Thursday, January 29, 2015

007 - License to Tell Stories: How Licensing Services Can Breathe New Life into Your #Writing

I admit it, I'm proud of my publishing credits for short works. On my website, there's a complete list of my stories for kids and another list for adults. Adding new works to those lists gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

But once a story is published, then what? Most fade into obscurity, if they don't actually go out of print (or get taken down from a website).

"Sell them again as reprints!" you're saying. Sure, that's a possibility for grown-up sci-fi. But have you ever tried to sell kidlit reprints? Mighty tricky.

Enter the licensing service, a new concept in my authorial life. Alfie Dog Fiction and Schoolwide Inc. both take already-published children's stories, so long as you hold the right to reprint them. They take new stories too, of course. I've decided to offer new stories to Schoolwide and reprints to Alfie Dog. The latter has a spectacular response rate of under a week! This is definitely not so for Schoolwide: expect to wait a few months. Both sites accept book-length works, too, and Alfie Dog takes fiction for adults as well as children.

From the consumer's point of view, licensing services work sort of like iTunes. The reader picks the story she wants and pays to download it. On the author's end, there are royalties paid per download, with no advance. I am not far enough into my relationship with Schoolwide to comment on their actual payment practices, but Alfie Dog's royalty statements are prompt and transparent, occurring quarterly. There is a minimum that must be met before a payout, but that's not uncommon for a small press.

I don't say you'll get rich parking your reprints on licensing sites. However, even a few cents per story is more that the big fat ZERO your pre-used story is making just sitting in an old website database or anthology. I've decided to feed Alfie Dog as many reprinted stories as it's hungry for. Here's my collection there so far.

Have you used licensing services? What has been your experience? Are there others I should try?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Susan Margaret Chapman introduces kids to Inuit culture in THE OLD WAYS

Ages ago, I had a job as researcher and content-writer on several series of books about indigenous peoples of the world. One of my favorite projects was on the Inuit. Somehow, reading about igloos and snowshoes completely captivated me.

Imagine my delight to learn that there's a recent picture book about this wonderful culture. Even better, its author, Susan Margaret Chapman, agreed to be my guest and talk about her research for the book!

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by Susan Margaret Chapman

This picture book, which was inspired by a true event, is about a contemporary Inuit boy. Simon loves computers, TV and pizza, and is not interested in learning how to build an igloo, or in listening to his grandmother’s old tales. But when their snowmobile breaks down, and his grandfather builds an igloo and his grandmother helps to fill the waiting hours with many tales, Simon changes his view.

The idea for The Old Ways came from a story that was in the paper. An Inuit family survived for over a week when their snowmobile broke down in a storm. I imagined a child who thinks the old ways are very out of date. He doesn’t want to hear about them. But when they are stranded, and his grandfather is ready with all his tools and builds an igloo to save them, I could see how the boy would change his mind.

As a teacher librarian, I was always very interested in storytelling. I had a storytelling festival each year, and asked the students to go home and listen to stories from their parents and grandparents, and then tell them to us. Storytelling is a lost art, and is such an important thing to preserve, and to hand down family history.

The storytelling part of the book seemed to flow as a natural part of the story. They were waiting to be rescued, and the grandmother tells him many stories, which, for the first time, he appreciates. And these stories are, of course, part of “the old ways”.

I spent a lot of time checking that all my facts were correct re igloo building, seal oil lamps, clothing etc. When I was baffled about how there were sticks to hold up the cooking pot (when this takes place above the tree line) I phoned a school in Nunavut, and asked if someone could talk to me and check everything. I talked to the grade 4 teacher, and she reassured me that the wood sometimes drifted in, and they saved it. We also discussed things like what they would use in a seal oil lamp now instead of seal oil.

I also spent a lot of time looking at folktales that would work, as I thought that students and teachers might want to go and read the actual folktales mentioned in the story. The story that Simon tells is a popular old story I used to tell called “The Fisherman and His Wife”.

I loved doing the research, but became anxious about the accuracy of the illustrations, because they had to be right. I sent a number of notes and directions for the illustrator (who I never actually met or talked to directly).

I have never been to Nunavut, but  certainly hope to visit there eventually.

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Learn more about Susan Margaret Chapman on her website.

Purchase The Old Ways on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Marla F. Jones on Life as a #Kidlit Writer/Illustrator

As a writer who can draw a bit, I have huge admiration for people who hone their skills in both fields, and thereby can illustrate their own books. One great example is today's guest, Marla F. Jones.

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I love books. I love reading. As a first grade teacher and mother of two, I read literally thousands of children's books. So when I retired from teaching, I promptly joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and began the on-line writing course at the Children’s Book Insider, or “the CBI Clubhouse.” My first real writing gig was creating curriculum activities for Augsburg Fortress Publishing. My first book, Ponder Porcupine, was written to supplement a piece of curriculum.
Susan York Meyers, a published author and friend, graciously mentored me through the process of writing for children. I  completed the Children’s Book Insider’s writing course (some parts more than once), joined a couple of critique groups, revised and polished, received additional critiques, revised and polished some more. I followed submission guidelines exactly and sent my manuscript to editors and agents. Rejections abounded, saying 'I like it, it just doesn't fit our line-up' or “really fun story, it’s just not for me”. So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and publish it myself.
But did I have what it takes to illustrate my own picture book? As a teacher, I enjoyed working with beautiful papers, creating colorful bulletin boards and games. So, I created a few cut-paper art illustrations for my story and asked my family, friends and colleagues if the pictures were good enough for a children’s book. Everyone gave me an enthusiastic “thumbs up”!
I’m a folk artist. I am not classically trained but I’ve always had a deep appreciation for all types of visual media. Folk artists typically use bright, bold colors in a unique or unusual way. The illustrations for We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! include colorful papers, fabrics and found objects. Look close and you’ll spy twigs, pinecones, and textural objects. I especially love repurposing. After all, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”! The layers are assembled then scanned. Scanning causes shadows to appear, giving it a fun, 3-D look. The paper and the scanner do the shadows for me! At this point, with my computer I add highlights, shading, and tiny details as well as fix imperfections.
When author Susan Meyers saw the published book, We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark!, she liked the artwork and asked me to illustrate her picture book,  Grrr…Night!.  It stars a little monster who can’t go to sleep. My latest book, Let’s Follow Them!, came out in July 2014. I wrote and illustrated it, using the map of our city in the cover background.
I work hard at my craft. Every day. I attend writing conferences, take classes, and soak up everything I can about writing and illustrating picture books. I’m also the co-founder of a group called Next Generation Writers. Our slogan is “nurturing tomorrow’s storytellers and artists.” We teach writing/illustrating workshops to elementary students and adults.
What could be better? I get to do the things I love every day—teaching, writing and illustrating.
Full circle, right?
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Books written and/or illustrated by Marla F. Jones:
Let’s Follow Them! (available through Ingram and Amazon)
Grrr…Night!, written by Susan York Meyers, (available through Amazon or author/illustrator)
We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)
Ponder Porcupine (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)

Learn more about Marla F. Jones on her website.
Purchase her books on Amazon

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tom Williams and his Historical Secret Agent, James Burke

Today's guest, Tom Williams, tells us about the research and inspiration for his historical adventure, Burke in the Land of Silver. Ladies and gents, meet James Burke....

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Years ago, I wrote a 19th century historical novel that attracted interest from publishers but was generally regarded as too "difficult" for a first novel. My agent (yes, I had an agent then) said that I should write a more straightforward historical adventure in the same period. It made sense, but I like writing stories that are strongly based in historical reality, so I had to find a real life figure I could base an exciting story on. A friend who knows how much I love Argentina suggested that I look at Europeans who were in South America in the early days of that country. Thanks to her, I discovered James Burke, a little known spy for the British around the time of the Napoleonic wars. Burke’s story had everything: war, espionage, beautiful women and an evil villain.

I've taken a few liberties in the telling of the tale but the plot of what became Burke in the Land of Silver is mostly either definitely true or very well could be. As I had already visited Argentina several times, I was writing about a place that I knew and I made a couple of extra trips to research places that were particularly connected with James Burke. That meant the opportunity to ride out with the gauchos on a cattle ranch and a trip on horseback up the Andes, besides the usual visits to museums and historical sites in Buenos Aires.

The story is set around the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. It’s a little known – and not particularly impressive -- part of Britain's colonial history. The book gave me the chance to tell the story of a military adventure that few people will have heard of.

What I tried to do, having got this historical background accurate, was to write a modern spy story but set two hundred years ago. James Burke was to be my James Bond. I have always thought that Ian Fleming was a great writer and that his books are a model of how to write a thriller. Like Bond, Burke is nominally in the armed forces. Bond is a naval officer, Burke is in the infantry. Like Bond, he is a flawed hero: a snobbish womaniser, always with an eye to the main chance. (I’m not saying he has exactly the same flaws as Bond, but there's certainly an overlap.) In the end, though, we admire him because he is brave, loyal, and, when forced to choose, will ultimately do the right thing. It helps that he’s good looking, an excellent rider, multi-lingual and a crack shot.

Does it work? Well, I enjoyed writing it and, more importantly, I enjoyed reading it when I had to check the finished product before publication. I wouldn't claim that it's up to Fleming's standard, but I think it compares well with some of the stuff that’s been passed off as James Bond since Fleming died. I’m not really the person to say, though. Why not read it and decide for yourself?

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Learn more about Tom Williams on his blog.

Burke in the Land of Silver is available on Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Michelle Murrain dances with dystopia in FRIENDS WITH WINGS

One of the beautiful things about genre fiction is its malleable borders. A particular genre or trope can swirl into another, allowing the author to create a completely original blend that suits her world and characters. That's what today's guest, Michelle Murrain, has done with Friends with Wings. She explains:

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Looking at the Future
by Michelle Murrain

I've read my share of dystopias. Some, such as Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower," are powerful reminders of how far we may well fall. Some aren't realistic enough (cue: zombie apocalypse) to make much sense to me. I have yet to write a dystopic novel, and I don't even know if there is one in me. The grim reality of the trajectory of the human species is enough, for now, to keep me from it. Friends with Wings, my newest novel, however, does have some dystopia in it, and a bit of a view through the lookinglass to the future. 

Trina, the main character, and only point of view character, lives in the Bronx a little less than 90 years from now, in 2102. Her family was forced to move to the Bronx because her neighborhood in Queens flooded from the encroaching sea. Debt has become inheritable, so she works outside of school to help support her parents, who are trying to pay off debts of their grandparents. She won the lottery to go to school, her sister didn't, so she works full time. When her parents die in an accident, in order to repay the debt, she has to "sell her labor contract," which is early 22nd century speak for being sold into slavery.  She's very lucky to catch a berth on a ship leaving Earth. Otherwise, she'd be stuck in a factory somewhere for the rest of her life.

The looks at the future come later, when she's listening to old, delayed, broadcasts from an increasingly distressed Earth, as she is settling in, and learning about the planet Johannes, where she finds herself. But her life, and the bulk of the book, are about survival on a different planet, and her companions, the Eeriv, an intelligent winged species that populate the planet she's on. Earth's travails are a backdrop she lives with, but isn't really in touch with.

Although the dystopic future is not center stage, Trina's direct experience of that world determines her perspective and approach to things. She's practical, strong, persistent, and doesn't take much for granted. She's resilient, determined to survive, and determined to do good for her family. Relatively early in the book, Earth is the past, and can never be revisited. It is, in its way, irrelevant. I think that is as close to delving into dystopia as is possible for me, at least now.

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Learn more about Michelle Murrain on her website
Read reviews of Friends with Wings on Goodreads.
Purchase Friends with Wings on Amazon.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alma Alexander on RANDOM and what it means to be human

Today's guest, Alma Alexander, writes fantasy. She explains how she sees the imaginative world of her fiction as standing for the complexities of everyday life.

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The World of Random
by Alma Alexander

When a new book comes out, it's  always fascinating to see just what
it is that jumps out at people, what readers take away from it, how
they respond to the things the writer believed important enough to
build into the story.

In reviews of my latest book, "Random",  I was very happy to see
readers and reviewers pick up on the things which had mattered to me,
which I had put in there for a reason and a purpose, and which were
finding their mark - things like how I had portrayed issues like
bullying and discrimination, what it felt like to be an immigrant in a
strange new place, what it felt like to live "different" and how it
affected the minutiae of one's life.

I was very happy to see comments like "this is a book on what it means
to be HUMAN" - because that, wrapped in the fantasy world inhabited by
the Were-creatures I had created to live there, was exactly what I had
been aiming for.

Being human is such a complicated thing, almost impossible to
communicate precisely from one human mind to another; we may share the
commonality of form and function, but our inner lives are all very
different. We look at the world as filtered by those different
experiences and expectations and often find it disconcerting to have
that worldview challenged by somebody else who might look at an
identical thing but perceive it very differently because of their own
set of filters.

But here's where fiction - fantasy, in particular - is such a
magnificent and unifying lens through which it is possible to look at
something we would find it tough to focus on in its raw reality and to
suddenly perceive the object we are observing and judging in a very
new light.

In fiction, you are offered a set of filters which are almost
inevitably very different from your own - and through those filters,
with a helping of empathy and insight, you are permitted to see
something with a whole new set of eyes.

What I wanted to put out there is that very question - that
deceptively simple question - what DOES it mean to be human, what does
it mean when I consider myself human, and how can I possibly take it
upon myself to judge another human by standards that apply only to me
(because they can't help but fail that test; nobody else can BE me, by

If readers close this book with that in their minds - if they steal a
glance across the aisle and see someone who is not quite like them (a
different race, a different creed, a different sexuality) and see a
connection which had not been there before - even if only a bare
handful of readers do this - we have a beginning of something
potentially wonderful. We have the potential to talk to one another,
to bridge the chasms between us, to communicate, to understand.

And my Were-kind will have left a solid and valuable legacy.

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Learn more about Alma Alexander on her website and on Facebook.

Purchase Random on Amazon. Read some reviews on Goodreads.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Katie Clark's #Dystopian #YAlit Novel VANQUISHED and #giveaway

Congratulations to Katie Clark on her YA dystopian novel, Vanquished. Even better, there are two more novels available in The Enslaved Series. Oh, and even better yet? She's giving away a copy of Vanquished! All you have to do is comment on this post to be entered to win.

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The Making of Vanquished
by Katie Clark

Thank you for having me today! I’m thrilled to introduce your readers to my debut novel, Vanquished

People are always asking me how I got the idea for Vanquished, and since it’s a story I love telling I am happy to share it.

This wasn’t an easy idea. It came to me in bits and pieces over the course of a few years. It started with the main character, Hana. I was always thinking about this girl. This strong but vulnerable girl. She wanted to believe in the life she’d been led to live. She wanted to follow the rules. Except she couldn’t.

At that time, I had no idea what brought about her unhappiness or dissatisfaction, I only knew she needed to work toward something more.

Fast forward a year or two, I was given the idea to write a story set in a world where there was no God. No Bible. No religion. Would this world be better? Worse? And how? I had no idea how to make this story happen, but the idea stuck in my head and percolated.

Finally, the two halves came together to make a whole. One day I was sitting in church (yes, I admit I was daydreaming), and it hit me. These two stories were the same story. Hana was dissatisfied because she suspected there was more than met the eye in her city, and she set out to find it. Her mom was sick, and she needed answers. What she uncovered went way beyond hidden medications and technology—what she found was the truth that the God she’d been told was myth might not be myth at all. The story just flew from there, and it didn’t end for three books!

I hope you all enjoy it, and to celebrate I’m giving away an e-copy of Vanquished! I’ll choose one lucky commenter at random, so leave your name and email address below for a chance to win. Thanks for stopping by!

About Vanquished:
When Hana’s mom is diagnosed with the mutation, she is denied the medication that might save her life.  Fischer, a medic at the hospital, implies there are people who can help—except Hana’s not sure she can trust him; Fischer is involved in a religious group, and religion has been outlawed for the last hundred years.  Hana embarks on a dangerous journey, seeking the answers Fischer insists are available. When the truth is uncovered does Hana stick to what she knows?  Or does she join the rebellion, taking a stand against an untrustworthy society?

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Learn more about Katie Clark at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Purchase The Enslaved Series (Vanquished, Deliverance, Redeemer) on Amazon.