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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

5 Tips For Navigating The Sea Of Free

The modern world is stuffed to the gills with free ebooks. Everywhere you turn you find more and more of them pouring out of every nook and cranny. How do you, as a reader, sift your way through this endless sea of works to get to the real gems? Here are my five tips that will assist you in finding your next great free read!

1.     Start with what you’re in the mood to read.
The first place to get started when looking for your next great read is its genre. What are you in the mood to read? Mystery? Fantasy? A biography? Doing this will at least cut your search down from the millions of ebooks into the tens of thousands. From here you can narrow your search further by going into sub-categories. Do you want a biography on a celebrity, a dead president, a rock star, etc? Using these sub-categories will help you to narrow your search results into the thousands. Fear not! The following tips will serve as a map to your next literary treasure.

2.     Go ahead and judge the book by its cover.
We’ve all heard it before. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Years ago, this was still the case. As times and technology have changed, our way of organizing and scanning products has changed with them. When you look for a good book it’s okay to sort out the contenders from the pretenders by the book’s cover design. Some things to consider for this are: Is the cover catchy? Does it look professional? Narrowing your search by the most appealing covers should get you down to under 100 titles. Anymore, a picture is worth a thousand words, or in our case – around 75,000 words.

    
3.     Use the book blurb to your advantage.
The book blurb, or synopsis, is the teaser information that is supposed to give you as a reader the crux of the book in a nutshell. Unfortunately, a lot of the blurbs out in circulation now days are nearly as long as the books themselves. This is yet another way that you can further hone in on your next great read. A professional book blurb should be no longer than 300 words. If it is droning on and on then you should probably avoid that work.  This should get your results down to around 25 works.

4. Check out the Author’s Bio.
Another great way to find a great book is to look into who wrote it.  On Amazon.com, this information can be found by clicking on the author’s name, or by simply scrolling down the page of the work in question. Things to look for in this section are: what other books have they written? Have they won any awards? Have they been published in other media? 

5. Where’s the social proof?
Once you have scanned the blurbs and bios, your final tip for shortening the prospect list is to look for who else has read it. How many have read the book? What did they have to say about it? How had it been reviewed? Who has it been reviewed by? Where is it ranked overall, or within its own genre? It should be noted that not every great book will be ranked high on these lists. Sometimes it takes months or even years to get a work reviewed. Taking this step, however, will help you weed down the competition because it has proven its worth to the public.
By now, you should have two or three free ebooks to select from setting right in front of you on your reader. The choice is yours. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cloud Runner

The holidays are upon us once again, and with that I am able to recall the rush of feelings associated with them. The long lines, people getting killed at Wal-Mart, the singing appliances... Most importantly, though, I remember the feelings that I had as a kid as this time of the year crept closer. I loved the magic that the holiday season always brought to me. I now have three great children of my own, and I get to relive some of that magic over again with them. That is one of the many reasons that I'm a writer of fantasy and science fiction. Sure, I dabble in mystery, horror and fiction on occasion, but my bread and butter will always be with my child at heart.

For these reasons, I have chosen to share one of my fairy tales that I wrote during my tenure with the Los Angeles Times. As with most fairy tales, this story doesn't set out to teach the reader a lesson, but rather, to reflect on a part of the human spirit that resides in us all. It, like most other tales of its kind, brings into question the fabric of our perceived reality, and lets us suspend, or entirely release disbelief. So, without further adieu, I bring you -- courtesy of the L.A. Times -- "Cloud Runner".

There once was a boy who spent all of his wishes on things he had never experienced. This is the account of how one of those wishes came true, one magical Christmas Eve. He was fast asleep when the ticking sound found its way to his window. At first, the boy thought it was an element of his extravagant dream. When the ticking came again and again, it awoke the child from his slumber.

"Who's there?" he asked as he approached the frosted window.
 
Trying to peer into the deep night, he pressed his nose against the cool glass. A small head popped up over the edge of the sill, startling the boy.

"Rhone Tobias?" the little person asked. Her face sparkled in the moonlight.

"What?" he asked.

"Rhone. Are you he?"

The boy nodded with uncertainty.

"I'm here to take you away."

"Away?" he asked.

"Of course, to fulfill your request," the little person replied. "You wanted to see something you've never seen."

The elf waved her hand and the window opened.

"Are you coming?" she asked.

Rhone's mouth hung open in shock. Again, the girl waved her hand and he drifted gently aboard a small wooden boat.

"What's your name?" Rhone asked.

"I am called Daffodil," she replied. "I am going to show you something that few humans have ever seen."

As the small boat sailed up into the starry night, the boy fell asleep again. When he awoke, Rhone found himself amid a frantic crowd of elves running back and forth between several golden ships. Large sacks were being stockpiled on the foredecks of schooners, frigates and large galleons.

"Where are we?" Rhone asked. "What's going on?"

"No time to explain," Daffodil said. "Come with me. It's nearly time!"

She led him across the deck and aboard a small ship with the words "Cloud Runner" wrought in flowing silver upon its side.

"Anchors aweigh!" shouted a stout elf, manning the navigator's wheel.

Several others gave the same order, and before long, Rhone and the Cloud Runner were sailing into a sea of pink clouds. The large galleons changed course and sailed off toward the rising sun, while Rhone's ship turned due south and cut the billowing clouds into vaporous wisps. Rhone peered off to the east and saw distant clouds flash with explosions of blue light.

"We're comin' upon her now!" the husky elf at the helm cried.

Members of the Runner's crew hurried to load the large sacks into the cannons on either side of the ship. Silvery-blue ribbons of mist gleamed inside the cannons.

"This is it!" Daffodil exclaimed.

Rhone didn't understand but watched the strangeness with his undivided attention.

"Ready!" the captain shouted. "Fire!"

Large plumes of smoke shot out of the cannons as massive spheres of blue light arched toward a nearby cloud. The cloud soon turned gray and rumbled as the spheres exploded within its depths. Daffodil grabbed Rhone by his arm and led him to a small boat hanging at the Runner's side.

"Come, Rhone," she said climbing in. "You must see."

The two sailed down through the frigid cloud and into a scene that lit up Rhone's face. As the two of them drifted down toward Rhone's house, a light blanket of glittering snowflakes covered the palm trees and roof of his home. The boat came to rest beside Rhone's window once more, and the boy was lifted back into his own room.

"Will I see you again?" he asked.

"There are many requests that need to be granted," Daffodil replied.

Rhone's face sagged.

"Just make another request," the elf said with a smile. Then with a salute and a backward step, she drifted into the dancing snowflakes.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chloe's Corner: How My Parents Destroyed My Masterpiece!

  My name is Chloe, and I am somewhere between this many (holds up one stubby finger) and this many (holds up two). I'm sure of this because I distinctly remember the yummy puppy dog birthday cake that Mommy and Daddy got for me not too long ago. I digress. This is not why I am hijacking Dad's computer thingy today. Nope. I've got a complaint to file with household management, and I want a call to action for all other toddlers worldwide!
  My side of this story begins around a month or so ago. I was just minding my own business working on a drawing - which I have to say was near Utopian - when I was rudely interrupted by my Mom's screaming from the kitchen. This, of course, led to an unintended long streak of purple on my otherwise flawless mural on the living room wall. This was quickly followed up by Daddy bounding into my art studio and huffing something mean. I still can't figure out what he said to this day, but it wasn't very polite. I felt that my use of purple in the monochromatic motif that I had just completed would have made Rembrandt cry. Too bad Mommy and Daddy didn't feel the same way. What happened next will live forever in toddler infamy...
  Daddy went into the bathroom and came back with Mommy's blow dryer gun. Why you'd want to shoot yourself with wind, I don't know, but it does tickle! Anyway, then Dad started shooting hot wind at my masterpiece for what felt like an eternity. Imagine my horror at the very sight of such a defilement. Next, Mommy asked Dad to go get a damp washcloth out of the bathroom closet. It wasn't bath time yet. What gives? Mommy then proceeded to wipe the melted wax magic that was my crayola mural right off of the living room wall! The nerve!
  This is where I ask -- nay, implore -- all toddlers around the world to stand up for our right to artistic expression. Is this what our society has come to? Can we not freely express ourselves in an artistic manner within our own homes? We must right this injustice, and take back the doodles that are rightfully ours! Or, maybe I could just doddle on the flat white thingies that Mommy calls paper. This still doesn't change the fact that I'm angry, or that I will likely post Daddy's secret recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls on here -- just in spite of it all! Keep looking on my, err... Daddy's, blog thing for more of my exploits.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Secret Blueprints To Your Next Great Ebook

   Below is an excerpt from the recently released guide, "Ebook Help Now! The Essential Writer's Companion", on how to effectively create a story that will connect with your readers and sell. These tried and true techniques should propel your next work into another level of existence. Enjoy, and happy writing:

  "You have chosen you working genre for your ebook. Now it’s time to get into the inner workings of the book and flesh out your story idea. Let’s suppose that you have chosen to write the next great mystery novel. What’s your story going to be about? Where do you even begin? You begin with answering the questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Starting to resemble grade school grammar class, right? Buckle in and hang with me because this is where the fun for you really begins.
On the first sheet of paper in your notebook write down those questions above leaving about five to nine lines in between each one for you to write down your answers. Now, we’ll go through each question one by one, and get more details for our mystery novel.

Who? On the first few lines, write down who the main characters in the story will be. The essential ones to consider for any story are the protagonists (good guys), the antagonists (bad guys) and any secondary or supporting characters. At this point, you don’t need to flesh out each character entirely. We’ll do that in a bit. Right now just jot down a little bit about each one. Are they male or female? Old or young? If you can give them working names for now then go ahead and do so. If not, don’t worry. You can come up with these once you completely flesh out each character. For our example, we’ll say that our heroine in this story will be a young female named Emily. The antagonist will be an unnamed shadowy mass murderer. We’ll give Emily some supporting characters like her huffy boss, senior partner, and maybe her pet cat. I am honestly picking these things at random as we go along. So, we’ll have to see where this story ends up together.

What? This is a big question to answer, and it might take some time to completely answer. Once the story is developed further you will get a better idea of how to answer this one in full. For now, let’s just get some of the big picture concepts on your paper. What level of diction will you use? Not only will what you say to your readers matter, but how you say it as well. Will you use a high level of diction like Shakespeare, or will you employ colloquial speech? What is going on with the main plot in your story? What led your characters to the point that they find themselves now? What will be some of the obstacles that the main characters face? Going back to our example, let’s suppose that Emily has just finished graduate school and earned a degree in Criminology. She has just finished State Trooper Academy and now finds herself as a rookie undercover investigator in a small town. She will likely have to face the obstacles of being accepted by her peers, overcoming her fears on the job and maybe working past her problems with social awkwardness to finally get into a steady relationship. The main plot may be that Emily and her senior partner fall onto the trail of a local mass murderer, and have to race against time to catch the killer before another person in town gets knocked off.

Where? This one can be an easy question to answer, or a hard one. It depends on how complex you want to make your story. You could have your mystery be simple and take place in a small town in the heart of Americana. You could decide that it should be more elaborate, and take place in deep space, or perhaps on a distant planet. For the purposes of keeping things simple for clarity, we’ll continue along the line of our example and say that our mystery will take place mainly in some small town in America. Other things to consider in this category are smaller details such as: Where does the main character live? Where is the killer in relation to the town? Where is the police barracks? The more details that you give to your work now the easier that it will be to bring it to life when the time to write it arrives.

When? Again, the sky is the limit on this question as well. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. There’s nothing saying that we couldn’t write a mystery story that takes place in the distant future, or one that happened in the Salem Witch Trials of 1620s New England. This is where you get to be creative and have a lot of fun! Take some time to let all of the possibilities percolate in your mind. Jot down all of them as they come to you, and then play the ‘what if’ game with each one. What if Emily were on a distant moon in 2137 and chasing after an alien killer? What if she were accused of being a witch in Salem in the 1620s, and had to prove her innocence? You could take our example and probably come up with dozens of scenarios to expound on alone. For our sake, we’ll say that Emily is stuck in present day America.

Why? Once more, you can open up your imagination with this question and come up with hundreds of reasons for each case. Basically, though, you want to figure out why the killer is killing in our story. Why is he so hard to catch? Other items under this heading might include: Why can’t Emily get a date? Why is her boss such a jerk? Why is her partner constantly riding her case? You want to try and develop the main motivations for why each main character does what they do. Emily can’t get a date because she is young and clueless on how to approach boys. Maybe she went to an all-girls high school, and stayed focused on class work during college. Maybe her boss is a jerk because he is having problems at home. Maybe he has an alcohol addiction.  Maybe the killer is trying to prove a point, or expose a social injustice. Maybe the killer is trying to avenge a wrongful death. Lots of things to think about, so, again take some time to consider all of the possibilities and write them down in your notebook.

How? The next concept to tackle is the ‘how’ to the story. How does the killer kill his victims? How will Emily and her cohorts catch him? How will her boss overcome his addiction? How will each character overcome the obstacles that are thrown in their paths? For our story, perhaps the killer murders his victims with an axe. He leaves behind cryptic messages that give the investigators some clues as to his next victim, but not enough to tell them everything. Maybe Emily eventually discovers the system that the killer is using, and gets one step ahead of him. On one of the subplots (which we’ll delve into in later sections) might follow how her boss overcomes his personal demons with addiction. Again, take the time to properly flesh out some of the answers to this question. They will pay you big dividends later."

  To obtain a full copy of "Ebook Help Now! The Essential Writer's Companion", click the link to the right on this page.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tech Alert: Ebook Help Now!

Having trouble coming up with the right title for your work? Wrestling all evening with the synopsis (blurb) to entice your readership? Find affordable, fast and  easy solutions to your problems at http://www.secretshelf.weebly.com.

The Zen Of Fatherhood:5 Tips To Getting By

  Parenthood, in general, is a wild ride. I have three wonderful children of my own (eight, five and one), and every day is an adventure with them. However, as most - if not all dads - know, there are some unwritten bylaws in daddom that we must adhere to:
  1. Get along with your spouse. Our jobs are not quite as hectic as those of our spouses. We do have some stressors and issues that we must face, but by and large our motherly counterparts have to deal with the mother load of crap that goes on day to day. They tend to do most of the cleaning, cooking, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to clean the sheets that your kid just peed all over. Some could argue this. I, for instance, do a fair amount of the cooking for my family. I do it because I like it. The more I forget to show my wife some appreciation, the worse life gets. I'm a dufus sometimes. It happens. She had and does earn it. So, learn from this...
  2. The little ones will get hurt. We have a one year old. She loves to run and explore anything and everything in and around our home. When I was a new father, my gut instinct was to cringe at my son's every collision and run to rescue him. Of course, he quickly got over it, and was up and running again in seconds. I remained mortified for at least a few hours after. By the time we got to our daughters, we would hardly respond to their incidents. Someone would say, 'they just ran into the wall,' to which I would then reply, 'is she bleeding?' The bottom line - do what you can and must to protect your kids, but don't go overboard. They'll live.
  3. Kids will inevitably fight. There's no way around this. Once you have more than one they will fight over whatever they are able. The best thing to do if you have to mediate these incidents is to run the other way. Ok, really - if they can't come to an agreement to share whatever it is that's causing the argument, then neither of them get it in my home.
  4. Yard work is your friend.  A lot of the newer dads have yet to find the calming effects of mowing the lawn, or weeding the shrubbery. This is your chore - nay, duty - and it is a great way to center yourself. Take this time to think through some problems, to-do projects or how to surprise your wife that night.
  5. Choose your sports viewing wisely. Sure, this time of year there are at least four days out of the week that an American dad could watch football alone. I won't even get started on soccer, baseball, cricket or rugby. The point is, your family has better things to do than watch you watching sports. So, don't forget to drop the remote now and again, and take the family out somewhere to do something fun. Go to the park, a zoo, an amusement park... whatever they're in the mood for.

  Life is a moving bullet with its secrets engraved on its surface. So, don't blink, or it will fly right past you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How To Write A Book In Just 30 Minutes A Day

  If you're anything like me, you probably have trouble finding the time to write your next masterpiece while juggling work, family responsibilities and everything else that goes on in your life on a regular basis. Trying to carve out a few hours even in a week seems like an insurmountable task. What if I were to tell you that you could write a book in as little as one thirty minute session a day? A little more manageable, right? Here are some sure-fire tips that helped me in getting my latest work written and out the door.
  The first thing that I did was to figure out my story's characters. I sat down and fleshed them all out. Where did they come from? Why were they in the place of this story now? This is a major part of the writing process. The biggest complaint I've always had as a reader of stories is flat one-dimensional characters. So, a great chunk of time and attention should be invested here to help build a strong foundation for your work.
  The next thing that I did was to hash out the main plot of my story in three to five paragraphs. This is the right length for this summary exercise because in previous publisher submissions I've found that they all want a cover sheet that does just this... summarize your entire novel in three to five paragraphs. It's a hard thing to get right at first, but with practice it is a necessary skill that will make your synopsis (blurb) writing that much better.
  After these items I fleshed out my story chapter by chapter. I just wrote out what was going to happen, and who was involved in each major scene. This was the most labor-intensive portion of the task, but it served me well in saving time during my writing sessions. I would do this work at night or early in the morning when I had some quiet time set aside for myself to work on the project.
  Finally, I took my thirty-minute lunch breaks at work along with my notes from the aforementioned work and managed to hash out 500-700 words every day in half an hour. Doing this over the course of a month led to a finished work. It was as simple as that! Just plan your work ahead of time so that when you can make the brief window of time to work on your stories you can make the most of them.
  Be sure to check back later for some ideas that I used and still use for writing synopses and coming up with killer titles. Enjoy!