Sunday, October 11, 2015

Due to an error in the original blog posts about Faith's cover reveal, the entry for the giveaway has been extended more than one full day! You have until noon Central time on Friday, October 16th to enter the giveaway. If you tried to email the cover before, please do so again, this time with the following, CORRECT email address: Thank you!

One of the greatest things about the advent of ebook reading, is that it has opened up a whole
world of genres that I never would have dreamed of reading. Wandering around a book store, there are only so many books you could buy.  Now, thanks to ebooks and my fellow authors, I have been introduced to all manner of dragons, intergalactic travel (including a starship base that requires everyone to maintain their weight so that the base doesn't "sink"), faeries, goblins and wicked queens. All of these new worlds have enriched my reading experienced and confirmed in me the belief that reading is the best form of time travel.

     But I still always go back to my favorite genres, my comfort "food," westerns and mysteries.  As all of you know, I have become a great fan of Faith Blum whose stories are rich with historical fact and genuine characters.

It is a privilege to be a part of her new "Cover Reveal" -- enjoy and good luck!

     Faith Blum, has split her cover into 15 different pieces! In order to enter her giveaway, you need to put it together and email her your cover. Or, if you don’t want to enter the giveaway, but you’d still like to see the cover, stop by her blog on Thursday.

The Prize

The winner will have to be patient, but the prize for this cover reveal is a signed paperback copy of Lily of the Valley. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of shipping internationally, Faith won’t be sending a paperback outside of the U.S. If you are international and would like to participate and win, you will receive an ebook copy of any TWO of my published books including Lily of the Valley.

To help you a little with putting together the cover, here is the description:

Howdy, Teacher! You don’t know me, but my kids talk bout you a lot. I been lookin fer a wife and mother fer a few years and was wonderin iffen we cood meet and get to no each other a bit. I’ll come after school to git yer answer. Grover Miller

Unruly schoolchildren, three suitors, and too many things to do. When Ruth Brookings rejects one of the suitors, he refuses to accept no for an answer. To make matters worse, when she prays for guidance, she’s answered with a challenge instead: To encourage her friend to find a wife—whether he wants one or not.  Will she lose her friend just when she needs a friend the most? Will she be able to weather the storms she’s about to face?


Stop by each blog listed below to get their piece of the cover.
Use a program like this website to put the cover together: If you get a little extra space between each piece, your cover will still count toward the prize. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long is each piece is in the correct place.
Email your completed cover to Faith NO LATER THAN October 14th at 9:00 PM Central time. (If you have problems with time zones, shoot Faith an email and she’ll help you out).
Stop by Faith’s blog to see the cover and who won.

Piece of the Cover #4:

About the Author

Faith Blum is a 24 year old home school graduate who enjoys doing many right-brained activities such as reading, crafting, writing, and playing piano. Her favorite genre to read and write is Historical Fiction, more specifically, Westerns. In the Hymns of the West series, she has endeavored to create clean, fun, and challenging Western stories for the whole family.  She currently has three novels and three novellas published. You can find her in various places online: Website | Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter | Amazon

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God

Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God is a novel written by Carisa Wells.  I was sent a copy shortly before its release date when I expressed an interest in reading and reviewing it.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was clear within the first few pages that this was a different kind of YA story.  Some might be tempted to call it a coming of age story or an 'inspirational' story, but it is so much more than that.  This is a very powerful story about a very real problem within our society.  Most addictions are apparent and with kids of a certain age, and if they are thrill seekers, many will be tempted to try and ultimately become addicts to drugs or alcohol. But if they do it isn't long before those around them see the effects of the drugs/alcohol. But the addiction of self-harm comes from a very dark place and can be covered up so easily many will not suspect. This addiction comes from  such a dark place that many people don't want to talk, read, or consider as a problem in their homes or within their circle of friends.

The details in Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God is about the addiction of self-harm and the recovery from it.  This book is not easy reading, but it is compelling.  The story of Krystal's journey to finding the love of God is authentic and real without sentimentality and the ending is not unrealistic but still gives the reader a sense of hope.  You are left with the certainty that the faith Krystal found is as real as her love for God.

After reading the book, I asked the author a few questions.

Do you work with at-risk teens?  There is so much detail in Krystal’s rehab that I wondered if you worked with kids in this

I have worked with teens. They weren't declared 'at risk,' though some were. 'Krystal' was very open with me about her personal experience in the hospital. Plus I've visited a couple of people who stayed in mental/behavioral hospitals in the past and recall those experiences. Briefly I worked part-time a local behavioral center, taken multiple psychology classes in college, and to top it all off I did a ton of research. Not just for 'Krystal's' character, but for Walt's too.

How long did it take you to write this book?  Was it something that quickly came together or did you need to do a lot of

I actually spent two years writing this book. For various reasons. There was plenty of sitting time in that two years. I know at one point, at least six weeks went by that I didn't even touch it. A couple months (collectively) was spent on research. I didn't want someone who may have had Krystal's experience or Walt's to pick it up and go, "It's not like that." It had to be right. Now granted, some hospitals do things differently, but it's all completely realistic. Same with Walt. I spoke to quite a few soldiers. There were some details about water that one gave me that another soldier didn't agree with. It was really interesting, but it's based on their personal experiences.

Faith and trust are what this book is all about.  Did you have people you prayed with over this or was this something you felt you had to write?

While people prayed for me, I can't say I prayed with them about the book. God really led me with this book. I've always wanted to write a book but had no idea until the day I started it that it would be about self-harm. 

Where do you see your career as an author going?  I know that this is your debut book, but I am curious – what is next?    

Currently, I'm working on a sequel to Memoirs. It's hard to fit in writing while working full-time and publishing the first book. But now that Memoirs is/will be out, I can focus more on my current work-in-progress. I certainly don't want it to be a two-year project. My goal is to have the first draft complete by the end of this year. Afterward, I plan to keep writing... forever.

Pick up a copy of Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God at this link

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

One of my favorite authors is, and always will be, Louis L'amour.  His good guys always behaved like good guys, the women always behaved like ladies and there was always the chance of redemption for the bad guys. When Louis L'amour passed away I didn't think that there would be anyone to compare with him. At least, until I picked up Faith Blum's A Mighty Fortress.  Her stories are about strong people facing difficulties unique to the West but with a strong Christian faith.  A faith that is the foundation of our nation.

The third in the Hymns of the West series is called Amazing Grace.  Below is an excerpt from that book.

Caleb hurried to the post office. He had to get in and out before his sister finished at the general store. “Any mail for the Stuarts?” he asked the postmaster.
  The postmaster took a lazy look at him over the top of his eyeglasses and gave a heaving sigh as he turned around to check. “Yep. Somethin’ from Ohio and somethin’ from Montana.”
  Tapping his foot, Caleb waited until the large man put the letters in his hand. As he left he wondered why Anna had written someone in Montana and who she knew in Montana. It was really none of his business, but he was still curious. He folded the Ohio letter in half and stashed it in his back pocket. It would get wrinkled, but at least Anna wouldn’t know about it.
  He tapped his toes as the time crept along. Why did women always take so long to shop? He thought about pulling the letter out and starting to read it, but he knew as soon as he did, Anna would come out and catch him.
  “Sorry I took so long, Caleb,” Anna looked at her brother with chagrin as she came out of the store fifteen minutes later than she had said she would. “I got caught up talking to Wilma and Hester.”
  Caleb shrugged. “’S’okay.” He helped Anna climb up onto the wagon seat and waited for her to scoot over before he climbed up beside her. As he gathered the reins, he remembered Anna’s letter.
Oh, there was a letter for you. It’s from Montana.” He looked at her with a question on his face as he held the letter toward her.
  Anna snatched it from him with a grin. “That was fast. I just wrote them a few weeks ago.”
  “Who’d ya write to?”
  “Joshua Brookings and his family.”
  Caleb licked his lips and tried not to act surprised. “The sheriff who hanged Jed?”
  Anna sighed. “Sheriff Brookings didn’t hang Jed, he led Jed to Christ. Well, with help.”
  Caleb nodded. “What’d you write them about?”
  “I wanted to thank them for helping my little brother out.”
  Caleb couldn’t think of anything to say after that, especially when Anna started to sniffle. She wasn’t usually emotional, but she’d been through a lot in the last twenty years of her life and Jed’s death had added to it. Caleb sighed inwardly. They’d all been through a lot the last twenty years. Especially during the War.
  As the horses trotted past the church, a similar, but vastly different scene flashed into his mind.

  He led the troops to a church where they claimed the enemy had encamped. Without scouting to see if anyone was there, the general ordered the artillery to open fire.
  Caleb had never been much of a church-loving person, but he had some respect for the buildings and those who worshiped there. He clamped his mouth shut, knowing that one word of dissension from him could get him killed and then where would Da, Anna, and Jed be?

  Caleb blinked rapidly as the fields came into view. He glanced over at Anna to make sure she hadn’t noticed anything. She was engrossed in her letter. He sighed quietly in relief before pulling back on the reins and setting the brake as the wagon came to a halt between the house and the barn.
  “I’ll get the packages,” Anna said, looking up from the letters. “You should take care of the horses and get back out to help Da.”
  Caleb gave a mock salute. “Yes, Ma’am.”
  Anna rolled her eyes. “Sorry.”
  “It’s all right,” Caleb drawled. “I kin take it once in a while. Just not too often, y’hear?” He wagged his finger at her and she chuckled.

  “Yes, Sir, I’ll try not to.”

Below is my interview with the author:

1. You say that your started writing when a friend told you about a competition.  Did you have any interest in writing prior to that? If so when did that start and can you point to a particular event/book/reason that got you interested?

I wrote all the time. When my friend told me about the contest, I just had a more distinct reason to write. I started sometime around the age of ten, I believe. I don’t really remember for sure. I just loved to write, so I wrote for my own enjoyment with the goal of possibly, eventually getting published. When I learned about independent publishing, I asked a lot of questions and took the bull by the horns and haven’t looked back since.

2. Where did the idea of using Hymns for the title of your books come from?

I got the idea after one of the first read-throughs of A Mighty Fortress. After realizing that I had the song mentioned, or quoted, a lot, I decided to name the book after the hymn. When I decided to make it into a series, the Hymns of the West series was born.

3. Does the research for your books take up the most time?

Confession time. No, it doesn’t. Most of my historical facts are taken from memory with a quick search online to make sure I remembered it accurately. Book five is going to probably be different though since it’s a mystery and my idea would require some research.

4. Are you an architect type writer or do you just sit down and write?

Yes!! I do a little bit of both. For example, right now I am working on book four. When I first started writing the book, I didn’t have more than just a general idea what I wanted to happen in the book. As I neared the end, I decided to plan the last six chapters out a little, but even that just has a very basic outline (i.e. chapter 28, Ruth helps Mark read and her friendship with Grace solidifies. Micah talks to Mr. Larson). Other than that, I don’t really do very much planning.

5. Your books have a very strong Christian theme with a lot of the Scriptures being quoted, do you spend a lot of time in prayer before you write?

Honestly, not as much as I should. I know I should do more, but I haven’t. Thanks for having me on your blog today, Jess! I enjoyed your questions.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reviewing the Review System

Tax season is nearly over!  For some reason, this tax season has seemed longer than previous years which makes no sense. But the 15th can't get here soon enough for me.

The first few months of this year have also been interesting ones for me as a writer.  I am, as you will have guessed, a numbers person.  I am the bean counter, number cruncher, boring horn-rimmed glasses person, which you only think about when you hear the words 'tax man'.  So, marketing is not something that comes naturally to me.  It is the one aspect of indie publishing that I am completely ambivalent about because I have (or should say had) no idea where to start.  When I first published my books I, like anyone, googled how to market my indie-published a book.  I got taken to a list of books to read on marketing.  None of them were terribly helpful.  I am not sure when all of the promo sites came into being but about six months ago I joined a group that finally turned on the lights about promoting my books.

One thing that became very clear very quickly is that reviews were imperative as all the promotion sites rely on them quite heavily.  That was when I started reading the reviews not as a potential buyer but as a potential marketer.  Over the last three months, I have come to the conclusion that there is a way to manipulate the review system.  How can a book that is an indie book get nearly 10,000 reviews, and the majority of them are five star reviews and Stephen King's books receive less.  I checked today and the most reviews one of his books has is 8,203.

Once I saw the disparity in the numbers, I started to read the reviews.  The indie book five star reviews are not very long, and many of them are one line reviews such as "this book is awesome". The negative reviews were another matter, and that got me hooked on reading reviews. Yes, I do mean hooked.  I am sure that the writer would not have found them funny, but the amount of time and energy that some people put into their reviews is astonishing and entertaining. What is also astonishing is that a large percentage of these reviewers have studied something about writing.

Then my promotion happened, and I received a number of emails asking if they (the reader) could be in touch with me about my book.  It would appear that a number of people liked my story.  That is always nice to hear, but then it was followed up with the words 'but I did find some errors'. Breaking into a cold sweat I immediately wrote back and asked what page and what paragraph.  Their response was a little slow, they hadn't actually meant a typo error but more a tweaking error.  I found out that there is such a thing as a 'squinting modifier'.  As I grew up on the other side of the pond, I am sure our teachers called it something else. But I have to tell you that those words made me 'squint' and say, "Really?"

I always try to remain open minded, so I asked each of these potential editors to send me a section of what they thought needed 'tweaking'.  The three that wrote me back all had different ideas.  So I decided to do a little research on the people who wanted to help in my literary endeavours.  All of them have been in the writing/publishing world, and all of them are looking for new clients.  I will be the first to admit I do need an editor and have always used an editor for my books.  They don't get published without one, but I want to remain me.  Does that mean my books will sound like me? Yes. Will it be to everyone's liking? No.

And that cured me of needing to read reviews.  I wish many of those reviewers would remember that we read first and foremost because we enjoy it. We read to be entertained, to be enlightened, to be encouraged. We shouldn't read just to write a review.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Indie Writers

This week Clean Indie Reads is hosting a March Madness Sale ( and in conjunction with that we are doing a blog hop and a winner, with the luck of the Irish, will receive a year's worth of reading. Each of us are giving our thoughts on independent publishing.

Not too long ago there was a rather drawn out dispute between a power house publisher and the world largest internet retailer.  The fight was, as most business disputes are, about money.  Although not a huge amount was written about this fight considering the players, when it was written about a fair number of comments that followed cheered for the publisher because to quote one commentator, "They weed out those books that should never be published." As I have recently been introduced to a genre of writing that I have heretofore been (mercifully) ignorant of, I have to regretfully acknowledge some truth in this statement.  There are stories that perhaps would be best left in the "author's" mind.  But that was another blog. My reason for this blog is for all those wonderful writers who languished in the slush pile until ebooks came into being.

To make my point I would like to give two examples decades apart and approaching the same truth in two very different ways. 

A well known author from my part of the world had started to wonder if what was written about his books was genuine so at about book 12 or 13 he sent off his most recent work to his editor under an assumed name.  The letter of introduction stated that he (John Smith) had been given the editor's name by a mutual friend.  The editor wrote back and told John Smith that he should reconsider his desire to have a career in the literary world as his lack of talent almost guaranteed constant rejection.  The author then sent the same book under his own name and got back a letter from the same editor saying it was the best book he had ever written.  Oops!

Fast forward to 2013 when I picked up a book by Steve Robinson called In the Blood.  It is still one of the best books I have read in the last 12 years.  At the time that I picked it up there were approximately 500 reviews.  I didn't put the book down until 3 the following morning and a little later that day when I was somewhat recovered I went online to write a review and there were over 650.  Steve Robinson received a five book deal not long after that.  A heartfelt letter of thanks was sent by him to all of us who had reached out to say how great his books were.  

I don't want the big publishers to leave the literary world, on the contrary, I believe they keep standards high and we need them to do that.  But the literary world would not be the same if we didn't have Steve Robinson, Lauren Carr, Linda Covella, Andrea Frazier, Faith Blum, Melanie Jackson, Paul Cwalina, Luann Ehrlich and so many, many more who allow those of who love to visit a world of fiction and leave with a smile in our heart.

Please visit our other blogs today. I am sure that you will be glad you did.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Writing Reviews

I belong to a number of writing groups and most of us are not shy about posting our views on any number of subjects.  But nothing brings a thread alive like the discussion of reviews!

Recently one of our new but reasonably successful authors posted a comment that she didn't think she could read reviews anymore because anything less than a five star review hurt her feelings.  So, unless every reader said her book was brilliant and they loved it her feelings would be hurt? I sat there and thought, "Wow - I wonder if she loves every book she has ever bought." But what surprised me even more was how so many authors commiserated with her.  They comforted her with the words that if she only had five star reviews people would think that it was just her close friends who were leaving reviews.  I personally didn't trust myself to comment because there are so many writers who would be happy to get any reviews, especially four star reviews.

Much will be written about how to write a review by other bloggers and by the admins of various reader groups, but whenever I have been asked to review a book my one condition is that I will be honest.  I have written over a hundred reviews for books and  there are a handful of one star reviews.  I shudder to think what the writer above would have to say if she got a one star review but I stand by those one star reviews, even though I regret any pain it may have caused the author.

I understand when writers say that some reviews are not helpful.  As a reader and an author there are reviews that I find irritating.  Someone who leaves a three star review and leaves the comment, "Not for me" is not helpful.  If books are too graphic, or not a subject that the reviewer finds interesting, say that.  "Not for me," is not a review it is an opinion.

But my post today is for those who say, "Well, unless a book is worthy of three stars I don't leave a review." They comfort themselves with the thought that they are sparing the writer's feelings and to some degree they may accomplish that but they haven't helped the writer much.  You see if a writer sees that their book has sold ten copies and there are no reviews they may be left with the understanding that everyone thought it was so bad that it didn't deserve one three star review.  That will also hurt their feelings. So, your options are, you can do no review and hurt the author's feelings or a two star review with an explanation of why they only got two stars. That review might hurt but it also might help them to become better writers. Of the two scenarios I would prefer the latter.

Now, for my fellow writers who may agree with me in thought, but their hearts are screaming no, let me explain how I as a reader review books. Not everyone will agree with me, but hopefully you will start to see your critics in a slightly different light.

1.  If you have a write-up that compares you to another great author, the bar has been set too high.  I purchased a book that said in the write-up that the protagonist was another Miss Marple. Let me remind everyone Dame Agatha Christie is the author of Miss Marple and she was given her title by the Queen for her contribution to literature! If your book write-up forces the comparison between you and Dame Agatha Christie, expect the reviews to be a little harsh if your book falls short of her standards. It is one thing if your reader makes that comparison but you should never make that comparison.

2.  I don't buy into the view that says write about what you know. I don't like to think of growing up without Star Wars and I am fairly certain George Lucas didn't "know" the galaxy that he wrote about. That said, I know absolutely nothing about law enforcement in Greece.  If I wrote a police procedural set in Greece, it is likely to lack credibility and the readers will end up feeling short changed and a little annoyed and I should expect a couple of stars to be removed for a book like that.

3.  Beware of your protagonists ego.  Anyone who is not a writer and reads that maybe thinking to themselves, "Well, you wrote the book, why do you have to beware?" Any writer will smile because there are times when it seems as though the characters have taken over the story and we are just there to transcribe. Many of us have the tendency to write our hero/heroine as all things brave, wonderful, brilliant etc etc and every one else around them, just a tad slow.  It is not easy to see when you are writing the book but a reader will lose interest if one character takes over the story completely.

4.  Always keep in mind you don't love every book you have bought so neither will your readers.  Some books you may not have finished but simply passed them on to friends who have said they are looking for something to read.  They may have loved it or they may have agreed with you.  As a reviewer I always try not to let personal feelings get in the way.  I may not have loved the book I am reviewing but if it is well written, characters well developed and the plot moves at a good pace, but it is just not my genre, I try not to let that affect my judgement.  I won't say that I am 100% successful but I do try to be fair.

Now, here are some of my "don'ts" when writing reviews. Don't attack the author, critique the book. Don't attack the sales of the book, Dan Brown used to be an unknown. Don't criticize views, beliefs or politics of the author because of a book they have written.  It's a book not a manifesto. Don't be petty, a few spelling mistakes or grammar errors doesn't destroy the whole book. They are telling a story - not giving a grammar lesson.  Editors are expensive and in the tens of thousands of words that are written, three errors is less than a hundredth of a percent.

Reviews are necessary in today's literary world.  Without reviews a book will sit at the two million mark on the best seller list.  But reviews should not only help the person or entity marketing the book, it should help other readers and hopefully the writers as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dropping Stones by Paul Cwalina

Last week my blog was about a story that embraced the best of us.  This week it is about a story that is about the worst of us.  Therefore, it must be about politicians.  The story is told in the first person and you never actually learn the main characters name and in some ways that is part of the genius of the story.  You feel as though you are listening to someone tell about the most personal details of their life and all the while you wish there was some way to warn him about the choices he is making. 

The ambition starts in a noble enough place. A corrupt police force that didn’t want to answer questions put to them by the city council. One of the council members decides he needs to run for the mayor’s office and he wins by a landslide. That was his first “taste“ of power and it isn’t long before he is hooked.

It is a story that we have seen played out in the political world over and over again. As the mayor continues to behave more and more erratically he starts to alienate almost everyone who ever cared about him. Most of the people around him won’t confront him because like him, they believe he is untouchable until everyone realizes he isn’t.

Many politicians have found themselves at this point in their life.  Standing at a podium saying that they “need to spend more time with their family,” or they say “I am going to do what I have to make sure I’m okay” (code for rehab) and some have point blank admitted they have a problem when the truth can no longer be hidden.

But what happens after the podium speech? That is what Dropping Stones is about. A story of redemption and a story that will ultimately bring hope when a person of great power realizes that the power of office is fleeting and all one really has is the power over one’s own choices. The book’s ending left me wanting to know more about the character and so I reached out to Paul Cwalina to ask him and I was glad to find out that a follow up story was in the works.

I asked Paul if he knew of a situation similar to the main characters, one bad decision after another.

PC “It certainly can happen and I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that has happened. The underlying themes of the story are forgiveness (or lack thereof) and redemption. The mayor’s poor choices are a result of his inability to forgive and his self-absorption. Had he simply accepted the loss of Sarah and forgiven her, he could have had a woman who truly loved him.”

I asked Paul if he would ever consider going into political life

PC “Never say never, certainly no plans.”

The good part of that response is that if Paul ever did go into political life, he would go in with his eyes wide open. 

I know that as I finished this story I found myself wishing that everyone who had taken office at the beginning of the year had made their first priority to read Dropping Stones.