathy.  One of the burdens of growing up is understanding how our actions can harm others.

So true. With the flood of the memory and the realization of what it meant, a poem came to mind during my drive–so intensely that I actually had to pull over and write it down! So, without further ado, I’d like to share the poem I wrote with you. 🙂

“The Ladybug”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

I am six,
and you and I
are sitting
on the concrete blocks
bordering the tree
in front of our house.
My legs swing
while we sit
enjoying the breeze,
at a time
when I
was still shorter
than you.

I notice
next to me,
there is a ladybug
on its back,
legs wriggling
in the air;
I feel
nothing
when I mention it
casually
to you.
It is merely
something to observe,
like a leaf
in the wind.
You tell me
you are going to help it,
and I don’t understand.
It is a Bug,
and I thought
our mission
was to kill them all.
No, you say,
ladybugs
are our friends.
They do not bite
or sting
or eat our plants.
The black-speckled rubies
fly through the air
and get rid of
the mean ones
for us,
and the least we can do
is help one
who has lost her balance,
who will perish
if her legs cannot
find the earth.
This fills me
with sadness,
and I look up
at the summer sky,
wondering
how it would feel
if you knew
that’s the last thing
you’d ever see.

You pick up a leaf
and take my hand.
Together,
we help the ladybug
to right herself.
She flies off,
and though I’ll never
see her again,
I learned from her
that Evil isn’t black-and-white
(or black and red),
and that our enemies
can’t be judged by appearance
or name
but only their actions.

English: Seven-spotted ladybug Deutsch: Sieben...

Seven-spotted ladybug (Photo credit: Wikipedia)