23 January 2015

More Good, Clean Reading

Are you one of those people that loves to read but hates trying to disinfect your eyeballs after they've been exposed to blood, guts, profanity or sex? Yeah, me, too … And I have good news!

As the hunt continues for providers of "clean" fiction, more sites and blogs are cropping up. This time I'd like to introduce you to Clean Indie Reads:
The goal of this site is to connect writers from across the fiction genre spectrum with readers who want to discover something great. Specifically, it is to find independent authors who are writing fiction that would generally be deemed “clean”. Does that mean everything featured on this site is squeaky-clean Disney-Princess pure? Well, no. But you can rest assured that these books are clean […]

Naturally, I'm most interested in their fantasy listings, and I'm always up for a little science fiction, but they have other categories too (so easy to get side-tracked to the pages for dystopian and steampunk!).

And look at their tagline! "Home of Flinch-Free Fiction!" You might want to pay a visit to my own list of Flinch-Free reading recommendations: Read these!

Clean Indie Reads also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
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Have you got a go-to site for finding clean fantasy and sci-fi reads?

What are some of your favorite (clean) fantasy and sic-fi books?

16 January 2015

Getting Graphic

The word "graphic" comes from a Greek word that means "writing, drawing." Graphic representations are visual, symbolic, illustrative …  and written. Graphic descriptions are vivid, detailed, descriptive, illustrative. Do you see a connection here?

Authors who wants to sell their books (as I suppose most authors do) will draw more attention to themselves and their books if the package (author and books) is attractive.

I've talked before about what an important job book covers have. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, points out that:
A book’s description is the “first and foremost concern” of the blogger and book reviewer known as “The Picky Girl.” Still, she thinks twice before accepting or buying a book with a bad (or cheap looking) cover. “I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement,” she says. 
Like Picky Girl, Naomi Blackburn, one of the world’s top Goodreads reviewers, founder of the group The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, and author of the business advice column The Author CEO, selects books based primarily on their description. But Blackburn, too, passes on books with bad covers. “If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”
Graphic designer and author C.L. Smith lists (and goes into detail about) some important guidelines in his article 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design. These do not apply exclusively to Kindle/e-book covers. If you're concerned with making that first good impression, it would be well worth your while to read the full article.

But wait! There's more!

Your book may or may not be your first introduction to a potential reader. Your social media presence is important, too. It's your cover, your first impression space. Do you have a good-looking icon/profile photo? Does your header/cover photo (the "graphic page title") take advantage of the space to promote your brand or your books? Does it carry your logo or your tagline?

Identities with generic icons (Twitter's "egg" anyone?) and/or headers produce the same question as books with low-quality covers: I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement?

Can you imagine Target's social media pages without the familiar red-and-white icon or heading? Apple without an apple? Coca-Cola without the bottle of coke and a smile? Toyota without their (okay, what IS that?) icon and "Let's go places" tagline?
"A strong visual brand helps you connect with your community and effectively convey your brand’s personality." (4 Ways Visual Design Can Improve Your Social Media Marketing, by Zach Kitschke via the Social Media Examiner)
* * * 
"Whatever our objectives are for marketing ourselves (establishing a reputation as an industry expert, selling a book we’ve written, or finding a new job are just a few ideas that might apply), our personal brand can help us familiarize our target audience with the facets of our character that make us an appealing investment." (Many Platforms, One Voice: How to Maintain a Consistent Social Media Persona, by Steve Glauberman via the Content Marketing Institute)
* * * 
"Due to the rapid growth of social media, consumers are exposed to a barrage of Tweets, "Likes," texts and messages on the Web and on their mobile devices. With the need to read or view images in seconds -- as well as on smaller screens -- graphic design plays an increasingly important role not only in building brand awareness and recognition but in merely attracting the user's attention." (The Importance of Graphic Design in Social Media by Elle Smith via Small Business Chron)
Look at social media pages.

Search for "images for social media headers."

Think about your brand's personality — What colors define it? Pick out a "brand font." (Remember to make sure it's commercially licensed and readable!) Choose a style (medieval? retro? futuristic? something else?).

Then what? Use them together every time you create new marketing materials. Consistency is important. It's noticeable. When your particular brand appears across the internet, people will recognize you.

So if you're not artistically talented (do your Photoshop or GIMP skills mimic the quality of your favorite book covers, social media headers, marketing materials?), where do you go?

There are loads of websites that design packages for you to use or custom-made graphics.

If you prefer doing it yourself, be sure the images you're using are 1) legally licensed, 2) not popular stock images—you don't want your cute-girl-with-a-ponytail showing up on a dozen other covers— and 3) following the 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design.

Or, if you're on a tight budget, you could look into hiring dirt cheap affordable freelancers from sites like Fiverr, FiverUp, GigBucks and the like. Caveat: be careful. Research the site, research the artist. Like any other business, you want to make sure they're reliable.

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Do you pass over books with poorly done covers?

Do you ignore social media connections with generic graphics?

What do you struggle with as an author? Reader? 

09 January 2015

Chocolate Fix: Chocolate Magic Custard Cake

When I was a little girl my mom spearheaded an annual Baking Campaign that started in October or November and came to a glorious, beautiful, tasty finale at Christmas. She set up a long, narrow table covered with a red tablecloth and decorated with gold tinsel. A basket shaped like a sleigh held old-fashioned, don't-touch-it, fiberglass "snow" and some of her antique ornaments. She made a beautiful gingerbread house. There were fancy bowls of ribbon candy. But the best part was the cookies. Two shallow, rectangular baskets held rows and rows of cookies. Each row was different, and it was so exciting to be given the task of going out into the garage to the big chest freezer that held a veritable treasure trove of goodies so the baskets could be reloaded. Sometimes with even more different cookies.

Sometimes I snitched. There were a few varieties that were perfectly acceptable straight out of the freezer.

Mom—and the siblings old enough to participate in the baking frenzy—used to keep track of what cookies were made each year and how many of each. The very biggest year of all was a record 160 dozen cookies, not to mention the candies and breads that were also a part of the feast.

I almost don't remember any turkeys…

Even so, all of us should have walked away from Christmas with a distinct waddle. Or maybe we should have rolled! But no, none of us were roly-poly. I continued the tradition (in a more restrained manner) when I grew up and married. My kids loved it. My husband is more of a fan of FRESH baking. And now that the kids have all flown the coop I don't do much Christmas baking at all. But …

Over the New Year's weekend I had to bake. I found a recipe—chocolate, of course—that severely tempted my tastebuds at the same time it (mostly) catered to my desire for something easy to prepare. It's not hard to make, but it is just a little bit involved. (Hey, if it requires more than one bowl, it's "involved"!) I tweaked the recipe very slightly, but the original can be found at Give Recipe.


Chocolate Magic Custard Cake

Yield: 8 servings

4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract
1 ¼ cup sugar
½  butter, melted
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups milk, lukewarm
1 tablespoon powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 320°F (160C).

Grease an 8in x 8in baking pan well.

Separate egg whites and yolks.

Beat egg whites in a bowl until stiff and put aside.

Whisk egg yolks, vanilla powder and sugar until creamy.

Add melted butter and mix for half a minute.

Add the flour and unsweetened cocoa powder. Mix with a spatula until incorporated well.

Pour the milk in gradually and continue beating gently.

Add the egg whites, one third at a time, and gently mix with a spatula. Pour this liquidy batter into the baking pan and bake for 60 minutes.

Let it cool and when it comes to room temperature chill for an hour. Slice and dust with powdered sugar just before serving. Keep in refrigerator.


My husband is not a great fan of custard, but he loved this. I love it. Make some. Tell me what you think! And, as always, if you have a terrific chocolate recipe to share, DO IT!

02 January 2015

Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt!

It’s the first Friday of a whole new year! Hello, and Happy New Year to You!

As usual for the first-Friday-of-the-month, A Drift of Quills comes together to deliver you something wonderfully bookish—and this time we’re doing a scavenger hunt!  You might have seen some others around the cyber world, but we decided to make up our own. We’re adventurous that way!

Rummaging through my bookshelves (both physical and digital) makes me feel like a dragon admiring its treasure. I have silver and gold, precious jewels, priceless collections of beautiful words at my very fingertips! The hardest part of this task? Getting sidetracked. I want to read this! No, this one! And that one, too! Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve read <fill in the blank, there are lots of options>! I got so sidetracked, in fact, that it took me three attempts to collect the actual goodies.

All righty then! Into the trove!

A book with the letter “J”: I went with Jabberwocky, by Daniel Coleman. And—I confess, I haven’t read it yet! (So many choices to make in my TBR pile, so little time!) But the cover is purdy and the title appeals to me Have you read it?

A fantasy classic: I first read The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. It was my mother’s fault, as so many of my early fictional excursions were. Fantasy, yes! Arthurian legend, yes! Naturally, I loved it.

A book with a dragon on the cover: So many choices …! After much dithering and asking my husband for his recommendation without any satisfaction, I finally settled on Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind. I’ve read it a few times, but have yet to make it through the entire series because I’m still collecting the books in The Sword of Truth. (Oh, hey! Only two to go!) There are eleven in all. I should be so prolific!

The oldest book on my shelf: My copy of The Settlement Cook Book (The Way to a Man’s Heart), compiled by Mrs. Simon Kander, is the tenth edition, enlarge and revised and clearly not fantasy, printed in 1920. It belonged to my grandmother. It discusses Household Rules such as how to measure properly (Did you know that half a spoonful is obtained by dividing through the middle lengthwise?), balance rations, laying the table, the proper order in which to wash dishes, using a skewer to clean behind the sink pipes, airing a room, and making a home made fireless cooker. Hamburger used to be chopped beef. Please do not confuse the instructions for making soap with making soup. Truthfully, I’m a little afraid to touch the book. It’s in very delicate condition, but what a wonderful thing it is! I keep it in my library so it doesn’t get any more abused. Besides, my fireless cooker is a microwave oven!

A book with a shield on the cover: Oh, decisions! Decisions! It actually took some serious hunting, as most of the sword- or spear- or ax-waving heroes on my book covers didn’t have shields. Folly, I say! I also say that the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams is my favorite series. Ever. I am looking for something to give it a run for the money, but so far no luck. So here it is, book two in the series, entitled To Green Angel Tower, Part 1. Love, love, love it. Also love the fantastic artwork by Michael Whelan.

A book with an animal in it: I give you Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, by Holly Black. Lots of animals, er, creatures, in this one. Beautifully done with notes and stories about each entry.

A cover with only words: I’ve seen and admired them when they’re clever and artistic, but do I have one? I don’t think The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th Edition, qualifies as either clever or artistic, but the book is stupendously useful, even if it is out of date. I’ve got all kinds of bookmarks sticking up out of it. Every author should have a copy (probably more recent, but I won’t criticize) and use it diligently!

A cover with gold lettering: Easy. I went with Hood, the first in the King Raven series by Stephen R. Lawhead, but I could have used all three of them. Minimalist design, beautiful, and a really good read. Besides, it’s Robin Hood! When I was tiny, my dear grandmother used to call me “Robin the Hood.” She was Polish, so perhaps something got a little funky with the translating, but I didn’t understand what a hood was back then. My older sister (and first scribe) kindly supplied me with a copy of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, written and illustrated by the eminent Howard Pyle. I’ve been a fan ever since.

A book written by an author with a common last name: So … how common is “common”? I have no Smiths or Joneses, but I have two different Whites on my shelf, so I went with one of them. As it happens, I have three books by E.B. White—and two copies of one of them (which equals a total of four items, in case you’re counting). Stuart Little is one of the earliest fantasies I read, or rather it was read to me. I loved reading time in elementary school!

A red colored book: There are quite a number of red books peering at me from my shelves. It was hard to choose! And while there were books that were more red, Cloud’s Rider by C.J. Cherryh is wonderful (and totally red on the spine and back!). It is the sequel to Rider at the Gate, which I’ve read but somehow do not (yet) won. Cherryh has a unique style to her writing, and sometimes it takes a bit to get into the rhythm, but I have been sucked in to her fantasy books without the slightest whimper.

As you can probably tell, my books are predominately filled with fantasy. I love fantasy, what can I say? Maybe I need to do a scavenger hunt that excludes the genre just to prove it! What do you think? 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Author of Oathtaker

The old year is behind us (and I cannot say I am sorry about that) and 2015 begins. What better way to move forward than to join my fellow Quills in a treasure hunt. Our search will take us through our book shelves. So, here goes!

A book with the letter “J” - This one is fairly easy—Jekyll and Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Oh yes, I know, the full name is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but most refer to it by its shortened name. This is a great read, showing …

(Read more!)

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

A Scavenger Hunt is fine for parties and kids in college. What we have here is a Scavenger Hunt involving books, and therefore, I deem it a Snark Hunt! Since I am often easily charmed with smiles and soap ... I endeavored to find ONE book with all ten.

When that didn't work ... (Read More!)
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And that's it for this week! We hope you enjoyed this journey into our libraries as much as we enjoyed scouring our bookshelves and ferreting out these little gems. As always, we love when you share your own finds. What's your "Book with the letter "J""?

26 December 2014

Stuff Your Kindle!

It's the day after Christmas! Are you stuffed full of turkey? Family? Joy? There is nothing in the world like the energy that comes when my family gathers to celebrate this joyous season. I like seeing the way the idea of the gift-giving has evolved in my grown children. They're looking for more than the easy solutions and searching a little deeper, sifting through the possibilities to find gifts that mean something. They're using their hearts.

It makes Christmas different than it used to be when they were small. Sometimes I miss the eager, childish excitement—but that's what grandkids are for, right? I like the adults my children have become. Last night my husband asked if I'd gotten everything I wanted for Christmas. What more could I want than to have my family close, healthy, and happy?

That's not to say I didn't get some terrific gifts (read above re: maturity and thoughtfulness). I did! But I'll bet it won't surprise you to learn that one of my favorites came from a of couple years ago: my Kindle e-reader. I do — and always will — love physical books. I have a growing collection of them, and in my new office I even have  a little bit of room for expansion. Obviously, my bookshelves should go all the way up to the ceiling, right? But I also love the notion of being able to bring my entire library with me wherever I go. (Okay, half, because I don't have all my physical books in digital format. Yet.) It's such a futuristic thing to be able to do. And handy!

So did you get a new Kindle for Christmas? Or have you got an older one with some space on it calling out to be filled?

As it happens, As the Crow Flies is on sale at Amazon through New Year's Day. What a happy coincidence!

Here's what some folks are saying about the book:
"As the Crow Flies will keep you up reading long into the night. All fantasy fans must read this one." (Trudi LoPreto for Readers' Favorite) 
"Robin has created a likeable, despicable, arrogant, caring, flawed, and talented character in Crow. All contradictions - I'm aware of this. He is full of contradictions as an individual, which Robin has done a marvelous job of bringing to full life. You know Crow by the time this story has ended - I already miss him! 
What I enoyed most about this novel was that the fantasy element was subtle. Yes, there are thieves and dragons and wizards and swords and such, but Robin doesn't throw those things at you without explanation. Instead, the world she creates is grounded in a reality that is easy to acclimate to (for us as readers) and as elements of magic or the fantastic are introduced, we are ready for them. Like The Hobbit, this adventure will appeal to a broad audience because it doesn't geek-ify its fantasy roots and Crow is so very likeable as the story's hero." (Matthew Keith, novelist)

Want even more awesome books?

Of course you do! What kind of question is that?

Well, good news! The sale the Fantasy Sci-Fi Network was having before Christmas has been reprised! It's on today, too, and some of the books will continue to be sold at bargain prices for the next several days. Be sure to check the price before you buy!

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.” 
~ Diane Duane

Happy reading, my friends!

19 December 2014

Awesome Sale on Fantasy and Sci-Fi eBooks!

Boy, have I got a treat for you!

On December 21st (one day only!) the Fantasy Sci-Fi Network is having a spectacular event featuring free, 99¢, and bargain e-books from the likes of Leeland Artra, JD Hallowell, AR Silverberry, Ichabod Temperance, Kasper Beaumont, Cheryllynn Dyess, Joshua Grasso — and many more!

Yes, me, too!

Mark your calendar, set your alarm, bookmark the page and — Oh, right, you need the link!

Santa’s Best Fantasy & Sci-Fi eBook Sale!

Merry Christmas, and have fun stuffing those virtual socks!

14 November 2014

Blogger Book Fair and Giveaway! Featuring Kayla Curry

It’s the last day of the Speculative Fiction Blogger Book Fair. I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting some of our authors here on my blog. Visit the BBF website for the complete list of authors and giveaways, and then go VOTE in the BBF Reader’s Choice Awards!
Today's guest is the awesome Kayla Curry, author and blogger, and mastermind behind the Blogger Book Fair.

Where the Carnies Are

Fantasy | New Adult

Olive is having a very bad day. She caught her boyfriend cheating on her, she lost her job, and she stumbled into a portal leading to a secret carnival kingdom which she can’t escape. The good news is she meets an eccentric, but stunningly handsome knife thrower. The bad news is she can’t go home for another two months. 

The world she lands in is full of sideshow characters, terrifying amusement rides and her biological parents’ past. She was born a carny, but raised as a normal human. Magic lives in her blood, but it hasn’t reached her heart. To find out who she really is, and why carnies are disappearing, Olive must deceive the king with the help of Alex the knife thrower. 

Olive and Alex play a dangerous game with their emotions when they decide to have a fling during Olive’s stay. They both lead very different lives and being together would mean one of them giving up the life they've always known. 

Tricks and traps are around every corner in this kingdom. Few can be trusted and Olive will need all the help she can get to make it through unscathed.

Buy Links:
Only $.99!

Where the Carnies Are Excerpt

I looked around for the nearest sign of life. A faint light glittered from across a field of wild grass. It was far away, but not so much so that I couldn’t get there. Though I dreaded walking through the field in my heels. Sighing, I grabbed my purse, locked the car up, then stuffed my keys into my purse and turned for the light. The ditch was cleared without injury, and I gained a little confidence. The moon was full. The stars shined. I paid more attention to them than the terrain I was traversing. But, who could blame me? I hadn’t seen the stars in a while. The city was too good at hiding them.

The air changed. Traces of music reached my ears. Carnival music? And the smell of cotton candy accompanied it. The music grew louder as I approached and the smell grew stronger too.

After a few more steps, a bright light flashed before me. I was caught off guard, then stumbled and fell, landing face down on a springy, bouncy, flat surface that felt like a giant dodge-ball. Even in the darkness, I could tell that it was yellow. I pulled myself up to a sitting position and gazed at the tall yellow walls to my left made of the same material I was sitting on. I thought I might be in a giant bouncy house.

Panic struck as I realized I couldn’t see my car, or the field I had just been in. What happened? I couldn’t be dreaming. Could I?