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Fun Read/Melting Shadows by Rhea Rhodan September 19, 2017

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review, Uncategorized.
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51JiFT1cPRLThe word that came to mind as I read Melting Shadows was fun. It has spunky dialogue, humor, a fantasy world that parallels this world, a touch of magic, simmering romance, quickly characters, danger, heroes, evil villains, smart women, and handsome men willing to die to protect the women they love.

 

The novel is great escape reading. Forget your to-do list and emerge yourself in this entertaining story where the answers to what’s going to happen in the character’s world lie in the OtherWhere where things reveal themselves before they happen here.

 

Prudence is a brilliant scientist working on a secret project for the government. She had a dark upbringing that caused her to be a recluse. She’s socially awkward and takes everything literally. Her project for the military has put her at risk and she’s taken to a safe house. There she’s shocked to discover the owner of the bunker, x-seal Max, looks just like the hero of her fantasy novels.

 

Max reluctantly gives Prudence shelter. Yet the “ice woman” he’s responsible for, is a mystery that he is more and more interested in unraveling– even to the point of invading her privacy.

 

I highly recommend this book to those who love contemporary romance with a touch of paranormal. Note: there is some adult content and a lot of swearing. The first part of the book mainly deals with the development of the relationship between Max and Prudence. The second part of the book speeds up when the bunker is breached by the enemies and danger erupts.

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Five qualities of a good novel as shown in the book Shane July 25, 2017

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review, Writing.
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51rRxrScknL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading the classic western Shane by Jack Schaefer, which was published in 1949 and made into a movie in 1953.  The novel set me to reflecting on what made it a best-seller that is still read in schools and has stayed popular for so many years.  As the St. George Daily Spectum wrote: “Shane is a work of literature first and a Western second.”  What qualities does it have that make it a work of literature?

Interestingly, the novel opens at a slow pace.  Today’s writers are taught to open with action or grab the reader’s attention in some way.  However, in this book the author takes his time introducing the characters and setting. The result is very effective.

Here is the opening paragraph: “He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89.  I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuckwagon.  I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.” (p. 1)

For the next eight paragraphs, the boy continues to describe the horseman as he rides closer and closer, then finally into the farmstead where the boy observes him.

This slow pace allows the reader to see the stranger and enter into the world the boy, Bob, lives in.  It is told from the intimate first-person point of view.  We see the horseman, the small town, the river and the fork in the road as the rider draws closer and finally into view.  Bob tells us the stranger’s clothes are different from the local people.  He wears tall boots and a belt, both made of a soft black leather tooled in intricate design and a “finespun” linen shirt.

A child’s viewpoint is an interesting way to tell the story because Bob is a keen observer of life, yet he is young and doesn’t understand everything that’s going on.  We, as the reader, left to our own interpretation of people and events, have deeper insights into what is going on.

The plot is fairly straight-forward.  Bob and his parents live on a farm and a mysterious stranger rides onto their land and asks for a drink of water.  The father, Joe, soon recognizes that Shane is the kind of man whom nobody will push around and asks him to stay as a farmhand.

Shane hires on and is loyal to the family, so when a powerful rancher tries to drive out the local farmers, Shane is pulled into the deadly conflict.

The story focuses more on character development than action and the topics of courage, honor, love and heroes are explored.

The book is relatively short, yet it will draw you in from the beginning and keep you reading to the end, leaving you to ponder its depth and layers of meaning.

The reader never does find out about Shane’s background and what it is he’s trying to escape.  He finds serenity and inner peace on the farm, but this is broken by the tension in town between the farmers and the large rancher.

So what makes this a good novel?

  1. It has well-developed characters with heroic qualities that we care about.
  2. It has an interesting plot with high stakes, both in terms of how the outcome will affect the character’s lives and how it will force them to grow and change.
  3. It has great descriptions and metaphors. Here is the boy’s description of a stump. “It was big enough, I used to think, so that if it was smooth on top you could have served supper to a good-sized family.” (p. 18)
  4. The author, Jack Schaefer, shows the reader what’s going on instead of telling him, leaving the reader to interpret the situation.
  5. The story has good pacing that gradually builds to the climatic ending.

In conclusion, Shane is a great read for anyone who enjoys a good western.  For writers, it’s an interesting study in what makes a good novel.  As you read the book, look for the five qualities listed above and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What draws the reader into a story and keeps them there?
  2. What universal values and ideas make the story worth telling?

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section.  What do you think makes a good novel?  What qualities do you look for in a book?

If you’ve read Shane, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the characters and story.

 

Review of Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum June 29, 2017

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review.
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51oy3dgHDYLIf you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, pick up The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour.  A friend recommended this book and I’m glad he did because it was an exciting and educational read.

L’Amour published his first novel in 1953 and every one of his over 120 books are still in print.  There are 300 million copies of his books worldwide.  He is one of the bestselling authors of modern times.  Forty-five of his novels have been made into films.

He is best known for capturing the spirit of the American West.  This novel, written in his later years, is a departure from those books. It takes place in the 12th century, starting out in France, crossing medieval Europe and the Russian steppes, and finally ending in Constantinople.

Young Mathurin Kerbouchard of Brittany is thrust into a violent, dangerous world when he returns from a fishing expedition and finds his mother murdered and his home burned to the ground.  He barely escapes with his life only to be captured and forced to be a galley slave.

In L’Amour’s usual style, Kerbouchard goes from one adventure to another as he sets off on a quest to find his father (who is reported to be killed at sea or sold into slavery) and revenge his mother. Kerbouchard is bold to a fault, trained by the Druids to have an amazing memory, and a seeker of knowledge who can speak and write many languages (an unusual talent for the times).  He is skilled with a sword, but also relies on his wit as he works toward achieving his nearly impossible goals.

The book is broad in scoop and covers several years as Kerbouchard grows into manhood.  He faces life with courage and honor, making friends and enemies along the way.  He is a unique character whom the reader will remember long after they finish the book.  We see the 12th century world through Kerbouchard’s active, intelligent mind.  He travels from the dark, dirty cities in France where the Christian church forbids new ideas and books are rare, to the Moslem cities of Spain where books are plentiful and scholars are valued.

The book reads quickly, especially the first half, which is filled with one hair-raising adventure after another.  But it slows down in places where Kerbouchard, a brilliant scholar interested in different ideas and places, tells us the history of the city he’s traveled to and shares his philosophy of life with other scholars.

In his Author’s Notes section, L’ Amour said he was fascinated by this period of history.  He feels that our schools ignore two thirds of world.  “Of China, India and the Muslim world almost nothing is said, yet their contribution to our civilization was enormous, and they are now powers with which we must deal both today and tomorrow, and which it would be well for us to understand.  

“One of the best means of introduction to any history is the historical novel.” p. 462

L’Amour planned to write two more books about Kerbouchard’s adventures; regrettably, he died before he completed them.

I was partly intrigued by the book because I also researched this area of the world for my book Annoure and the Dragon Ships.  My historical saga is set almost 400 hundred years earlier and takes the reader from Saxon England, to Viking Norway, to the Russian steppes.  It was interesting to see how the world had changed over those four centuries.

If you’re in the mood for a fascinating, exciting adventure filled with treachery, violence, passion, love and friendship, check out The Walking Drum by best-selling author Louis L’Amour.

S Collin Ellsworth, Finding the Route 40 Phantom September 29, 2016

Posted by heidi skarie in Book Review.
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41dcma-8gjlS Collin Ellsworth is one of the authors in the recently published anthology Where Rivers Converge. For the anthology, she wrote a gripping short story entitled Coward about a hit and run woman driver.

Ellsworth’s novels feature elements of life after death interwoven in the lives of women. She writes witty women and comical children that appeal to readers looking for relatable characters.

Her latest novel, Finding the Route 40 Phantom weaves two different women from different times: Natalie, an eighteen-year-old living in the 1950s with ambitions ahead of the era and Alexandra, a small town newspaper writer who constantly has to justify her contentment to her intellectual mother and sister. The two women’s lives intersect with the mystery of the Route 40 Phantom.

The Route 40 Phantom is a Southern Ohio legend. In the early fifties, a man terrorized the truckers of Route 40 by driving dressed as a skeleton. Despite not being an actual ghost, the Route 40 Phantom appears on many Haunted Ohio history sites. The real phantom’s identity remains a mystery. In her novel, Ellsworth gave him a persona of a beatnik mechanic with mysterious intention.

Filled with, suspense, and bucolic charm; Finding the Route 40 Phantom is a great fall read.

 

 

Our Kickstarter Adventure June 12, 2012

Posted by heidi skarie in Uncategorized, Writing.
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Today I’m posting a guest blog by Anna Skarie on her experience with Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a great website for funding creative projects. Anna and her mother, Joy Dey, have written a wonderful, unique dragon book that allows children to chose what they want to do. Here is their description of the book:

“In a DoU Adventure, your child is the hero, making choices on every page that lead through over 75 possible pathways, out of the frying pan into the fire, until they get back home safely. Whew! Each choice has an icon that matches a tab. Kids use the tabs to navigate their customized adventures.”

As many authors know, finding a publisher is hard work, and self-publishing is hard work WITH a large cash outlay. We decided to go the hardest of these and start our own publishing company, because what is life without the adventure? “Just Another Monday” (the book that started all of this) is an interactive children’s picture book. In short, the hero chooses their own adventure by following tabs along the right edge of the book. If you check out our Kickstarter video or go to our website, there is a longer explanation with pictures.
We’re here to tell you the things we’ve learned so far on our search for the funding portion of this. If you have any questions after reading, please don’t hesitate to contact us (info@swakpublishing.com). In return, we’d like you to consider passing the word along via backing, facebook likes, following, pins, blogging, or whatever your preferred method is.

 

The basics…
First, if you already know what Kickstarter is all about, you can skip this paragraph. Kickstarter is basically a seed funding website. If you have a project (or a book), and you need money to get that project started (or publish your book), I highly recommend this approach, even though we’re only three quarters of the way through our journey so far. You can make an account to back other projects and/or upload your own. The idea is that each project has a monetary goal and “backers” try to help you reach your goal. They may do this out of the goodness of their hearts, or for the rewards. Reward tiers are decided by the project creator (you), and usually offer something extra (eg, signing or creativity). This last bit is important though: if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any money. That’s the basics, and hopefully the following will fill in the gaps.

Our start…
Our journey began long ago (in May), surrounded by some brilliant minds, on my living room sofa. Every Tuesday, we have a “mastermind” meeting of brainstorming any projects we’re working on, and my sister-in-law, came to this meeting with this “Kickstarter” thing none of us had heard of. I have since learned that kickstarter is currently responsible for 10% of the venture capital funding in the United States. We had been racking our brains for how to come up with the $20,000 required to print a larger run of Just Another Monday. The larger run is required because the tabs need to be die-cut (ie, have their shape stamped out of the paper) and the heavy dies cost money up front. The larger the run, the more that cost is spread out over the books. Cue kickstarter!

Why kickstarter…
Pros:
– little or no monetary risk (depending on how you market yourself)
– you will likely get “Kickstarters” who back you and are not part of your network
– succeed or not, it gets your name out and gives you contacts who are interested in your project
Cons:
– it’s up to you to get the word out
– projects with previous followings generally have an easier time of it (maybe not a con depending on your project)
– you MIGHT be rejected (although you can resubmit easily and well thought-out book projects seem to have a high acceptance rate)

Notes:
1. Your network – it really matters how much time/effort/interest/money you can drum up yourself. Kickstarter funders, although generous, won’t fund a project completely on their own, and you probably shouldn’t even count on “mostly”. Friends, current followers, family, friends of friends, anyone who can help you pass the word on (even if they don’t back you) is an important part of your network.

2. Social media is also important. If you don’t use facebook, twitter, pinterest, reddit, stumbleupon…you get the idea…you should find a helper who does. Getting higher on Kickstarter’s “popular” pages (and thus viewed more often) seems to be some combination of your backers, comments, % of goal, and such on Kickstarter; your links, facebook likes, and other buzz on the web; and the place your project is at (you get a boost at the beginning and end of your project)

3. It is a lot of work to keep buzz going through the life of the project. Be ready to have to flog for the length you set (30 days is usually the most successful), and have some fun doing it 🙂

What it has been like for us…
Some of this sounds so ominous, but really kickstarter is an amazing resource for anyone looking to fund a dream project (Like us!). We’ve fleshed out our idea the more we’ve blogged, facebooked, commented, and talked to people about it. One thing that really worked for us is a card with how to get to the kickstarter page on it. Since our project is a printed book, it made sense for us to try a few approaches for people who are less likely to use the internet. It also makes great “small” talk. We’ve had a lot of fun hearing people’s takes and opinions. It’s a great feeling whenever someone puts their belief in you. We really appreciate people doing whatever they can. Every time a friend or acquaintance wrote something like this we were very touched:

“One of my girlfriends and her mother made a children’s book. I have actually seen a copy of it and it is awesome. They are trying to get this book published with the publishing company that they created and need help. If you like the book and can pledge money towards it that’s great but she also understands that money can be tight. Even if you could just keep passing this along to others it would be a great help. The following links are to their Facebook page and to a kickstarter page (it is where you can propose ideas and get the word out to get funding).
http://www.facebook.com/SWAKpublishing
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1541772125/just-another-monday-2”

 

All in all, it’s been a wonderful adventure. We haven’t succeeded yet, but here’s hoping and I still completely recommend the kickstarter journey. If you plan it, prepare it, and push push push it, they will come 🙂

Cheers, and happy adventuring!

~ Anna Skarie

co-founder of S.W.A.K. Publishing

(sit with a kid!)

 

 

We’re happy to answer questions. To contact us or lend us some support, here are the links…
our email: info@swakpublishing.com
our project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1541772125/just-another-monday-2

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SWAKpublishing
twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SWAKpublishing
pinterest: http://pinterest.com/sitwithakid
our blog: http://sitwithakid.wordpress.com