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Monday, April 25, 2016

World Traveling and World Building: Interview with Fantasy Author R.J. Vickers

R.J. Vickers is a fantasy author, photographer, and traveler who says with a laugh that she enjoys juggling multiple projects at once. She’s currently hard at work on a New Zealand adventure travel guide, the second and third books in her YA fantasy Natural Order series, and an epic fantasy novel set in a new world she’s been developing for almost ten years now. She’s here today to talk about Beauty’s Songbook, which, like Awash in Talent, is being published by Kindle Press. 

Author R.J. Vickers 
JK: What is Beauty’s Songbook about? 

RJV: It’s a fairy tale with nods to Beauty and the Beast and Into the Woods. I’ve always been a huge fan of fairy tales, especially retellings in the mode of Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine) and Goose Girl (Shannon Hale), so this was my chance to take a stab at the genre.

JK: Have you written many fantasy books?

RJV: Well, I’ve written seven fantasy novels in all, but only two (The Natural Order and Beauty’s Songbook) have been published. Three more of those are in various stages of revision, and the last two will never see the light of day! 

I love writing novels during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every November, and I see most of these as experiments where I try something I wouldn’t ordinarily write in order to hone my craft. I’ve written a psychological thriller, a futuristic dystopian novel, a contemporary romance, and a pirate story within the confines of NaNoWriMo—and not a single one of them will ever be published.

JK: How do you draw readers into your fantasy world?

RJV: One of my favorite parts of writing is creating a world and bringing it to life.  I love weaving all sorts of sensory details into my writing, and adding those quirky details that really give a world character. For Beauty’s Songbook, I wrote a whole set of songs common in the region, and added a set of folk legends to give the world flavor. 

JK: What are your main inspirations?

RJV: As I mentioned, I’m a huge traveler, and I love taking bits of the world that inspire me and incorporating them into my stories. The setting of Beauty’s Songbook is modeled on Finland, where I happened to begin writing the story, and another recent novel is set in a landscape resembling the fiords of New Zealand. That particular idea came to me while hiking through those exact fiords, and upon returning to the same trail, I was so inspired I had to write the book.

JK: What nonfiction do you write?

RJV: I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that most of my nonfiction relates to travel. My first nonfiction book was College Can Wait, a gap-year guidebook for reluctant students with a huge emphasis on travel. And, of course, I’m hard at work on the New Zealand travel guide. If that’s successful, I’ll follow it up with more travel guides to all of my favorite places.

JK: What is it like publishing Beauty’s Songbook with Kindle Press? 

RJV: When I originally submitted Beauty’s Songbook for the Kindle Scout nomination process, I didn’t actually expect to be selected. I was very curious, though. Kindle Scout is one of the newest entries to the publishing scene, a model that combines the best parts of self-publishing and traditional publishing. I’ve been blogging about the whole Kindle Scout publishing process here

You get complete control over your cover (though the quality control kicks in during the nomination process—you won’t get many votes with a bad cover), and Kindle Press does a very thorough edit of your book—for content and conventions—before publication. You get an advance, but you also get to keep a much larger percentage of your royalties than you would in a traditional publishing deal (50% compared to around 12%). You don’t get to decide on your book’s pricing, but Kindle Press will drop your price for promotions and submit your book to a number of promotion deals, circumventing the need for the author to pay for these. 

As traditional publishers have had a very hard time competing in the ebook market, due to bad pricing choices and a lack of marketing, models like Kindle Press are starting to look very desirable.

Anyway, Beauty’s Songbook just came out on April 19 (you can check it out here), so I have yet to see whether it performs better or worse than my three previous titles. But it’s been exciting to learn more about Kindle Scout and Kindle Press along the way! 

JK: Exciting is an apt word for this whirlwind process. Thanks so much for being here today, and best of luck with Beauty’s Songbook.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Today at Unusual Historicals: My Intellectual Hero, Alfonso X

Alfonso X. That's him on the left
in the blog banner, too. 
The theme at Unusual Historicals this month is "The Intellectuals." Maybe they don't make history as often, but without the brainiacs to write things down, there would be no history at all. 

My personal and intellectual hero is—no secret—Alfonso X, el Sabio. Read about just a few of his brilliant accomplishments here at Unusual Historicals. 

If you'd like some event specifics, I made two-part biographical summary here and here

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Prescient Reporter Releases Topical Political Thriller: A Guest Post by Kindle Press Author Rick Pullen

Fellow Kindle Press author Rick Pullen has managed what seems impossible: he wrote about what interested him, and now that the time for publication has come around, his topic is hotter than anyone could have planned. Naked Ambition is available for preorder. Make sure to get it now and it will download to your device on May 3. Take it away, Rick!

Author Rick Pullen
Naked Ambition is my first thriller, and believe it or not, it’s about the Republican establishment trying to take down a Republican candidate for the Presidency. Talk about timing! But it was written long before Donald Trump came onto the political scene.

It all began with a court scene I had stuck in my head for a decade. What if a federal prosecutor leaked an explosive story to a newspaper reporter and then—due to an uncontrollable twist in circumstances—he suddenly was forced to prosecute the reporter to reveal who the leaker was? How would you resolve that scene?

For years I couldn’t. I talked to friends trying to unravel the dilemma and still couldn’t. Then one day over beers with a colleague at a sports bar across the street from my office, it came to me. That night I went home and began to write.

I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life. I was an investigative reporter for newspapers for years before becoming a magazine editor. Of course being an investigative reporter meant I was constantly accused of writing fiction long before I ever attempted to.

So in 2011 I took a class on novel writing at the Washington Independent Writers Center and began to understand how difficult it was and how totally different the structure of fiction was from straight news reporting. The inverted pyramid? Forget it. Magazine feature story writing? Fiction wasn’t even close. It wasn’t a style question, but one of craft.

Over the next two years I read more than 40 books on the craft of writing fiction—everything from point of view, to pacing, to how to write a sex scene—all while writing the first and second drafts of my novel. I learned quickly that the real craft of writing was actually rewriting and first drafts were little more than glorified outlines.

I’ve worked in Washington most of my career, so I know quite a lot about how the city operates and thinks. Writing a political thriller wasn’t a big stretch for me. But I wanted my novel to examine more than just political skullduggery, power, and sex. I wanted it to be an examination of the flawed human element that makes up our power structure and how overblown egos affect real lives. I wanted it to cover everything from how journalists often fail to shed any light on what really goes on in the nation’s capital, while powerful politicians do everything they can to thwart the truth from ever surfacing. Instead they cynically preach God and patriotism while lusting for power and their administrative assistants.

For this reason, my working title was “Professional Ethics.” I wanted my thriller to examine all types of ethical dilemmas—from questionable journalistic integrity to political hypocrisy. But in my mind that still didn’t rise to the level of being distinctive enough. All of the great detective and thriller series have something unique about their flawed main characters. I needed to create such a character. That’s when I came upon the idea of the “Naked Series,” an honest portrait of the warts beneath the polished patina of pinstripe Washington.

To the outside world, my main character is an award winning, swashbuckling hotshot investigative reporter. Inside the confines of his condo, he’s an insecure jumble of contradictions who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag without the aid of his secret mentor.

I’m already writing my second thriller. Naked Truth is about the underpinnings of the stature of the Supreme Court. Is Lady Justice really blind or just winking at us? My third book in the series is Naked Aggression. It will examine who holds the real power in Congress.

Of course these are all thrillers, so they are filled with suspense, sex, murder and intrigue. In Naked Ambition, the main character learns about political manipulation and how nothing is as it seems to be—not his job, not his story source and not his new love interest. In the end, everything is stripped bare—well, almost everything. It is Washington after all. So do we ever really know the whole truth? 

Naked Ambition is now available for preorder. Get it today and receive it on your device automatically on the release date of May 3. And check out Rick Pullen at his website.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Debut Author's Road to Publication: Guest Post by Teresa Roman

Fellow Kindle Press author Teresa Roman's debut novel, Back To Us, is a contemporary romance. 

Her absolute favorite things in life are her family and books. Her passion for reading is what inspired her to become a writer. She loves the way stories can take you to another time and place.

Teresa currently live in beautiful Sacramento, California, with her husband, three adorable children, and a doxiepoo named Parker that her son convinced them to adopt. When she's not at her day job or running around with her kids, you can find her in front of the computer writing, or with her head buried in another book. If you'd like to know more about her, she can be found at, where you can also sign up for her newsletter for exclusive book release information.

Take it away, Teresa!

Author Teresa Roman
I love reading author’s stories on how they eventually got their first book published, so I thought I’d share mine with you.

For three years I’d been working on a young adult urban fantasy novel. I struggled with it, agonizing over whether the pacing was too slow, or the world-building good enough. I finally decided to take a break from it and start writing a contemporary romance that I’d had in my head for a while.

Back To Us tells the story of Jessica, a college girl struggling to make ends meet, and Justin, a former Navy Corpsman dealing with injuries from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They meet, and despite the issues they’re both dealing with, can’t ignore their attraction for each other.

After I finished writing Back To Us, I decided, after much internal debate, that I was going to self-publish it. I hired and editor, a book formatter and an amazing cover designer. Only days away from self-publishing Back To Us, I got an email about Amazon’s new Kindle Scout program.

Despite my determination to self-publish my book, I still feared the process, but the alternative—querying a hundred agents and waiting eons for a reply—was even less desirable. Kindle Scout promised a yes or no reply in just over a month. That appealed to me. So I went ahead and submitted Back To Us. I asked friends and family for nominations, but didn’t expect much. I was new to Facebook, new to the world of self-promotion, and quite frankly sure my book wouldn’t get selected.

No one was more surprised than I was when it did. I was also really excited. Another part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t have to figure out the right way to get started in the world of self-publishing.
While the Kindle Scout program might not be a perfect fit for every author, I’m glad that I published Back To Us through Kindle Press. I’ve gotten to meet a ton of authors, many who’ve written several novels before being published by Kindle Press. They’ve become not only friends, but have offered a wealth of advice on writing, publishing and marketing.

Back ToUs has been out for almost a year and is now joined by that young adult urban fantasy novel I mentioned earlier, titled Daughter of Magic.

You can find out more about me and check out my books on my website

Happy reading!

Thanks for stopping by, Teresa. 

Although I've been writing for more years than I care to count, and I had Seven Noble Knights accepted for publication before Awash in Talent, Kindle Press's swift action means that Awash will be my debut, too!

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Unconventional Path to Publication with Author Katie O'Rourke

Continuing the celebration of my fellow Kindle Press authors, today I welcome a guest post on the publishing process from women's literary fiction author Katie O’Rourke. Her accomplished novel Finding Charlie is on sale for only 99 cents until April 15.

Katie O'Rourke
A hundred years ago, when I first started to consider writing to get published, I did the research on how it was done. I bought a copy of The Writer's Market, worked on crafting the perfect query letter, mailed out manila envelopes with sample chapters and SASE (self-addressed stamped envelopes), and collected numerous rejection letters while I waited for a literary agent to discover me.

Now the process has changed a bit, with most agencies accepting email queries. I've perfected my pitch and my rejection letters have gotten nicer. I've had many requests for full manuscripts, more specific advice and encouragement. I even spoke on the phone with an agent from one of the leading literary agencies in New York.

Somehow, these rejections hit me harder than the form letters of my past. I still don't have an agent, but I have three published books. I used to think my path to publication was unusual, but when I talk to other published authors, they all have a different story to tell.

With my first book, Monsoon Season, my publisher found me. I had posted my work on an online writers' site called Authonomy. The publisher was a new imprint of an established company and I hired a literary agent to look over my contract. (Best $100 I ever spent.) Sales were really good, but I didn't like how they handled the release of my second novel, so I got out of that contract and published on my own. They've since merged with Little, Brown and I've been much happier as they continue to sell Monsoon Season.

My second book, A Long Thaw, was released in 2014 under my own imprint. This book sells fewer copies than the first (so far), but I have complete control over how it's marketed and I get daily sales reports about how it's doing. I think this has been a great way for me to compare each method and see what matters to me. Is it reader response? Sales? Cover design?

I entered my latest book Finding Charlie, into a crowdsource competition and it was selected for publication by Kindle Scout at the end of last year. I had been slightly apprehensive about entering into this deal because in some ways, it sounded like the worst parts of my previous experiences: the independent struggle of self publishing combined with the lack of control of traditional publishing. But I have been pleasantly surprised. I had creative control of the cover and book content, but help from a professional editor. The team has kept me involved, returns emails promptly, and I can depend on them for the kind of promotional deals I have going on now: Finding Charlie is currently just 99 cents!

My experience with publication has been diverse and educational. I like it that way. Publishing has changed a lot and the path is no longer as cookie cutter, if it ever was. Sometimes publishers come before agents; sometimes agents never show up. From what I hear, it may be that my path is just as unconventional as the next person’s.

Thanks for being here, Katie.

Get all the latest from Katie at

Monday, March 28, 2016

Interview with Mystery/Thriller Author Katherine Hayton

As if having Awash in Talent accepted for publication wasn’t thrilling enough, with it came acceptance into the literary community of Kindle Press authors. It’s my pleasure to present some of their wonderful work for you here.

New Zealand author Katherine Hayton writes thrilling mysteries. The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton, in which a detective must solve a cold case or meet the same fate as the victim, will be published by Kindle Press tomorrow and is already available for preorder.

JK: Tell us about your last release.

Katherine Hayton: Breathe and Release is about a woman who wakes in hospital with amnesia, and the parallel story of a woman who is being held captive in an underground cell. Can she remember in time? Can she escape her prison? Can everyone hold their breaths long enough to get to the end of the book? All these and other questions can be answered by purchasing a copy.

JK: What are you working on now?

KH: I’m working on a sequel to The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton called The Second Stage of Grief. (That’s the stage with all the anger and the resentment and the “how dare you die” kind of stuff going on, so expect a fair bit of inflicting misery on other people.) It should be off to the editor for April so I can sit back and relax for a few minutes before I start drafting a brief outline for the third Ngaire Blakes Mystery.

JK: You’ve met with great writing success recently. Is your life anything like it was two years ago?

KH: Oh yes, but with slightly less time. I thought the writing was the hard part, and then I found out about the marketing and the website and the maintenance and the panels and the promotions and the... Changed for the better, obviously!

JK: What part of the writing process do you dread?

KH: Which bit am I working on now? That bit. That bit sucks the bomb.

JK: Any weird writing rituals to get you through those tough spots?

KH: Why? What do you mean? Who’s looking? Nothing that seems weird to me. I do talk to myself a lot, usually when I’m typing, but I’m happy to do that in front of people as well, so I don’t think that counts.

JK: What is your favorite quote and why?

KH: It’s never too late to be the person you always wanted to be – George Elliot. I think I like it because I’ve started again later in life to try to make something of myself, and this saying reminds me that I can keep doing that until I’m dead.

JK: What are your future ambitions?

KH: I’m looking forward to when I can retire from work. I enjoy my day job a lot most of the time, but I think I’d prefer working if I didn’t have to. Like volunteering for things. You stand on a street corner with a bucket and the job sucks for the most part, but if you turn in your bucket and walk away when you feel like it, what are they gonna do? Yeah. That’s some awesome power there. Going in every day to a job you enjoy but which you can walk out of at a moment’s notice if it comes down to it. That would be good. Anyone reading this, if you’d like me to experience this as a reality please feel free to order thousands of copies of my book so I can bring my retirement date forward. You’re awesome. No you are.

JK: Are you a romantic?

KH: Ahhhh, no. I’m a realist. A realist who would actually appreciate it if her partner bought her flowers for her birthday or her anniversary or just because once in a while. But not in a romantic way. In a “Look at what I got while you received nothing you bunch of losers—In Your Face” kind of way. Maybe I’m a competitive romantic?

JK: Let’s test that theory. What is the sweetest thing someone has done for you?

KH: Stayed with me for twenty years.

JK: Aww. You might be a romantic. Let’s test you again. What’s the best movie ever made? 

KH: Being John Malkovich. And why? Malkovich. Malkovich. Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich. And that bit about the 13th and a half floor was genius. And making Cameron Diaz look frumpy. How’d they manage that? And dropping out of the Malkovich dimension onto the New Jersey turnpike. You can’t write that stuff. Well, you may be able to if your name’s Charlie Kaufman, but I can’t write that stuff.

JK: I adore Malkovich and Charlie Kaufman’s writing, too. They way they follow their own illogic while always inviting the viewer to come along for the ride is something I’m always aiming for in my writing.

Thank you so much for stopping by. All best for your Kindle Press release, The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton.

Find out about Katherine’s latest work and sign up for her mailing list at her website. She’s always ready to share short stories and funny thoughts with her readers.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Fourth Largest Book Festival in the United States

Partial view of the Tucson Festival of Books from the second floor
of the student union 
Only the fourth largest? In its eighth year and looking forward to the ninth, the Tucson Festival of Books sees more than 130,000 visitors over two days, with hundreds of workshops and exciting author events.

This year has been my third time at the festival, but the first time I enjoyed it as a reader only. In 2011, I was pushing my own boundaries by volunteering to run some events at the festival, and in 2012, I volunteered and helped out at the Fireship Press booth. Unforgettably wonderful experiences, yes. But the freedom of being able to do what I wanted (and especially to get out of the burning sunlight whenever necessary) combined with showing my mother around the festival—she bought a wondrous quantity of books—to create bookish bliss.

Mystery authors J. A. Jance, Margaret Coel, and Anne Hillerman
at Southwest Women of Mystery 
First, we attended a panel called "Southwest Women of Mystery" in a ballroom that can hold 640, and it was packed. I'm not too current on mysteries, so I had no idea these authors were so popular. Rightly so. Each author displayed a great sense of humor as well as adventure while they discussed their research, the Southwest, and the way their work is received in Native American communities. I ended the hour with huge respect for all of them.

The Fireship Press booth, with Loose Leaves titles visible 

The Writers Studio Tucson booth with festivalgoers and bright sunlight 
We used some free time after the the first event to visit my friends and associates at the Fireship Press and Writers Studio Tucson booths. Both are Tucson literary institutions not to be missed if you are a reader or a writer.

Next my mother and I had tickets for a session titled "Star Wars, the Shannara Chronicles, and Outlander: From Book to Screen and Back." If I thought the first event was packed, I stood corrected at this one. Everyone in the state of Arizona wanted to hear this talk. Under any other circumstances, Terry Brooks (author of the Shannara Chronicles) and Chuck Wendig (author of a ton of great stuff, including the novelization of The Phantom Menace) could fill a stadium by themselves. But they were sharing a panel with someone who commanded every reader's rapt attention. When Diana Gabaldon is in the room, anyone else is forgotten.

Terry Brooks, the moderator, and Chuck Wendig wait to the side of
Diana Gabaldon's celebrity. 
Diana Gabaldon graciously humors one of her many admirers. 
Diana Gabaldon's approach to the event was a study in literary celebrity. When she appeared from the ready room, the auditorium applauded. Then, as regal as you please, she walked slowly down the aisles, allowing the masses to take her picture as she processed. It wasn't over when she went to stand next to her copanelists. That was when the queue formed for taking selfies with the famous author. Festival volunteers had to call and end to it so the panel could actually start.

Diana Gabaldon talked about the Starz adaptation of her Outlander series, Terry Brooks shared his experience with the brand new adaptation of his Shannara Chronicles, and Chuck Wendig discussed his graphic novel Star Wars adaptations, thus the "From Book to Screen and Back" title. I adore Chuck Wendig's general wisdom and appreciated the practical way he answered an audience question about film rights. Upshot: make sure you get paid for all your rights. Terry Brooks was amazing, too, with his quips about the adaptation process and a striptease that ended at a T-shirt reading "The book was better." Diana Gabaldon got the most questions and I heard a level of detail to be expected only from utterly obsessed fans, which all of them appear to be.

The best thing about this panel was that finally, after years of my fruitless efforts to convince my mother of this fact, she said, "I guess the book and the movie are different formats and you can't really judge them by each other." Amen! If Diana Gabaldon says it, it must be true.

Charlie Lovett, the UA professor moderator, Carol Goodman, and
Jennifer Lee Carrell at Shakespeare Mysteries 
After a sack lunch and a yummy gelato from Frost, we went to a session in one of the large tents. The attraction for a panel called "Shakespeare Mysteries" was the Shakespeare part. A First Folio had been residing in Tucson for the past month and there was a big Shakespeare theme at the festival, including a booth where you could put on a ruff and crown and take your selfie with Will. Among other accomplishments, these three authors had written mystery novels with Shakespeare as a character or based on his writings. As a historical fiction lover, I was salivating over their ideas and research process and was dying to buy their books. We did, and got them signed. Where else can you do that in such a gluttonously huge quantity?

Marja Mills speaks about her relationship with Harper Lee and her family. 
We started the second day at the Arizona Daily Star tent. We didn't know with what authority Marja Mills would be talking about Harper Lee, and we didn't count on the tent being so totally packed. It was silly of us. Of course everyone wants to know what Marja Mills thinks about Harper Lee: she lived next door to her and her sister for a year and a half! Marja wove a tale of a charming pair of brilliant sisters who could tell you stories for hours on end, and a town where everyone was in everyone's business. Most importantly to me, Marja believes Harper Lee wasn't in favor of the publication of Go Set a Watchman, but what's done is done.

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies booth. Their imprint
Bagwyn Books is publishing my Seven Noble Knights on December 15! 
My mother has a moment with J. A. Jance. 
I think most bibliophiles would be satisfied with one of these events alone. But there's all this and so much more going on at the Tucson Festival of Books. Great local food, children's events, Science City, more bargain books than you can count, a literary circus, live music, a mariachi competition, and, and, and... This year, there was also the convenience of the First Folio being in the Arizona State Museum, which is walking distance from the festival. So we started with contemporary mysteries and ended with the Bard himself. No wonder it takes a week to recover.

See you in 2017!