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The How and Why of Author Newsletters January 27, 2016

Posted by heidi skarie in Uncategorized.
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If you’re a writer you will want to read this post by Steena Holms about newsletters: why you need them, how often to send them, what to say in them. And most important– remember newsletters aren’t about you, they are about your readers. Good luck with your writing.

Writers In The Storm Blog

Steena Holmes Steena Holmes

by Steena Holmes

In my last post, I talked about Street Teams and using my newsletter to connect with my readers. It raised a few questions about newsletters to which I replied “but that’s another blog.” The ladies at WITS took me up on that. So today we’re going to talk about …

Newsletters.

Some authors groan at the thought while others smile. But when used correctly, a newsletter can be your new best best friend.

Why? Because it’s your number one method of communication with readers.

What can you use your newsletter for?

  • Announce the release of your latest book
  • Promote when you have a special deal on your book
  • Get word out about a special contest
  • Boast about a great review or that sparkly new award you won
  • Tease your readers about your latest project

However – and this is a biggie – your newsletter isn’t…

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10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer January 5, 2016

Posted by heidi skarie in Writing.
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Flower

  1. Write regularly. Like practicing the scales on a piano, anything you want to be good at takes time and effort. The more you work at it, the better you will become. Dedication to your writing is more important than natural talent. You can learn to write just as you can learn to draw, play an instrument or play golf.
  2. Keep a journal. A journal is a great place to write down your goals, dreams and ideas. It’s a place you can write without worrying about whether anyone will see or like it. You can learn about yourself, heal from hard experiences and write down stories about your life.

I was inspired to become a writer after having a series of six movie-like dreams. My dream journal entries of the story filled 100 pages. The story was so enjoyable I learned the craft of writing.

  1. Keep a notebook with you. You never know when you’re going to have an idea you want to jot down such as an inspiration for a character or scene. You might overhear an interesting conversation that sparks an idea or see a building or park or woods you want to use for a scene of your novel.
  2. Join a critique group. Find a group of writers that are on the same level as you or more experienced. Meet with them on a regular basis—once a week or once a month. Exchange your work ahead of time and so they can comment on your writing. Be open to criticism. Listen to all they have to say without defending yourself. When they are done, you can ask them to clarify their comments if there’s anything you don’t understand. When you go home, you can decide if their comments are helpful. I pay special attention when several people in the group feel the same way about something. In the end it’s up to you to decide what criticism is helpful.
  3. Take a writing class. College classes, night classes, or community center classes—all can be helpful. Find a writing class on the type of writing you want to do whether fiction, nonfiction, poetry or articles.
  4. Go to writing conferences. Conferences are a great way to meet other writers. There are many different types of writing conferences. The romance, science fiction and mystery writers offer big ones every year. Agents are often at conferences and may offer sessions where you can pitch your book to them. Local or regional conferences for all types of writers are also beneficial.
  5. Join local writing groups. Look for ones with people who write literary fiction or in the same genre as you do. My area has romance, speculative fiction, mystery, library, church, and women writers groups.
  6. Read regularly in a variety of genres. Read fiction and nonfiction, past and current best-selling books. Read the genre you write. Read with a critical eye. What makes the book good? Where could it be improved? In a novel do you like the pacing, plot and characters?
  7. Read books on writing. Start your own writing reference library. I have an unabridged dictionary, thesaurus and several books on grammar in my library although now I use the computer mainly as a reference. I have books on character, plot, dialogue, description and scenes. I have books on writing science fiction since I write in that genre. I also write historical novels, so I have books on Native Americans and Vikings. Other books include inspirational, getting an agent or publisher, The Writer’s Market and books on marketing.
  8. Never give up. Just keep writing and submitting to agents and publishers or self-publish. You’re never too old to start writing. You’re never too busy to write. Write when you can and where you can. You don’t need a special time to write or special room to write in. All you need is a piece of paper and a pen or a computer or word processor.

Share your tips for being a better writer.  I’d love to add to the list

Annoure and the Dragon Ships by Heidi Skarie December 21, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review, Uncategorized.
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cover DS smaller file

Author Notes about Annoure and the Dragon Ships.

I’m excited to finally see Annoure and the Dragon Ships make its entrance into the world of literature. Annoure and Thorstein are finally getting a chance to share their story.

I carefully researched this period of history and did my best to make it accurate. Although the Norsemen had runes for writing on stone and labeling things, they didn’t have books that would have left a more detailed picture of their lives.

Much of what we know about them has comes from archeologist and the people who they invaded who didn’t portray them in a favorable light.

We do know the Norsemen’s longships were an important part of their culture. They were fast, sleek and shallow-drafted, which allowed them to travel up rivers and come into shallow water.

In writing the book I used some Norse words to make the story more authentic. Since the Norse language was before the time of dictionaries, the names given to words varies, as does the spelling of those words. I chose to take the most commonly used words and their spellings of the words such as “sonr” for son.

Even the word “Viking” is a more modern term to refer to the Norsemen. They didn’t call themselves Vikings. They said would say they were going “a-viking” when they planned a trading expedition or went on a raid.

The Viking Age began with an attack on the monastic settlement of Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast on England in Northumbria.

My story starts a year later when five dragon ships sailed up the River Thyne and attacked the St. Paul’s Church at Jarrow. They burned the two monasteries, killed or kidnapped the priest and monks, and fought the soldiers and villagers who tried to stop them. Their war leader was killed during the attack.

As the Norsemen left, a terrible storm arose and two of the dragon ships sank. The Norse warriors who survived the shipwrecks swam to shore and were then killed by the villagers and soldiers.

Historians disagree as to where the Norsemen who attacked Jarrow came from. For the purpose of my book I chose to have them come from what is now known as Norway.

While researching the book, I traveled to England and visited St. Paul’s Church. The church is still in use after over a thousand years. Beside it are the remains of the two monasteries that were destroyed in the Viking raid.

Nearby was an exhibit of a reconstructed medieval village complete with live animals. I was delighted to see what a village would have looked like back then with its thatched-roofed houses and twisted-branched fences.

Later I made a trip to Norway with my husband who is a one-hundred-percent Norwegian. I wanted to visit Rosendal where Thorstein’s family homestead was located on the west coast of Norway, an area famous for its fjords.

We flew into Stavanger where we rented a car and started our journey. We drove through a tunnel cut out of bedrock under a bay, traveled by car ferry, and drove on narrow mountain roads though some of the most beauty country in the world. Obviously the area has changed in over a thousand years yet the mountains, ocean, the nearby island (where Thorstein’s neighbors lived) and fjord are the same. Being there helped me write more realistically about the area.

I hope the story depict the Norsemen in way that shows their strengths and weaknesses and gives you a glimpse into their lives.

 

The Importance of a Beta Reader with Heidi Skarie December 2, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Uncategorized.
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Here’s an interview on Stephanie Hopkins’ blog on “The Importance of a Beta Reader with Heidi Skarie”. The interview talks about the value of advanced reader who gives an author feedback on their novel before the final edit.

Layered Pages

Heidi Skarie BRAG

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Heidi Skarie today to talk with me about the importance of Beta Readers. She writes visionary novels that are an intoxicating amalgam of action, adventure and romance, featuring strong, spiritually inquisitive heroines. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is her first science fiction novel. She previously published Red Willow’s Quest, a historical novel based on a past life, about a Native American maiden training to become a medicine woman.

In the fall of 2015 Heidi plans to publish her new novel: Annoure and the Dragonships, another historical novel based on a past life, about a young woman kidnapped by the Vikings. In 2016 Star Rider and the Ahimsa Warrior, the second book in her Star Rider series will be published.

 Heidi, do you use beta readers?

Yes, it’s wonderful to get feedback on your book.

I know of…

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Alex & Emma: A Movie Review September 25, 2015

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Alex & Emma

Alex & Emma

Alex & Emma is an enchanting romantic comedy. The description on the back cover of the DVD says it well: “Publish or perish! Alex has just 30 days to finish his romance novel and collect his writing fee—money he owes to loan sharks threatening his life. So stressed-out Alex hires Emma to be his stenographer and discovers she’s opinionated, direct, a cause of exasperation . . . and a source of inspiration.”

The description leaves out that Alex (Luke Wilson) has writer’s block, hasn’t even started the novel and is living in a dumpy apartment. The loan sharks hang him outside his second-story window by his legs and burn his laptop on the gas stove to encourage him to get the money he owes them.

Without a laptop, Alex is forced to hire a stenographer, luring her in with a false ad that he works at a law office.

Emma (Kate Hudson) shows up at the door and immediately realizes this isn’t a law office and is about to leave when anxiety-ridden Alex faints. She drags him back into his apartment by his feet—what decent person would just leave him collapsed in the hallway? she reasons. When he awakens, Alex shows her his hardcover, published novel to convince her that he really is a writer in need of her services as a stenographer.

Emma picks up the book, looks at his photo on the back cover, then immediately turns to the last page to see if she likes the ending. Alex is dismayed that anyone would read the end first. Emma explains she doesn’t want to waste time reading a book if it doesn’t have a good ending—thus the fun begins.

The fun affair between Alex and Emma takes place both in the contemporary world and in the 1920s world of the novel Alex is writing with Emma’s not-always-wanted input.

As Alex writes, we learn about his past struggles to find happiness and love. In the end we wonder if Alex will make the same mistakes with Emma that he made in the past or if he is willing to move forward?

For a writer, the book is especially enjoyable. The movie gives an insight into Alex’s writing process and his struggles against his own insecurities that blocks his creative flow. The viewer sees how the world of the book is shaped, the changes made to the characters and plot, and the struggles an author goes through to find the best ending.

For a fun evening, see Alex & Emma. It’s full of wit, imagination and will make you laugh and feel good about the absurdities and complexities of life.

If you’re a writer, have you ever had writer’s block? If so, how did you get over it? Is Alex’s process of writing a novel similar to yours or different? In what ways? Do you work well under pressure and deadlines or does that make it worse?

By Heidi Skarie, author of Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge. Visit my website at www.heidiskaie.com and sign up for my newsletter and to receive a free short story.

Here is the book trailer.

Thought Provoking Movie: If I Stay August 31, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Movie reveiew.
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If I Stay

If I Stay

If I Stay is based on a best-selling young adult novel by Gayle Forman.  High-school girls are its primary target audience, but both my husband and I enjoyed it.
It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl, Mai Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) who has a loving family and wonderful boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) who’s in a band. She’s a talented cello player, but is socially inept .  She’s looking forward to a life with lots of possibilities when she’s in a serious car accident with her entire family.  Mai’s badly injured and finds herself out-of-her-body, looking at the accident.  Her body is rushed to the hospital and she goes along and sees herself being operated on.  After the operation one of the nurses tells Mai’s unconscious body to fight to live, but Mai doesn’t know how to do that.

After her operation, she is concerned about her parents and little brother and looks for them in the hospital.  The viewer discovers as she does which of her family members have died.  The viewer also learns about her boyfriend, friends and grandparents as people gather at the hospital.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks while Mai’s body is unconscious. We learn how she and Adam met and fell in love, about her parents, grandparents and friends and her desire to go to Julliard in New York.

The movie was well done with an interesting plot and great acting.  I especially liked the musical element.  Mai’s father was in a band and was surprised when she became interested in playing the cello at a young age.  Her parents were supportive of her talent even though they didn’t understand where she got her love of classical music. In the movie we hear both her cello playing and Adam’s band.  We see how music can uplift and enrich people’s lives.

I liked the premise of the story where a person has to make the decision to stay in this physical world with all its pain and happiness or move on to the next world.  The author explores what it might be like to be seriously injured and watch your body operated on.  It shows the confusion a person might feel after an accident and the deep sorrow that might make a person decide they wanted to die.

I’ve read many stories about near-death experiences and there are many accounts of people who do see their own body at an accident and/or on the operating table.  This story didn’t explore Mai going toward the light, or into a tunnel, or meeting loved ones on the other side.  Mai was out-of-her-body but still in the physical world. Its focus was more on her life and whether she should “fight to live” or go on.

The story explores the sacrifices necessary to become really good at something.Mai spends hours every day playing the cello, though she plays more out of love than self-discipline. Her father enjoyed being in a band and also had talent, but he made the sacrifice of giving up being in the band to become a teacher and support his children.  He then discovered he loved teaching and was happy with his choice.

The movie also explores the many options we have in life. In one scene Mai’s not sure what direction to go in as she and her mother stand at the sink doing dishes.  Her mother tells her whatever choice she makes is a good one or there could be yet another path she might follow that would be equally good.

Another theme is of unconditional love: both the love between Mai and her family and between Mai and Adam.  Mai’s father sells his musical instrument to buy a cello for his daughter.  Mai and Adam also have to decide what sacrifices they are willing to make for their relationship.

At the end of the movie Mai has to make the final decision to: to stay or go.

What choices do you make daily?  Do you live life to its fullest?  What sacrifices have you had to make to do what you love, or support someone you love?

Do you think people have a choice to live or die when they are in serious accident or have a serious illness? Have you ever had a near-death experience?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Below is the trailer of If I Stay.

Check out my webstite at http://www.bluestarvisions.com

What is the difference between a short story and a novel? June 23, 2015

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I write novels and have extensively studied the complexities of how to write one. I’m less familiar with the structure of short stories, so I did some research to figure how a short story is different from a novel.

The obvious difference between a novel and a short story is that short stories are short and novels are long. Short stories can be 1,000 to 20,000 words. More average is 3,000 to 5,000 words. A novel can be anywhere from 60,000 to over 120,000.

A short story has one main character and the story is told through that character’s point of view. Often it is told in first person or limited first person. A novel has a cast of characters and the story can be told from any of those characters’ viewpoints.

The main character of a short story has a need or fear that leads to a major change or climactic event in that person’s life. The protagonist comes to a single understanding or insight. A novel is much more complex with many transformational events that more than one characters can go through.

A short story usually takes place in a few hours or days in few settings. A novel can take place over a short period of time or it may cover years or generations in many different settings, countries and even planets.

A short story has one theme, whereas a novel can explore different themes and has more breadth and scope.

Each story form has different challenges. The short story gives the author a chance to explore one idea with one character. It must be written so that it is tight and a lot conveyed in an economy of words. The first draft may be written in one setting and rewritten and edited in a short period of time. However, the limitation on the number of words in itself can be a challenge. How do you make a reader care about the character in so few pages? How do you make an emotional impact?

The novelist has time to explore characters, different settings, subplots and sweeping events. The commitment to write a novel is much larger and it may take years to research, write, rewrite and edit.

While researching the difference between short stories and novels I came across a YouTube of TC Boyle reading The Lie from his anthology Wild Child: And Other Stories51++DtIBs9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_. The story is delightful to listen to and quite engaging. I found myself thinking—no don’t say that! I can’t believe you just said that. What were you thinking?

The Lie illustrates all the qualities of a good short story discussed above. It’s well worth listening to.

Here is the YouTube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-nwoMJTung

I’d enjoy hearing your impressions of The Lie. Did you find yourself identifying with the main character? Did you laugh? Have you ever told a lie that led you to more lies?

If you’d like a copy of my short story Star Rider Emerges, click over to my website and sign up for my newsletter. Here is a link: bluestarvisions

The Boy Who Lived Before May 28, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Past lives.
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Do you believe we have more than one life? I recently ran across a YouTube about a Scottish boy named Cameron who, as a toddler, talked regularly about being a “Barra Boy”. Barra is a small island that is part of the British Islands and has a population of one thousand. Cameron remembered living in a one-story white house and knew his family name was Robertson. He kept insisting that his family missed him and that he needed to go back to Barra to see them.

Cameron told his mother that he used to be in Barra and then he “fell through to you.” He added that it was okay to die because you come back as someone else.

After three years of Cameron talking about his life on Barra, his mother Norma decided to bring him there. She was accompanied on the trip by a man who studies children’s past life memories.

I think you’ll enjoy the YouTube, which also shares the story of a young child named Gus who said he was his grandfather. His mother didn’t believe in reincarnation but Gus knew things about his grandfather that he had no way of knowing. Once she overheard him saying to a friend, “I used to be big and I got to come back. God gave me a ‘ticket’. I came through a porthole. I was big and came through the porthole and was small again.”

Do you have any experiences that could be past life memories? Have you ever heard a toddler talking about when he was big?

You can view the YouTube here:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgOBfCrxS3U

Interview with KS Ferguson, the author of CALCULATED RISK a mystery, SF book March 25, 2015

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I  recently read Calculated Risk, an exciting mystery story that takes place in outer space. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to do an author interview to find out more about the author and why she wrote the book. I’m sure you’ll find her answers as interesting as I did.

 

What inspired you to become a writer?

I didn’t have a choice about becoming a writer. It’s in my DNA. I started writing stories when I was ten. But being a writer for a living seemed like an impossible dream, so I did lots of other things for years and years before finding my way to a tech writing career. Some modest success there convinced me to throw myself into fiction writing.

 

What is Calculated Risk about?

Calculated Risk is the story of two people finding their way to trust in a future where sociopathic corporations run the galaxy. Rafe, a capitalistic security company owner estranged from his family since he was a teen, is obliged to repay a debt of honor by investigating his brother-in-law. He goes to a mining station in the Asteroid Belt to determine why his brother-in-law, the CEO of a huge ag corporation, has insisted on purchasing the station. At the station, Rafe meets Kama, a genius corporate spy and computer hacker there on a mission to retrieve a secret document that has accidently fallen into the hands of the station manager. But the manager is missing. Isolated on the station together, Rafe and Kama must work together to unravel a web of blackmail, fraud, and murder that threatens the future of millions of Earth’s downtrodden poor.

Why did you write this book?  Can you tell us the story behind the book?

Authors are advised to write what they like to read, and I read science fiction, fantasies, mysteries, and thrillers. It seemed natural to write a mystery in a futuristic setting with thriller pacing and a strong relationship thread. (But it’s a nightmare to market!) After ten years of working in corporate America, I had strong feelings about that world and how it’s shaped our society. That became the backdrop. I wanted the focus to be on the characters and how they find their way through their personal fears to a relationship of trust. And everything I write turns into a mystery eventually, so there are clues and suspects with the occasional chase or explosion thrown in.

What research did you do when writing the book such as corporate fraud and space stations?

The psychology community has turned out some interesting studies on how corporations behave like sociopaths, and how the upper management of many corporations are rewarded for psychopathic traits. I found those studies fascinating, and they certainly mirrored my personal experience in a Fortune 500 corporation. For pleasure, I read a lot about NASA and other space projects. The space station setting didn’t require much additional research.

 

There are two main characters in the story, Kama and Rafe.  How did they grow and change from their experience?  Did you learn anything about yourself while writing the book?

Rafe and Kama are polar opposites in their belief systems. He’s a capitalist who believes in law and order. She’s a socialist who favors justice over law. They have to look past their differences to see the deeply caring individuals underneath. Then they have to trust that person because neither of them can solve the mystery without help from the other. Following a near-death experience, Rafe reveals why he’s estranged from his family. It’s a guilt-ridden secret he’s carried for fourteen years. Kama initially sees Rafe as a stereotypical  smarmy, lying corporate executive. As she discovers that he’s a man who cares deeply about others to the point of sacrificing his life for them, she’s forced to change her thinking.

This book is part of a series.  How many other books are published?  How many will there be total?

Calculated Risk is the first in the series. Hostile Takeover takes up where the first book left off and is available now. In it, readers get a deeper look at Rafe’s dysfunctional family and Harvest, EcoMech Corp’s colony planet. Kama’s there to help and support Rafe, but their relationship travels a rocky road while they defend EcoMech and Rafe’s family. The third in the series, Family Owned, will be available late in 2015. We’ll travel to Oasis Corp to see Kama’s past and her own train-wreck family. She’ll reveal the dark secret that she believes will turn Rafe away her forever. There will be more books as Rafe and Kama continue to solve crimes and build a future together.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your book?

Just that if readers try the series and enjoy it, please leave a review. Reviews are the life blood for indie authors in search of a new audience and are very much appreciated.

Do you have a website or blog? 

I don’t have a blog. There aren’t enough hours in the day! But I do have a website where I announce release schedules and post a few bits and pieces of things about the characters, including some interviews Rafe and Kama participated in, and information about my other two series. My website is at http://www.ksferguson.net.

 

Finding Neverland, movie review March 21, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Movie reveiew.
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51ui3htn10L-11Finding Neverland is an uplifting movie about J. M. Barrie, the author who was the creator of Peter Pan. The story is based on real events.

The movie stars Johnny Depp (without his pirate costume) who plays Barrie, Dusty Hoffman, Kate Winslet, and Radha Mitchell.   The movie takes place in London and opens with Barrie peering behind the curtain to see the audience’s reaction to his play on opening night. He’s disappointed to discover it isn’t well received.

Barrie goes to a Kensington Garden to write. While there he meets four young boys, including one named Peter, and their mother. Barrie and the family soon become friends and get together regularly. While Barrie plays make-believe games with the boys, such as pirates or cowboys and Indians, he is able to visualize the fantasy world they’re creating.

The boys’ father recently died of cancer and soon their mother becomes ill. Barrie becomes a father figure to the boys and provides financial support.

Meanwhile, Barrie’s marriage is falling apart as he spends more and more time enjoying this new family and less time with his already estranged wife.

The story shows how Barrie’s friendship with the boys inspired him to write a play about a group of boys who don’t want to grow up and led to the creation of Peter Pan. But the story isn’t just about the creation of a beloved, timeless story. It’s about young boys dealing with the loss of their father and a sick mother.

After viewing the movie, I did some research and discovered the basic story is true. Barrie supported the family financially, did become a father figure for the boys, he did have a Saint Bernard dog, and his interactions with the boys did inspire Peter Pan. A few things differed, such as Barrie met the boys in the park and became friends with them before he met their mother at a dinner party. Their father was still alive when Barrie met them and there were five Davies boys, not four.

The idea of a gang of boys who never grew up was inspired by Barrie’s thirteen-years-old brother who died in a skating accident when Barrie was six.  This trauma contributed to Barrie only growing to 4’10” and he never completely grew up.

In conclusion, the movie captures a world full of fairies, pirates, children who can fly and the magic of Peter Pan through the author’s imagination.

Old and young alike will enjoy this delightful, creative movie.

Why do you think Peter Pan became such a well-loved story? What elements make it timeless?

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it. “ – J.M. Barrie, from his novel The Little Minister (1891)