Monday, May 30, 2016

Cynthea Liu's "The Great Call of China": A Review and a Giveaway

I have a habit of buying books. I'm particularly prone to this "vice" when attending writers conferences. But fortunately for you, I like giving away the books after I've read them.

Culling through my shelves recently, I found Cynthea Liu's young adult book, The Great Call of China which I apparently bought at a SCBWI-Carolinas event in 2009. 

It's about time I read it!

This is the fourteenth in a fifteen book series published by Penguin from 2005-2010, S.A.S.S. (Students Across the Seven Seas). This  multi-author series features a student studying abroad in a different country.  

Liu's book stars Cece who travels to China to study her passion--anthropology. But the trip has special meaning for Cece. She wants to go to the Beijing orphanage where she spent her first two years. She hopes to find her biological parents--without her parents knowing about it.

Cecil's guilt and ambivalence of finding her biological parents is a theme throughout the book. Her search for her family is an interesting backdrop to her love for anthropology. Both involve her digging for the truth; and both present challenges and obstacles. 

In a moment of reflection in the middle of the book, Cece is visiting The Bell Tower in Xi'an where four major roads cross. (Note: this is a great example of using a setting to reflect a character's emotions. In this case, the crossroads show Cece's indecision. I just discovered this symbolism in One Stop for Writers!). She is thinking about Jess (her roommate) and Will (her crush who seems more interested in Jess than in her.)
Cece leaned against the balcony rail, studying them [elderly adults doing tai chi] a while longer. Then she looked past the square, at the citizens crowding the streets, the signs written in Chinese and the bikes, buses, and cars...It was all so different from everything she knew, and it made her wonder if China would ever feel like a place where she could belong. Like she could be a part of this country, too.
She listened to the bell ring over the city.  
Then she saw her purpose here with more clarity than ever before. Who cared what happened with Will and Jess? It was trivial compared to what she was about to embark upon in Beijing in a couple of weeks. She would be getting a chance to learn more about herself, and that was what she should be thinking about. (p.100) 
Jess's story is an interesting counter-balance to Cece's. A little on the wild side, Jess is only in the summer program to try and make her father happy. When her grades don't meet his expectations, she pulls out of the program with a decision to follow her dreams of attending design school. 

In a candid conversation before she leaves, Jess tells Cece: 
"You're so lucky, Cece. Your parents--they don't care about all that. They're just glad they have you, right? And they probably loved you unconditionally since they got you." (p.215)
Seeing herself through the Jess' eyes, Cece grows in self-awareness and realizes what she still needs to do.

The romance which eventually develops between Cece and Will is sweet, does not overpower the story, and is written without sexual overtones. Although the book is listed as young adult, I think girl readers in the upper range of middle school will enjoy it also. 

If you want to win my gently-read autographed copy of The Great Call of China for yourself or your favorite 7-9th grade female reader, leave me a comment by June 3. Please leave your email address if I don't have it. As usual, if you share this on social media or become a follower of my blog, let me know what you have done and I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Chat with Janice Hardy: What Would You Ask the Person Behind Fiction University?

Facebook can be a huge distraction but it also can be a way to connect with people and find out what's going on in their lives. I'm never sure who I'm going to read about, but at times I find out interesting tidbits about a friend's life. 

For example, several months ago Janice Hardy, author and blogger extraordinaire, mentioned she'd just moved to central Florida and was trying to make her way through a pile of boxes. Wow! One of my favorite blog personalities was living just down the road from me! (Not exactly...but close enough.) I jotted an email and asked if we could meet sometime. It took a few months of coordinating schedules, but we finally met. 

Here are some notes while we ate a delicious lunch at Turner's Kitchen and Bar in Leesburg, Fl. (BTW, they specialize in fresh, local food if you're in the area!)

Janice's Background

CAROL: I'm always impressed with your depth of knowledge about the writing craft. How did you learn so much?

JANICE: I taught myself "on the job" and by reading every writing book I could put my hands on. I learned a lot about writing by critiquing other people when I was a member of Critters Writing Workshop.

CAROL: I'm surprised. I thought you had a degree in writing!

JANICE: My training is in commercial art. I did that to make a living, but I’ve always wanted to write. When I was little I drew stories and then wrote stories about them.

Finding the Time

CAROL: You're a novelist with three fantasy books in print, you write and self-publish excellent books about writing (Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure Foundations of Fiction Volume I) plus you post A LOT of blogs. How do you find time for everything?

JANICE: I don't. (grin) Some stuff just doesn’t get done.  And I have days when I feel like I'm behind in my own writing. My goal is a minimum of 2000 words a morning (I write for about 4-6 hours). If I'm disciplined I can write 80,000 words in two months. And that’s a book. I keep a structured schedule but make sure I take breaks. 

This might not be the best writing in the world, but it’s a pretty good draft.  In the afternoon I also try to write 1000 words a day on my writing books and/or blog posts.

I don’t check my email until noon and can walk away from it if it's not important. 

It helps to have a guest authors every week on the site besides myself. I have posts that are just story prompts. My Indie column features Indie authors and I also have a monthly, "How do they do it?" series. I've recently begun re-posting old articles on my Refresher Fridays. Real Life Diagnostics runs on Saturdays, and sometimes they can be pretty quick to write, but not always. 

I'm always trying to make writing easier for my readers, that's why I cross post to previous blogs. My husband Tom said it is more like a writer resource site than a blog.

Inside Fiction University

CAROL: What is your favorite thing to do on your blog? 

JANICE: Finding different ways to approach a tough subject for people. For example, how do I explain show don’t tell? It's gratifying when I know I have helped a writer take the next step. 

CAROL: What is the most common mistake you find in Real Life Diagnostics

JANICE: A lack of conflict; no sense of a problem. 

Inside Janice Hardy

CAROL: What are you working on right now?

JANICE: I'm revising an adult paranormal suspense that I began as a Nano novel. I wrote it for fun and it's making me laugh. I may self-publish it since I know there are readers out there for this type of book. I'm also working on a young adult science fiction fantasy. 

I'm working on a writing book on revision that I will self-publish. Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Final Draft is due this summer; it's a more fleshed out writing workshop.  I have a third Planning Your Novel Workbook that is a companion book to the writing book.  

CAROL: How long did it take before your first novel was published?

JANICE: Fifteen years. I received lots of rejections in the beginning because I didn't know what I was doing. When I had the  right book, the process of getting an agent and publisher went fast. 

CAROL: What's your opinion on critique groups?

JANICE: The sweet spot is being in the middle skill-wise. Having a few people better than you who you can learn from and a few people under you who you can help is ideal. You learn by teaching; you'll see stuff in other people’s work and either check it in your own or realize you do it too.

I have critique partners who give me different types of feedback One on characterization, another on descriptions or worldbuilding. All my beta readers have different strengths and bring something strong to the table. 

CAROL: If you could give advice to other writers, what would it be? 


  1. Don’t send your manuscript out until it’s ready.  
  2. Read and write a lot. Read widely. In your genre and other books also. It gives you ideas about how other writers handle things. 
  3. Focus on what’s unique about your story and run with it. 
  4. My high school creative writing teacher told me: “Stories are interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways." When your character resolves his problem, the book is over. 
  5. Write your query first. Set up the world, the characters, and what the problem is and how they’re going to resolve it. The better you know the ending, the more you'll know where you're going with your book. 
  6. A great story trumps writing skill any time.  

If you haven't already found the wealth of information Janice has on her blog, what are you waiting for? Fiction University is at your fingertips and like One Stop for Writers, is another amazing writing resource.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Linda Phillips: On Marketing, Celebrating Mental Health Month, and a FANTASTIC Giveaway!

Congratulations to J.Q. Rose who won a 1000 word, pitch, and query letter critique from Joan Edwards on last week's blog. 

This week we're hearing from Linda Phillips who is a familiar face to many of you. Her book CRAZY, came out in 2014 and she's still marketing it--although this maybe a "novel" idea for many of you. Take it away, Linda! 

Carol:  I understand you tried a new way to market CRAZY.  Care to explain what you did and how you got the idea?

Linda:  I recently exhibited the book at the Blue Ridge Bookfest, which means I wasn’t a speaker but was invited to set up a table and sell my book.  While we are speaking about marketing tools, book festivals are an interesting lot.  You need to choose them wisely, unless you have unlimited time and funds.  Many times you have to pay a registration fee, sometimes you must join the organization with an even higher fee, most times you must foot your own bill for lodging, and they usually span two days of your time.  Unless you are the featured speaker or a well-known name, you will probably average around a half-dozen sales.  But the upside is the networking, and that almost always leads to lucrative new connections, ideas, or gigs.  

Back to the Blue Ridge. Someone mentioned a well-known author who originally boosted his sales by buying up his own books.  That got me thinking outside the box, and on the drive home, I came up with this idea.  My book is about a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness, and May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month.  What if I bought up some of my own books and gave them away, with the asking price of a review on Goodreads?  My agent is currently shopping my second book and she keeps reminding me that potential editors love to prowl around and look at your numbers.  The idea seemed like a win-win situation.

Carol:  How did it turn out?  What were your expectations for this experiment?  Did you meet them?

Linda:  I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half that lower expectations reap happier results.  I put a notice on our neighborhood list serve, as well as posting on Facebook, and told myself I would be happy if I connected with a half-dozen people.  On Saturday morning I parked myself at the top of my driveway with a lawn chair and a sign, another book to read, and a bag of my books.  Here are the results:
  • Three responses from FB, including a hospital chaplain.  
  • One neighborhood acquaintance who, unbeknownst to me, is a retired counselor.
  • Two neighbors whose family members have bipolar.
  • A college student majoring in Psychology who gave me the name of her professor.  (By the end of the afternoon, I had a presentation booked with this professor.)
  • Another college professor had committed by email, and became discouraged when she discovered she couldn’t use my driveway and would have to cross the street.  
  • And sadly, more than one person who quickened his or her steps to rush by me after reading my sign, or crossed the street before having to pass by me.  If you are counting, you’ll note that I made seven positive face-to-face encounters.  I’d call it cheaper, more satisfying and certainly as successful as any book festival I’ve attended recently.  

Carol:  Would you do it again?  How would you change it?

Linda:  Yes, I am hoping to repeat it a couple more times during the month of May.  Unfortunately most of the colleges are between semesters right now.  I’m toying with the idea of sitting in front of the trunk of my car in a key parking lot, but I haven’t firmed that up yet!  Certainly if I do it again at home, I will move onto the grass so someone can pull into my driveway.  We live on a busy street, and I just hadn’t thought that one through.  Ah, the intricacies of marketing!  And if I really get gutsy, the thought occurred to me that the idea might be newsworthy and a phone call to the local paper might be in order.

Carol:  Can you share any of the conversations you had?  

Linda:  The conversations with those who “connected” followed the same pattern I’ve seen since the beginning of promoting my book.  There is a look of understanding, something that clicks in the person’s life experience that erases stigma and opens the way for awareness and acceptance.  I know that is general, but it is really the best payback I have received with CRAZY.  My goal from the beginning was to start a dialogue about mental illness, and I feel gratified and thankful that it has happened every step of the way, one person at a time.

I would just like to add that I can step back and see the change that has happened within myself as a writer since October 2014.  I think being comfortable giving the book away marks a new phase for me.  You might call it not taking myself so seriously, not taking the writing life so seriously, getting a grip, chilling out, or you name it.  I think it’s like trying to get pregnant, or being a new parent.  Once you relax, good things start happening. 
How about you? Would you be willing to read and review CRAZY? If so, Linda will send you an autographed copy. All you have to do is be one of the first five people to email Linda by noon on May 20 and promise to post a review on Goodreads. Here is Linda's email address: Enter soon!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder and a Giveaway!

Although I normally feature middle grade or young adult books and authors, every once in awhile I find another author whose work I want to share with you. Joan Y. Edwards is a NC author who recently published Joan's Elder Care Guide drawing from her own life experience caring for her mother, Ethel D. Meyer. It is my privilege to have her answer some questions about her new book. 

How did you get the idea for writing the Elder Guide?

When I was taking care of my mother, the substitute caregivers told me that the plans I left for them made it easier for them to care for her. I thought if it helped them, it might help others to better care for their elders and enable them to relax while someone else cared for their loved one.

Can you give a synopsis?

Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive gives you, the caregiver, ways to meet your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social needs and those of your elder to promote healing, well-being, and survival.

Based on the my research and fourteen years of
experience caring for my mother, this book provides 
many resources to find the right place for your elder to
live, explains ways to improve communication to help 
find solutions to problems, and gives organization ideas
for medical, financial, insurance, and legal documents. 
It offers ways for a caregiver to get time away from
caregiving responsibilities and contains information
substitute caregivers must have to keep their elders

Along with all this, the book explains the signs of the 
end of life, ways to celebrate an elder's life, and gives 
duties of an executor of an estate. It also includes ten 
useful charts to assist in assessing and recording an 
elder's needs and capabilities.

What is the intent for your book? 

My intention in writing this book is to empower the 
caregiver and her elder to survive by finding ways to 
meet their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and 
social needs. I want them to have a sense of well-being.

How is it different from other books on the subject? 

It’s the only elder care guide that focuses on meeting 
the needs of both the caregiver and the elder. My book 
has techniques for getting answers you need from 
health care professionals to care for your elder. My 
book shows how to use a routine to bring about 
calmness for you, the caregiver and your elder. My 
book has charts and lists to help organize information 
needed for taking care of personal, health, legal, 
and financial affairs of your elder. My book tells how 
updating your elder’s needs assessment and organizing 
information in a notebook strengthens your ability and 
the health care professionals’ ability to meet your 
elder’s needs.

Tell us about your path to publication. I know it 
hasn’t been easy!

I submitted my manuscript to three publishers. I submitted 
to 4RV Publishing and received a contract 
from them in 2011 for the book to be published in June, 
2015. Waiting such a long time was difficult. 
Therefore, in the summer of 2013, I asked if there was a 
way to speed up the publishing process. They said if I 
bought the first 100 copies of the book, they would start 
the editing process. Since one editor wasn’t able to 
continue editing, they assigned a second editor. It took 
over two and one half years for the complete edit.

What is 4RV Publishing’s market plan and yours?

My plan is to have book signings, seminars, and 
workshops at book stores, libraries, medical centers, 
churches, or community centers.

4RV Publishing’s plan is to offer to create paperback, 
hardback, and eBooks, if I wished. One was free, I paid
extra for the ISBN number and for the formatting for 
the other two. The eBook will come out in 6 months to 
a year. 4RV attends writing conferences and local book 
festivals and takes copies of its books to sell. They
announce their new books on their blog.

Why is this book needed?

In 2000 during the U.S. Census they counted 35.0 
million people 65 years of age and over in the United 
States. As health continues to improve many of these 
will make it to their eighties and even many will live to 
be over 100 years old. Unless doctors are able to find 
cures for dementia and Alzheimer’s, these 35 million 
people may need someone to care for them. The 
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate 
that one out of five workers balances work and elderly
caregiving responsibilities. This means that as many as 
7 million people might want help caring for their 
parents. Middle-aged adults in the next 20 years may 
end up caring for parents and grandparents. My book 
will help these people find a less stressful way to meet 
their own needs and care for their elders, too.

Thanks for all this helpful information, Joan. I could have used a book like this when I was helping to care for my mother. I hope that it helps many individuals as they care for their elders. Best wishes for its success!

You can order Joan's book through any of these stores:

4RV Publishing Paperback $15.99 includes shipping within the USA

4RV Publishing Hardback $19.99 includes shipping within the USA

To celebrate her book's debut, Joan is giving away a 1000 word, pitch, and query letter critique. Leave me a comment by May 12 when I will pick a winner. Make sure you leave your contact information if you are new to my blog!

Joan Y. Edwards is an author, illustrator, and retired teacher in North Carolina. Joan's Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive is published by 4RV Publishing. She wrote and illustrated picture book, Flip Flap Floodle, and self-published it with BookSurge in 2004. She is currently working on illustrations to self-publish her chapter book, Larry, the Terrifying Turkey.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Books for Babies: By Eleanor

As some of you know, my life has been pretty busy recently. I spent two weeks in Philadelphia helping out with my youngest granddaughter, Eleanor. This past week my husband and I moved into an apartment in Greenville, SC. Not much time for writing or blogging. Usually this blog is about writing tips, author interviews, or book reviews. Indulge me for a minute, for a post that is brought to you by my youngest guest blogger, 10-month-old Eleanor.
Lisa and Adam both love books and have been reading to Eleanor from her earliest days. 

8 days old and already a Sandra Boynton fan!

They lined her board books on a shelf that is perfect for Eleanor to grab. They usually suggest she picks three, but as we all know, sometimes it's hard to limit ourselves.

Limited in her verbal abilities, Eleanor communicates her enthusiasm in other ways.

After picking her books, there is snuggle and reading time.

Of course, we did other things besides read. 

At the park, I struck up a conversation with a young mother who told me about the 1000 Books before Kindergarten program. In Lansdowne, Pa. where they live, the library rewards children with prizes for every 100 books which are read to them. She was using an App to keep track of her daughter's books. 

As a grandmother, I just shake my head. They certainly didn't have that when my young 'uns were growing up!

If you need more ideas on promoting reading in your family, here's another great blog on How to Create Readers (and Read More Yourself) by Liz Michalski on Writer Unboxed.


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