Monday, March 18, 2019

Valuable Marketing Tool

The saga of the orange “Crush” pencil stub or the review of Book Marketing Basics, either way you look at it, there’s a valuable marketing tool here.

I’ve known that marketing was Jodie Toohey’s passion since the first time I laid eyes on her. It was at a 2008 launch event for Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls and everything had an orange theme. I picked up an orange pencil. There wasn’t much left of that pencil after my husband used it for a carpentry project, but I saved the nub all these years. Printed on that four-inch piece of orange wood is “CRUSH” and a web address. I’ve kept it because it was, and still is, a valuable reminder of the essence of marketing: getting your name and your product out into the world, and letting people know how to find you.

Book Marketing Basics: The 5 Ps; Applying the Fundamentals to your Book is Toohey’s latest book. I was thrilled to receive a free early copy so I could provide a review. I have watched Toohey hone her approach to marketing by leading traditional classes, holding multi-day workshops, and experimenting with online avenues for instruction. She’s always made her educational tools interactive and relevant.

My favorite chapters from Book Marketing Basics:
Developmental Editing—a great money saving idea that’s easy to implement.
Line or Copy Editing—offers solid examples to help your writing.
Copyright—or now not to stress out about protection.
What To Charge? & Discounts—numbers are always important for the bottom line.
There are too many chapters on where to sell and how to promote to list them all separately.

I found things I knew and needed to be reminded of, plus new things I’d like to try out. There are tips for saving money and advice on spending your money wisely. Throughout is the mantra of knowing your readers and connecting with them either in person or online. The list of resources at the end of Book Marketing Basics is a gem all by itself. 

As a writer, I started out at the lowest level and I sure wish this practical resource book had been there for me. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Iron Pen 2019 part 2

I was sorting through files looking for one thing and found another. This quote from Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite and worth sharing. I strive to follow this advice and look for joy and be hopeful. It's easiest in a garden. Hardest at the keyboard.

Excerpt from High Tide in Tucson

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.

In my own worst seasons, I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry. We hold fast to the passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another—that is surely the basic instinct. Baser even than hate, the thing with teeth, which can be stilled with a tone of voice or stunned by beauty. If the whole world of the living has to turn on the single point of remaining alive, that pointed endurance is the poetry of hope. The thing with feathers.”

Barbara Kingsolver from High Tide in Tucson, Essays from Now or Never

Monday, March 4, 2019

Iron Pen 2019

The Iron Pen twenty-four-hour rapid writing contest for 2019 is history. The entries are in and awaiting judgement within the three major categories: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My judgement, however, doesn’t need to be tallied. I totally froze up on the prompt. Which has left me wondering what happened?

In 2010 I came through with a win when the prompt was about broken bones. I eked out a win with the quote from Bird by Bird a couple of years later. I’ve always managed an entry of some kind for every other year. My best guess at this point is that some time ago I stopped flexing my writing muscles. I let my skills go lax along with my blog. The main exceptions were a few stints on my next novel. 

Missing out on this year’s Iron Pen was a shame. Especially once I found out this year’s prompt was from a short story by Roxane Gay. Some Iron Penners don’t like knowing anything about the origin of the chosen prompt. But I do. Even if I don’t use that information for my work. I just like having the background. (Sadly, my Google search couldn’t find it for me.)

I read Gay’s Difficult Women for a book club last fall and enjoyed the variety in her short stories. What I liked most about The Dissection of the Human Heart was its similarity to Bullet in the Brain, a short story by Tobias Wolff. I was so impressed with that one I’ve remembered it decades later. Gay’s story does indeed use the anatomical sections of a human heart as repositories for memories and emotions, while Wolff’s story uses the path of the bullet to excite synapses for a single memory while bypassing a host of other possible last thoughts. Gay’s piece offers the perfect feminine counterpoint to the masculine viewpoint of Wolff’s Andre, the protagonist whose snarky attitude led to his demise.

I haven’t been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I guess, as late as this may be, it is time to make one. Starting now: MORE WRITING.

If only my Fitbit would count words as well as steps.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Book on Every Bed

Yes, I am one of those people who read advice columnists on a regular basis. I’m usually looking for pointers on coping with the world and the human condition. I was thrilled recently when columnist Amy Dickinson’s devoted her entire space for the promotion for literacy: Starting with children! Thrilled because I gave books to my great-nieces and great-nephews this Christmas. Books are the presents that get opened and quickly put down, so the youngster can attack the next wrapped present. They’re probably hoping for something with batteries that will entertain them with the modern version of bells and whistles that can possibly leave out a very important ingredient—human interaction. A book on every bed is a great project because it unites a young reader with a parent or other adult and could provide a perfect part of any day. That kind of magic is real.

Sharing your favorite picture books is not just for babies and younger children, it’s possible to find books that might entice teenagers to read on their own. I found one such gem with the latest volume of “The Atlas”, a publication by teens for teens that is created through the Midwest Writing Center’s YEW summer program. YEW stands for Young Emerging Writers, and yes, every summer a whole new crew learns how to write, edit, and publish a magazine that’s all their own work. Another reason the Midwest Writing Center is a valuable resource for the Quad-City area.

Learn more about starting your own “book on every bed” tradition by going to or Amy Dickinson’s Facebook page:

The current volume of “The Atlas” is available for $10 at The Midwest Writing Center:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review for The Boys in the Bunkhouse

I’m go to a lot of book clubs through the Davenport Public Library: Shorts & Sweets, Stranger than Fiction, See YA, and the West End. I have to confess the reason I joined all these clubs is because I get intimidated whenever I walk into the library or a book shop—I’m overwhelmed by all the choices. Is that fear of the unknown or laziness? I can’t do the research? Whatever, it’s a long-standing problem I solved by having someone else pick out the books I read. I’ve only had a few that I couldn’t finish. Many have been wonderful discoveries.

The perfect case in point was reading The Boys in the Bunkhouse by Dan Barry for Stranger than Fiction. It’s a new-this-year book club. I’ve found the selections a bit of a rocky road for me. These non-fiction books can be totally eye-opening or not, an easy read or a challenging one. Reading about the boys from the bunkhouse in Atalissa, Iowa, practically in my back yard, was definitely an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have had any other way.

I enjoyed Dan Barry’s writing for both style and the in-depth research. He found the most amazing tidbits of information and skillfully wove them into the fabric of his text.

Thank you, Bill Fuhr and the rest of the Davenport library staff, for a great experience.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review of the Replacement

Author Bianca Sierra-Luebke uses masterful plotting to create a believable world that’s a blend of science fiction and fantasy. The Replacement: Book 1 of the Replacement Series is an ambitious world-building introduction to seventeen-year-old Angelica Franklin as she transitions away from her humanity. Angelica’s captors use their own blood to mold her into a being that’s supposed to be a replacement, a Lymerian that will find a place in their highly-ordered society. They don’t get the what they were expecting. Angelica emerges strong, fearless and wanting answers for the years of secrets and lies. The ending is a cliffhanger that gives the reader a hint at the answers yet to come.

The above is what I wrote when I finished the book and wanted to get something posted to Amazon and Goodreads to let the author know she had one more review. She’s up to twelve. Not bad.

What I didn’t talk about in my haste to get the posts up was how impressed I was with her writing style. It’s crisp, clean and hits all the important plot points without overdoing it. That’s good in this case because she has a lot of action to cover timewise, fifteen years’ worth, in the small space of this book. On top of that she’s worldbuilding a complex society of aliens that aren’t necessarily all that alien anymore. She’s introducing new terminology. And, of course, laying the groundwork for all kinds of conflict: between individuals, between the main groups, between the long-lived Lymerian’s and those pesky humans who aren’t as primitive as they once were.

Did I mention Author Bianca Sierra-Luebke wrote her book in first person PRESENT tense? It’s something YA authors strive for these days and not all can pull off with consistent good results. It works well here, and I was quite a way into the book before I caught on. Kudos for that.

My only problem was losing track of who was speaking occasionally. Backtracking on dialog tends to drop one out of the narrative. Using a lot of “He says” or “She says” is a pain, but it keeps the reading pace going and they really don’t register after a while.

Now, the ending. The fact that this is part of a series was made clear up front. I can’t find fault with that. The ending is good. We readers have a lot more to find out about our protagonist. And there were a lot of juicy, tantalizing hints aimed at a great world-changing struggle ahead, but I must admit I wanted a bigger ending for this first book. However, I’m thinking that when the series is complete maybe all the books can be combined into one volume—the story line will be fluid and connected and grand—an epic saga in its own right. One can hope.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Questions to Start a Discussion for Any Book

Questions for a book discussion
1.     How did you experience the book? Were you drawn into the story early or later? How did you feel while reading it—amused, sad, confused, disturbed…?
2.     Do you find the characters convincing? Are they believable?
3.     Which characters do you particularly admire or dislike? What are their primary characteristics? 
4.     What motivates a given character’s actions? Do you think those actions are justified or ethical? 
5.     Do any characters grow or change during the novel? If so, in what way? 
6.     Who in the book would you like to meet? What would you ask, or say? 
7.     If you could insert yourself as a character in the book, what role would you play? You might be a new character or take the place of an existing one.
8.     Is the plot well developed? Is it believable? Do you feel manipulated along the way? 
9.     Consider the ending. Did you expect it or were you surprised? Was it manipulative or forced? Was it neatly wrapped up—maybe too neatly?
10.  If you could rewrite the ending, would you? In other words, did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
11.  Can you pick out a passage that strikes you as particularly profound or interesting? 
12.  Does the book remind you of your own life? An event? A person—like a friend, family member, boss, co-worker? 
13.  If you were to talk with the author, what would you want to know?

[I always strive to acknowledge the sources for my quotes and for material that isn't my own. The source for this list of questions came from an internet search. I couldn't find a definitive author. It appears that they, the questions, are often used as a springboard to personalize discussions for many books. In that spirit I altered them for my use and to fit onto one page.]