Mastodon The Writing Desk: November 2014

30 November 2014

Reflections on #NaNoWriMo 2014

50,000 words and thirty days later after my fourth year of National Novel Writing Month I can finally relax - and reflect on what I’ve learned this time round.

In case it has somehow escaped your attention, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun approach to creative writing. 310,095 participants started the challenge on November 1, 2014, beginning working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.  The organisers say ‘valuing enthusiasm, determination and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.’  (See )

Stephen King once said ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.’

The first bit is easy, as I always have several books on the go at once – it’s the ‘write a lot’ bit that can cause the problem, particularly during an unusually mild autumn in the run up to Christmas. I’d also made it harder for myself by choosing historical fiction as my genre – and deciding it would be OK to launch my new novel The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham at the same time!


I started researching in September, sorting out timelines, making notes and gathering references for nearly two months. I also created a fairly detailed outline and made key decisions, such as point of view, voice, where and when it would start - before I wrote a word. What I didn't do was worry about the characters or dialogue, as I like to keep my creative options open during NaNoWriMo.

Writing Time

I’m not a 'night owl' when it comes to writing, as I'm what they call a ‘lark,’ which means I wake early, my head full of ideas for plot and characters, so I made a rule to write as much as I could first thing, then had the rest of the day to reach the rest of my target. I learned on previous NaNoWriMo challenges NOT to try to finish on the 30th, as it's important to have space to catch up if you need it. I therefore trued to exceed my target by just a hundred words each day until I was a full day ahead.

Dealing with Social Media during November

In previous years I admit to being distracted by social media and trying to keep up with blog posts, so this time I made good use of the Buffer app (see which posts your tweets for you which you carry on writing. I am also grateful to friends who kindly guested here on my blog throughout November, enabling me to focus on my writing.

Writing ‘buddies’

One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is the international community of like-minded writers. I have to thank author Monica La Porta (@momilp) for making me realise it is possible to finish way ahead of time – and inspirational writer Sarah Dahl (@sarahdahl13) for an impressive early finish on Friday the 28th which motivated me to really try hard and do the same.

Now, as they say, the hard work starts.... Happy writing!

Tony Riches

27 November 2014

'Meet the Character' Blog Hop

Prue King is nineteen and lives on Karinya Station, one of seven girls. She and her friend Sally decide to go on the adventure of a live time—a road trip, right around Australia. Neither Prue nor Sally is in any hurry to settle down, unlike some girls their age. They want to see the country and be independent. When they meet brothers Dan and Steve on the Sunshine Coast Prue is stunned by her feelings for him, but her plans remain the same. She and Sally are determined to get to Perth where they will live for at least a few months and decide what their futures hold. When the girls leave the brothers behind though, a horrifying experience will change their plans and their lives, perhaps forever.

Coming soon on Amazon

I was 'tagged' by author Christine Gardner on this Blog Hop. Christine lives in Central Victoria, Australia, Christine lives in regional Victoria, Australia, with her husband and a Siberian husky, Esky, the proud owner of the back yard. After a life-long love of reading and of history, she spent several years at TAFE (vocational education) studying visual art, editing and professional writing. After a year of freelance editing she then returned to studies, this time at university, eventually emerging with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), majoring in History and Philosophy.

It was the subject of Women’s History and her Honours thesis that led to the writing of a non-fiction book, ‘Not Guilty’, a tragic story of infanticide in 1910, as well as a fiction version of the same story, ‘Her Flesh and Blood’. She has also written several novels for children and young adults and is now focused on fiction for adults. Her last novel was ‘Stony Creek’, a rural romance, and she is currently working on ‘The Road to Karinya’. This tells the story of Prue, a young woman from on an outback station in New South Wales, who heads off on a road trip around Australia with her friend Sally. Prue and Sally are looking for independence and adventure but that’s not all they find.

While not having quite managed the road trip around Australia, Christine and her husband did spend some time on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland; a highlight of Prue’s travels, it was also the place Christine’s eldest son (of five) was born. ‘The Road to Karinya’ will be available very soon and you’ll find it on Amazon. Find out more about Christine's work on her blog.


1) What is the name of your character?

Lady Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester.

2) Is she fictional or a historic person?

Eleanor was a real person, born in England in the year 1400

3) When and where is the story set?

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales UK.

4) What should we know about him/her?

Eleanor Cobham was falsely convicted of treason and witchcraft, and sentenced to imprisonment for life.

5) What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Her husband was the Duke of Gloucester, heir apparent to the English throne - and his enemies used Eleanor's interest in astrology to attack him.

6) What is the personal goal of the character?

Eleanor seeks redemption through forgiving those who persecuted her.

7) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham is available now in paperback
and eBook on Amazon UK and Amazon US and in all popular formats on Smashwords

26 November 2014

Guest Post ~ Royal Regard, by Mari Christie

When Bella Holsworthy returns to England after fifteen years roaming the globe with her husband, an elderly diplomat, she quickly finds herself in a place more perilous than any in her travels—the Court of King George IV. As the newly elevated Earl and Countess settle into an unfamiliar life in London, this shy, not-so-young lady faces wicked agendas, society's censure, and the realities of a woman soon to be alone in England. 

Unaccustomed to the ways of the beau monde, she is disarmed and deceived by a dissolute duke and a noble French émigré with a silver tongue. Hindered by the meddling of her dying husband, not to mention the King himself, Bella must decide whether to choose one of her fascinating new suitors or the quiet country life she has searched the world to find.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

When writing Royal Regard, I set out to create a cast out of the ordinary for the genre, most specifically, no virgins, no debutantes, and no hormonal young men. So many Regencies are about 18-year-old virgins and 25-year old rakes. I can appreciate a white dress and youthful complexion as much as the next person, but for me, experience and wisdom are far more interesting. And I suspect, even when life expectancy was much shorter, older people probably had happy endings, too.

I also found, as I wrote, that I was reaching for a Happy Ever After for everyone, including the villains. Not all of the characters in the book grasp the joy there for the taking, but everyone has an equal shot at it. This probably explains why, in many ways, the hero and villain are frighteningly similar, their primary differences only intent.

While extensive world travel has never been a primary goal for me, somehow, at least one character in every book I write either experiences or wishes to experience a trip around the world. In the case of Royal Regard, the tendency is more pronounced than usual, seen in both Lord and Lady Huntleigh, ambassadors to “the heathens of the world,” as well as the Duke of Wellbridge, who spent much of his youth chasing adventures outside England.

While respecting the nomads in the cast, though, the book didn’t entirely come together until the villain made himself plain, a man who has never traveled farther than the distance across the English Channel. I frequently joke about my nasty habit of falling madly in love with my villains, then rooting for my heroes to kill them, but in this case, I was hard pressed to write the comeuppance for Monsieur le Duc. He stole my heart with his evil ways, in part because when he appeared, the excitement level, both for me and the manuscript, shot through the roof. Suddenly, the book contained a love triangle, a jealous husband, a long-lost lover, and two reprehensible rogues fighting over the heroine. Once the second duke took the stage, Lady Huntleigh never stood a chance.

Mari Christie

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About the Author

Mari Christie is a professional writer, editor, and graphic designer in Denver, Colorado, whose creative work includes three mainstream historical fiction novels, one Regency romance, and innumerable poems. In the early 90s, she was responsible for the first weekly poetry slams in Denver and Charleston, South Carolina, and held positions at a wide variety of local and regional newspapers and magazines, including The Denver Post, Focus on Denver, Charleston’s Free Time, and New ReView Magazine. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Writing, summa cum laude and With Distinction, from the University of Colorado Denver. She has acted as an advocate for poetry and creative expression her entire adult life. Visit her website and find her on Twitter @mchristieauthor                                                                                                                         

24 November 2014

Book Launch ~ The Immortality Game, by Ted Cross

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

Genre: Sci-fi thriller

Publication date: November 24, 2014

Available NOW on Amazon US and Amazon UK

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About the Author

Ted Cross has spent the past two decades travelling the world as a diplomat, all the time dreaming about writing fantasy and science fiction. He's visited nearly forty countries and lived in seven, including the U.S., Russia, China, Croatia, Iceland, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. . He currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan with his wife and two teenage sons. Find out more at Ted's blog and follow him on Twitter @TedaCross 

21 November 2014

Special Guest Post ~ Up, Back & Away, by Kim Velk

Miles McTavish, 15, is undersized and inoffensive. He likes old bicycles, new music, and (don’t say it too loud), model railroading. He also has to travel back in time to 1928, across the sea to England. Once there, he is to find “a girl with a gift, a girl born out of her time” and a “secret that was not meant to be” and then return home with them both. Miles' quest carries him from a great estate in England's beautiful countryside to London's jazz-age cabarets, and from terrified boy to heroic young man.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

How'd You Get the Idea In the First Place?

As it happens, I can tell you!

I was listening to my iPod, Adele’s first album as it happens, one spring morning in 2007 as I was walking along the Stowe, Vermont Recreation Path.  It’s a beautiful path that follows a rocky stream through woods and fields with the Green Mountains in the long view.  I had recently gotten a half-time job (I’m a government lawyer by day) and I had two kids in school.  This meant I had a little mental space and time with which to work for the first time in years.  I had been a writer before law school, for local newspapers and in a college PR office, and I had continued writing (for fun) on a blog that I have kept since 2006.  I mention this because I was in the writing habit, which helped, I think, to keep ideas coming.  The walking part is important too.  I walk every day if I can.  I got to thinking that day as I listened to Adele sing about how important it was for gifted people to arrive at the right place and time if their gifts are to be realized. 

I've always been a reader, of course, and my major in college was English literature.  So when this thought flitted across my mind, I immediately thought of Thomas Gray’s famous poem, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,’ which includes this notion as one of its major themes.  That is, it contemplates those whose talents never stood a chance, given the time and place in which they were deposited.  I wondered what if some exceptional people weren't constrained by the circumstances of their birth?  What if the Universe had a way of, very occasionally, correcting these mistakes?  Of shifting people born in the wrong time and place to the place where they and their talents could flourish?

What about, a time travel story, I thought, with a cossetted but basically good American rich kid at its center?  How about a rescue mission – where our hero has to find a girl born out of her time and a secret not meant to be and then get home with them both?

It was my own small “J.K. Rowling moment” – you know, the one we’ve all heard about, when Ms. Rowling was riding on a train and suddenly had an idea for a story about a school for young wizards?   She recognized it as the best idea she ever had and was off. 

I’m no J.K. Rowling, but I think I experienced something of the same thrill.  I knew such a story would allow me to braid together many disparate cords of my lifelong interests in English language and literature, social history, especially women’s history, the differences between English and American culture, as well as their similarities, and about how we all must meet the challenges that life throws at us.   I could also write about fun stuff (for me) Staffordshire pottery, London in the twenties, the English countryside and English country living at its last gasp between the wars (a period that has always fascinated me).  I could include three-speed bicycles and manual typewriters and dogs and old buildings and old songs and new music and stranger-in-a-strange land and all of that!

The book unfolded itself right there.

Well, sort of.  I then had to spend the next five years working it all out.

It wasn’t all joy, working on the book.  But it did a great deal for me personally.  I enjoyed the research, writing the characters into being, and working out the plot lines.  Mostly I was trying to write the book I wished was out there for me to read when I was growing up.  We’ve all had that bit of advice, right?  So there you have a chestnut for your trouble reading to the middle of this post.  (Normally, my only advice to people is “drive slow in parking lots” and “take Latin.”)  

That’s It?  No Other Pearls of Wisdom?

I’ll venture this much more: writers should read good writing and stand up for it.  I am dismayed that there are readers out there, by the millions, apparently, who don’t care much about how a story is written.  For a writer to take that attitude seems almost criminal.  (Believe it or not, there are such people).  I’m perfectly willing to be the finger sharpener in the corner who will not stop saying that good writing matters and bad writing, at least when offered to the public for sale, deserves censure.

I don’t want to be too scoldy, though, and I’m here to make myself useful if possible so I’ll add a few more tidbits about my writing/publishing experience for what they may be worth.  I am self published and happily so.  Not because I’ve been made rich and famous but because I deployed my time in a way that meant I now have a book to show for it.  I sent the manuscript around to about 25 agents when it was done.  I got one nibble from an agent who then passed.  Submitting was a lot of work. How much time do we have?  I wanted it done and, as time went on, I wanted it done my way.

Finally, Looks Matter

My way was OK, but one mistake I made was in the packaging.  I have a background in public relations and have worked on a few magazines and I developed a cover that I liked pretty well.  It wasn’t terrible.  One or two readers commented that the book was better than its cover.  Hmm.  About a year after the book’s initial release, I heard from a potential audio book narrator who is also a hardheaded businessman.  The cover was not good enough, he said flatly.  People do judge books by their covers. I got the message. I went looking for an artist who could convey the romance of the 1920s – someone who could do with light what Maxfield Parrish had done.  I found him in Juan Wijngaard.  I came across Juan’s work at the website of the well-known art gallery The Illustration Cupboard, in London.  I approached him very sheepishly because he was a real Artist and I had no idea how one approaches real Artists.  It turned out he was very nice and he had some interest – if he liked the book. 

This last bit was key for me too.  I had approached at least one other book designer by then whose work I liked.  I asked if he would read my book and he said “no.” He simply did not have time.  I even offered to pay more and he still said no.  I appreciated his candor, but this was a deal breaker.  I felt strongly that a cover is a collaborative effort.  Juan and I found quickly that we had lots of common ground.  (He’s Dutch, which is what you want in a painter, correct?  And he loved bikes (see reference to “Dutch”) and music, which is a key story element. He had lived in England and trained at the Royal Academy.  There was a lot of synchronicity at work.  The Universe, in its way, seemed to have matched us, or so it seemed to me.  He created a beautiful cover and I relaunched the book with his cover and just a few corrections to the text this fall.  

I invested some money in Juan, and in the excellent book designer Scarlett Ruger, but not a crazy amount.  I don’t have crazy amounts.  I reasoned that even if this investment were never repaid monetarily, it would be repaid by posterity. That is, my kids could show their kids and be proud.  That was enough for me. 

If I had things to do over again, I wouldn’t have tried to skimp on that first –round cover.  I had put six years of my time writing into the book and that was justification enough to invest in what lay beyond my skill.  The cover realized an inward vision for me and I hope it will draw in readers who will not be disappointed in what they find behind it.

Kim Velk

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About the Author

Kim Velk lives in Stowe, Vermont, with her two teenagers, a husband/COO and a rescued terrier. She where she works as a lawyer  - and also operates laundry and taxi service! As well as Up, Back & Away, Kim is also the author of The Tiny Confinements Miscellany  Visit her blog and follow Kim on Twitter

20 November 2014

Special Guest Post ~ Witchcraft Couture, by Katarina West

Oscar Pellegrini is a talented fashion designer with a deadly enemy: his own critical mind. He destroys much of what he designs and has been drifting for years, until a chance meeting with a former girlfriend triggers a creative crisis so deep that Oscar escapes to Russia, where he drinks and despairs like never before. Just when he thinks he has lost everything he discovers a magical machine that turns ordinary outfits into irresistible sartorial triumphs. Oscar takes the machine back to Italy – and before he knows it, he has become famous for his designs, but the happily-ever-after ending for the fashion messiah turns into a nightmare when his dresses acquire a life of their own, gaining energy and evil as time goes on. Haunted by his creations, a dark secret he is no longer able to hide, Oscar finds himself fighting for his life and sanity, and searching for the answer to a question he never knew existed. Is there such a thing as stolen genius, and if there is, can it turn against the 
very person who stole it?

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Here’s an eternal question for you: what comes first to the author’s mind, the plot or the protagonist? For me, and especially with this novel, the answer was the plot – or rather, the idea, the novel’s theme and essence summed up in no more than three sentences. And the idea of Witchcraft Couture goes as follows. One, a talented yet pathologically insecure fashion designer finds a magic machine that turns all his designs into sartorial triumphs. Two, his other-worldly clothes sell like hotcakes, and he becomes a star overnight. Three, things go wrong – they always do – and my lead character discovers that he has become a prisoner of his dark secret.

It has always fascinated me what enables some people to make the most of their abilities, whereas others, often equally gifted, linger in oblivion, never really fulfilling the hopes they nurture. Where does it come from, that once-in-a-lifetime inspiration, which makes you create a book or a film or a painting that speaks to thousands of people? Is it a question of talent? Hard work? The luck of the Devil? Or purely and simply, a weird sort of magic?

It hasn’t helped that in the past I’ve suffered from creative blocks and destroyed my texts, because a ruthless self-censor told me that much of what I wrote wasn’t good enough. I don’t remember how many crises and bad workweeks it took, but it just so happened that one day I began to think about creative blocks in a larger context. And that’s how Witchcraft Couture was conceived.

For what if there’s a fashion designer? And he’s as besotted as they come? And insecure, just like me? He tries and tries, but never gets anywhere. And then one day, in the midst of the umpteenth creative block, he finds a machine that is not of this world. After realising what it is worth, he makes a creepy Faustian deal with the underworld. Or the supernatural? Or God? Or simply with his own tricky subconscious? And he becomes a genius for a period of time. And all his dreams, even the wildest ones, comes true.

And despite the fact that he’s got it all, his life turns into a nightmare. Slowly his unearthly dresses begin to acquire a life of their own, gaining energy and evil as time passes by. Haunted by his creations, a dark secret he is no longer able to hide, my desperate fashion designer finds himself fighting for his life and sanity, and searching for the answer to a question he never knew existed.

Is there such a thing as stolen genius, and if there is, can it turn against the very person who stole it?

Katarina West
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About the Author

Katarina West was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family and travelled in Africa, Asia and Latin America, before studying at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy. Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance. Witchcraft Couture is her first novel and, unlike the unearthly clothes in its pages, her outfits are not shining. You can visit her website at, and follow her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter @WestKatarina 

18 November 2014

Guest Post ~ Left Behind Book One: The Forbidden Voyage, by R. Anne Polcastro

What would you do if everything you were taught
about your home planet was a lie? 
What would you do if you were Left Behind? 

Available NOW on Amazon US and Amazon UK

How These Books Come To Be

It starts out as nothing more than a passing thought. A random passing thought. Something kind of weird, kind of strange and farfetched, like what if those little green men from outer space are actually our long lost relatives? The wheels start turning. Ideas burst out of nowhere. What about an alien story told by an alien? A teenage alien who lives underground on a squalid planet destroyed by greed long before he was born! 

Somehow what was just a thought evolves until the premise can support a novel. Or in this case, a trilogy. (Read the first book in the Left Behind Trilogy on Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review.) But that's just the beginning. And I've got half a dozen of these beginnings waiting in the wings, waiting their turn. Not nicely, either. They claw and scratch, some more than others, and demand to be let out. While they're waiting each idea gets its own brainstorming notebook, a composition book where I free write and also capture any more random thoughts related to the idea. The brainstorming chart is probably the greatest thing I learned in K-12 so I use it a lot to expand the setting and plot further.

Characters, on the other hand, develop mostly in free writing. That's where they shine through, become more than a vague shadow at the back of my mind. That is where they begin to steer the plot. That is where they prove that they are their own person and I cannot tell them what to do. Like Endirion, the thirteen year old alien protagonist in The Forbidden Voyage. I really wanted him to be tougher. A hero! But no. No, he had to turn out to be an average kid instead. And the school bully I wanted to hate? Well, I guess he just knew too much and it was eating him up inside, because he turned out to be the gallant one.

In my world a story could be remanded to those lined, handwritten pages for months, even years. Meanwhile I'm writing another book that started out the same way, daydreaming about quitting my job to write full time, and taking mini holidays in VanCity, BC to recharge my muse. The hardest part is sticking to one novel with the pile of different colored composition books calling my name.

The second hardest part is trying to put the story back together after I've written it. Since lot of the free writing also ends up in the final product, acting as the springboard for a scene, or a chapter, sometimes for the whole novel, the story itself is often written out of order. There is a method to this madness and I do end up with a complete draft. It just has to be put in order when it is done. Of the three novels I have completed so far, The Forbidden Voyage experienced the least of this. While I wrote a whole second part, a prologue, and an epilogue that were removed and saved for the second book, for the most part Left Behind Book One was written in a much more linear manner than my other two books. While a few switcheroos were definitely needed it's not like the beginning and ending chapters flopped around and traded places over and over.

Maybe this means I'm growing as a writer? Maybe, but more likely it just reflects the different genres. A middle grade dystopian sci fi is certainly easier to write from beginning to end than a fictional treatise on mental illness or a tragic comedy about suicide by hitman. Either way the organized mess that comes out of my process seems to work. Ultimately, however, that's for the reader to judge and I really want to hear what you think. From now until December 5th you can download Left Behind Book One: The Forbidden Voyage for FREE from Story Cartel. Happy reading!

R. Anne Polcastro
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About the Author

Riya Anne Polcastro wrote her first book when she was five years old. It was only twenty some words long, typed up by her kindergarten teacher, and bound with construction paper and yarn . . . but it was the beginning of a dream that would later eat at the grown up her until she finally gave in and let the stories pour out.  She was born and mostly raised in the Pacific Northwest. When she wasn’t there, she was growing up on the other side of the Mexican border, which is why she learned to read and write in Spanish first (not that she can speak anything but English very well, and even that can be a challenge early in the morning). And while it was hard to love the wetness again after the desert, Polcastro still hails from the rain infested northwest where she lives with her two kids and their family dog. Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @RAPolcastro

Kindle Scout Campaign: White Swans, By Annamaria Bazzi @AMBazzi


   Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare. Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves? Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in. While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans. Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency? 

Kindle Scout campaign runs to December 17 2014

What is this Kindle Scout campaign you ask?

Amazon is now publishing books, yes Amazon is a publishing company with hired editors and all, but they do things a bit differently. Once they accept a novel it is launched in this campaign lasting thirty days in which the author has to gather enough votes.

Those novels with the most votes are then published. What are enough votes? I'm not sure of that answer. The one thing I do know is that each novel, to make it, needs a lot of votes. As a new author I'm at a disadvantage because I don't have a fan base to support me. Therefore I'm using any means that are legal in this campaign to gather supporters to vote for my novel. White Swans A Regency World is a Young Adult fantasy with a pinch of romance series and this is book 1. 

In the campaign you'll be able to read the first three chapters to determine if you like the story and would like to vote for it. If you want to help me make it through the campaign, you can vote here

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About the author

annamaria bazziAlthough born in the United States, author Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the States, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish. Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.  You can visit Annamaria at: Blog / Website / Facebook Page /  Twitter / Goodreads and Check in on Kendíka’s Facebook page

17 November 2014

Writing a Historical Novel: From Family Story to “Inspired” Characters By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

A powerful tale of intermingled violence,
love and ambition. 

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK 

I married a man who everyone assumes is Chinese because of the epicanthic folds of his eyelids. I didn’t know Laos was a country until I heard my husband explain over and over again that no, Laos was not another name for Cambodia. Through our personal travel to visit his family, but more so the stories I heard over lunch and dinner, my interest in this landlocked part of Southeast Asia developed. Everyone knew about Vietnam, and most now have a frame of reference for Cambodia, but Laos, this was a word that could stop conversations.

Yet during the 1960s and 70s, more bombs were dropped on this landlocked part of Southeast Asia than in any other war. The turbulent history of the Land of a Thousand Elephants is the backdrop for my latest novel. The Opposite of Hate opens a window onto a forgotten corner of Southeast Asia and brings little known history to life through vivid characters and settings.

Three years of writing, research (reading everything I could get my hands on which was not much), and listening to family stories helped me put together a trajectory for a set of characters who were buffeted by history in this complex setting. One of the places I got stuck was when the characters in my story departed from the real lives of my in-laws.

Should I stay faithful to real life? Or could I take Hollywood screenwriter like liberties and let the wheels I’d put in motion find their own paths? That’s what happened in the end: I wrote a story inspired by family lore but no longer a representation of specific lives but rather informed by historical, personal, and imagined experience.

The Opposite of Hate explores the intersections of family, loyalty, and nationalism as Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is being taken over by Communists. The political instability drives Seng, a widowed engineer, to marry his best friend’s teenage daughter, Neela, so they can escape re-education or even worse, death. The unlikely husband and wife cross the Mekong River into Thailand as strangers.

Life in the refugee camp brings surprises along with the grime. As they struggle for survival, romances blossoms into an unplanned pregnancy. Seng and Neela get their wish of immigrating to the United States. Succeeding in suburbia, however, presents another unique set of challenges, ones that are not black and white. A story of hope, violence, love and ambition, Seng and Neela embody the struggle of thousands who fled the threats of communist only to face the challenges of democracy.

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

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Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer.  She has since published eight e-books, including a momoir for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies; a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories; and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving PeaceHer coming of age novel, An Unlikely Goddess, won the SheWrites New Novelist competition in 2011. Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day-to-day dynamics between housemaids and their employers. After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.

16 November 2014

Guest Post by Helen Sedwick ~ Writing the Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Self-publishing a book can seem overwhelming. Just when writers think they have finished the hard work of crafting a manuscript along comes ISBN, DRM and EPUB. 
   They hear horror stories about dishonest self-publishing companies and wonder how to avoid them. Must they read those online contracts that look like 5000 words run through a blender?
   What about author platforms? How do they use eye-catching images without spending a fortune? Or write blog posts that are provocative but not defamatory?
   And they find themselves running a small business, often for the first time. They wonder about incorporation, licenses, and taxes.
   I know; I’ve been there. When I decided to self-publish my historical novel COYOTE WINDS, I thought I was starting a new creative adventure. Instead I was reading contracts, hiring freelancers, and filing out tax forms.
   After practicing business law for 30 years, I knew what to do, but I wondered about other independent authors. My writing friends asked me questions, often about complicated issues such as fair use and collaboration. What about the other hundred thousand or so indie authors? Copyright, trademark, privacy, piracy, licensing, taxes—it’s enough to intimidate any writer.
   Most writers are incredible self-teachers, so I looked for an easy-to-use resource to help them. I found dozens of books giving advice on designing covers, editing content, and tweeting effectively, but none that focused on the legal issues of self-publishing. So I wrote that book, Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook.
   I have always had a soft spot for creative dreamers.  My parents were stereotypical artists; my mother an actress and my father a stage and television director.  By temperament or choice, they did not understand business or money. When I was young, I saw them being taken advantage of over and over again.
   In my first job out of college as an advertising copyrighter, I realized I knew as little about business as my parents. I was as vulnerable as they were. After a few years of struggling as a writer, I went to law school to learn to navigate the business world myself and to help creative people like my parents. Here was my chance.
   Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook covers a range of topics, including:
  • Moving from Manuscript to Book. The Handbook compare the options of engaging a self-publishing company to doing it yourself using a print-on-demand provider. It illustrates what contract provisions are acceptable and what are not. It explains the mechanics of hiring designers, editors, and other freelancers.
  • Intellectual Property Issues. Copyrights, trademark, fair use, and public domain are explained in practical, useful terms, including how to find copyright holders and ask permission. The Handbook provide tips on licensing images and music for little or no money.
  • Spotting Scams. Writers are e-blasted by businesses promoting overpriced services, if not outright frauds. The Handbook helps writers spot aggressive sales techniques and scams.
  • The Scary Stuff.  The Handbook provides needed guidance on avoiding the dangers of defamation, invasion of privacy, and infringement.
   I worked hard to make the Handbook easy-to-follow, and judging from the reviews and feedback, I succeeded.
    As a California attorney, I focus on U.S. law, but the chapters on self-publishing contracts are helpful for any writer. For a peek at my suggestions, see 7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing A Self-Publishing Company.
   I have also co-written two short ebooks: How to Use Eye-Catching Images Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer and soon-to-be-released How to Use Memorable Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer. Also in the works, The Blogger’s Legal Handbook.
   Writing and publishing a book is an investment of time, money and emotion. Writers should not lose their rights by signing the wrong contract, or waste money by buying into a scam, or lose sleep by getting sued for defamation. I want to help writers stay out of court and at their desks.

Helen Sedwick
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About the Author    

Helen Sedwick is a business lawyer with 30 years of experience assisting clients in setting up and running their businesses, legally and successfully. Her clients include entrepreneurs such as wineries, green toy makers, software engineers, and writers. |Helen says, "I do not go to court, and no one is ever going to produce a movie about the exciting life of a business attorney. But I get a great deal of satisfaction from keeping my clients out of trouble and out of court, so they can focus on their businesses, their creative projects, and their lives."  For more information about the legal issues of self-publishing, check out Helen's book and her blog at Helen also has a website and can be found on Google+  and Twitter @HelenSedwick

Disclaimer:  Helen Sedwick is an attorney licensed to practice in California only. This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.