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Meditation Tools for Our Daily Lives – Interview with Author William Blake

(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART INTERVIEW)

To order “A Creative Toolkit of Meditations”

Meditation is a word with as many meanings to people as forms of practice. It can mean devotion, contemplation, reflection, mindfulness, heightened awareness and focus, or simply peace and quiet. In most Eastern religions, it serves as the center of daily awareness and contact with the deeper self, or soul. In many Western religions, its importance is somewhat to entirely less. Some religions incorporate or feature meditation in their practices; others ignore it altogether.

However, millions of people in the U.S. practice meditation in one form or another. Its benefits are physical, mental 9781452574394_cover.inddand emotional, and its value longstanding.

Given all the variables for this ancient practice, sometimes a book comes along that breaks down the basic premise of meditation — and then provides equally simple exercises that will benefit all of us. Retired college professor William Blake has written that book, A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, now available on Amazon.com and through bookstores nationally.

A direct descendant of the great poet William Blake’s brother, Mr. Blake offers twenty simple tools with a basis in mindfulness that are specifically adapted to people with busy lives, tight schedules, and countless things on which to focus. In other words, nearly all of us. He spices it up with an excellent bit of memoir and personal storytelling, to give us background on his own journey, as well as the tools he presents to help us with ours.

What follows is part one of a two-part interview with Bill Blake on the back story of A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, and the book’s value to all of us.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: First of all, Bill, what motivated you to write A Creative Toolkit of Meditations?

WILLIAM BLAKE: I diligently studied and practiced seven spiritual traditions, spending a year or two for each one. Each delivered a useful message and helped me climb the steep, rocky path leading to greater functionality and happiness. Yet these practices, and their books, didn’t provide me with a coherent model. Depth and breadth were lacking. So I began writing the book I couldn’t find: a short, simple, reader-friendly book conjoining growing up and waking up, presenting a variety of easily mastered meditations with illustrative anecdotes, all of which encouraged readers to construct their own meditation practice. In sum, I attempted to write what I couldn’t find in any bookstore.

'A Creative Toolkit of Meditations' author William Blake

‘A Creative Toolkit of Meditations’ author William Blake

WJ.COM: You spend a lot of time in the book working with “real-time” meditation practices. Can you elaborate?

WB: I invented this phrase, or at least didn’t borrow it. “Real-time” means a meditation that is done posthaste. You’re eating with a friend, and he makes a remark that irritates you. You observe and feel this agitation, and then you release it by breathing it in slowly and deeply and then breathing it out slowly and deeply. You friend has no idea that you’re fully experiencing, and then letting go, of your negative feeling toward him. That’s real-time meditation. It makes conscious what’s here-and-now. With sit-down meditation, you’re sitting down in a meditative posture and conducting a meditation that will last at least a few minutes. It could direct your attention to a troublesome or enriching incident that happened yesterday. An efficient toolkit includes both styles of meditation. Both augment mindfulness, i.e., conscious awareness.

WJ.COM: We talk about being conscious, but what does it mean to be in a state of full consciousness?

WB: First, we experience a knowing (not a belief, conviction, or mere mental understanding) that I am consciousness. I am consciousness is not a belief, but a recognition. In short, full consciousness implies that we’re aware of our own awareness along with the object of awareness. If I’m fully conscious, I’m aware of my hand on the steering wheel, and also aware that I’m aware of my hand being on the wheel.   

Second, full consciousness is the sense of being connected with everything. Everything is connected with everything. I am the plate, bread, butter, potatoes, and beans right in front of me, and then I am the whole table along with whatever is on top of it, and then I am my wife’s smiling mouth and lips.

Third, full consciousness expresses awe and Wow! as we experience inner and outer realities. Objects, from a sunset to a coffee cup, have enchanting shapes, colors, textures, and smells. This enchantment is caused by our perception of “focal points,” which are the most concretely perceived part of any scene. If we look at our desk, we can see dozens of objects and can identify them by name. Yet each milli-second, we’re subtly attracted by a single object.

WJ.COM: Can you elaborate on how it draws out from a single object?

WB: For example, I’m now observing my computer screen. I notice the whole screen. Yet the focal point object is the shining silver surface of the hp logo contrasting with the blackness surrounding the hp letters. A milli-second later, my focal point is the straight right vertical line of the typed page on the screen. In another milli-second, my focal point is blue tip of a pen sticking up, with five other pens, above the rim of a circular cloth container. Full consciousness perceives one focal point after another, all day long. They produce the awe of life.

WJ.COM: It looks like the writer in you found plenty of appeal with this book, too, especially when you broke down how different traditions view “consciousness”. How did you present that comparison in the simplest possible form?

WB: Here’s how I summarized various traditions’ verbal pointers to What We Are:

• I must have and be awareness to experience anything. (Modern)

• I must have and be nothingness to experience anything. (Oriental)

• I must have and be the light to experience anything (Quakerism

• I must have and be here and now to experience anything (Everyday talk)

• I must have and be spirit to experience anything (Hindu and Western)

WJ.COM: You narrow down the various goals of meditation to two words – inquiry and mindfulness. Can you explain their differences – and also why they are such drivers of transforming lives when brought together?

WB: We practice inquiry when we have an issue: uncertainty about joining a church group, confusion over which career choice to follow, unhappiness with a mate, a lingering health problem, which political campaign to sign up with. Of course, we can also address these issues by reading a book or by meeting with experienced friends to access their wisdom. There’s more than one inquiry route to mindfulness.

To expand mindfulness, we practice it with both real-time and sit-down meditation. In addition, we are always breathing, and the breath is always manifest and available. By simply noticing our breathing, we become more mindful and stop beating ourselves up with negative thoughts about ourselves or someone else. With sit-down mindful meditation, we can move into the Silence and then deeper Silence. After a while, our minds slow down their assault of negative thoughts. Peacefulness assumes its rightful place in our lives. In short, inquiry provides useful answers to difficult questions, and mindfulness progressively cuts out trashy thoughts and feelings.

WJ.COM: What are points in common between the two styles — and at what point do they come together?

WB: Both styles feature Silence. Inquiry meditation asks a question and then passes into Silence which doles out answers. Mindfulness meditation starts and ends with Silence. It thus stresses an increasingly peaceful mind.

If both inquiry and mindfulness meditation are employed, we’ve got two strong, flexible walking sticks through our dense mental forest. One reinforces the other. As we clear out overgrown brush and tangled roots, or practice inquiry, we dive deeper and deeper into peaceful mindfulness meditation.

WJ.COM: A most impressive aspect of your book is how you present meditation to the dynamics of today – the hurried lives, bombardment of mind-numbing messages and external stimuli, pressure to make ends meet. Why is it so important for us to bring our practice to bear on the situation at hand, rather than trying to escape or “rise out of it”, as some practices might suggest?

WB: Americans encounter several debilitating issues every workday. Americans work longer hours than employees in any other modern industrialized country. Until about 100 years ago, marriage meant joining a community of extended family members who helped to raise our children. Now, both parents often work and children are farmed out to paid keepers. In addition, we’re submerged in a legalized society where we must be careful to follow the rules. A solid vocational or academic education requires many years of study. About 50% of recently graduated engineers can’t find decent work with decent salaries. For most adults, their environment is not a relaxed and enjoyable one. An hour’s crowded freeway drive to work and back isn’t fun. Many goals and payments have to be met.

With this pressure to conform, meditation can teach us to be fully present in each moment. The freeway traffic is heavy, but the cars are brilliantly colored and designed. A variety of radio music, interesting news programs, and even poetry are available to breathe in and out. The hills and trees can be beautiful, and buildings are often designed with exquisite form and color. As you walk into your work office, you observe Margie has white strings threaded through her dense black hair. George is as comically gruff as a bear and moves like one. Your desk is uncluttered and clear, with all the its pens, staplers, and a computer screen accommodatingly ready to work. You think, Today at least half the time I’ll serve my customers while being present and mindful. Meetings will be enjoyable with all their confrontations and absurdities.    

(PART TWO WILL APPEAR ON MONDAY, JANUARY 27)

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Ancient Greece & Apollo Come to Life: Interview with Author AK Patch

What happens when  two modern-day, married professors fall into Ancient Greece through a portal, experience their lives as a page-burner of adventures and harrowing escapes that forges them into hero figures – all at the behest of the Greek God Apollo and his deep concern for the direction of our world today?

PAD cover lo-res

The answer to that rather long-winded question forms Passage at Delphi, the new novel by San Diego-based author A.K. Patch. Passage at Delphi went on sale today worldwide, and is available on online booksellers, Amazon.com, Kindle, bn.com and through all bookstores.

Seven years in the making, Passage at Delphi tackles enough historical, topical and character-driven real estate to open a small state. Flip the pages and you find: protagonists Lauren and Zack Fletcher racing through intrigue, romance and adventure; narrow escapes from predatory hands; their experiences with gods, kings and legendary military rulers; time travel in both directions – from present-to-past and past-to-present; exquisite Ancient Greek landscapes seen and lived through young 21st century professors; a new view of the famous “300” Spartans war against the Persians; and a climactic final scene. All is orchestrated by Apollo, the God of Prophecy, as part of a master plan that reveals itself as Passage at Delphi progresses.

Says the Midwest Book Review of Passage at Delphi: “In presenting action spread out over three different times and characters that intersect, Passage at Delphi creates a fast-paced and challenging story line that places readers at the crux of understanding choices and their wide-reaching consequences makes it a force to be reckoned with: a novel that involves even the most experienced reader of historical fiction, mythology fantasy, and adventure.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, Passage at Delphi has the Big Three of great novels – memorable characters, strong story, and plenty of entertainment and enlightenment. It is smart, gritty and dedicated to its details – much like its author, a retired career Naval officer who has been fascinated with Ancient Greece and ancient military tactics since he was a child.

Now, in the first part of a two-part interview, A.K. Patch talks more about the historical adventure thriller that is already garnering strong praise.

WORD JOURNEYS: First of all, Dr. Patch, Passage at Delphi is a very ambitious project, a compelling blend of deep history and crafty fiction writing – a magnum opus in many ways. How long have you been working on it?

A.K. PATCH: PASSAGE has been in progress for seven years now. I’ve been in no rush to publish it and it has become far more interesting and involved plot. I’ll never have writer’s block. The story just comes out. I occasionally write the story in my head while I’m jogging.

WJ: You wrap the story around a pair of university professors from California who travel to their beloved Greece on an archaeological dig – only to be transported back in time, as intended by the Greek god Apollo. Could you discuss the protagonists a bit more?

AP: Apollo chooses Zack and Lauren because they have the qualities he desires. They have the potential to survive his gauntlet of hero training, but are guaranteed nothing. Apollo’s goal is to save western culture from a devastating collapse. Thereby, the United States must be secured, or the western world will crumble. His heroes must be American, physically able to endure what he has planned, and knowledgeable of the ancient times in which they are tossed into. Even more so, Zack and Lauren are connected to The Professor in Athens. That is how Apollo found them. They fit his requirements.

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in "Passage at Delphi"

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in “Passage at Delphi”

AP: Lauren, like a lot of women, has the capability to rise to the occasion. She has the temperance of a military upbringing. I have personal experience with military dependents and their silent endurance of multiple deployments, low pay, and the ever-present possibility that their loved one is not coming home. Their dedication and sacrifice should be more celebrated by our nation.  Lauren is not so completely hardened, though. She doesn’t realize her strength, and fears separation from Zack. She will endure many physical and psychological battles.

I have asked women what they think they do better than men. One compelling answer is that they multi-task better. Juggling family and career is no picnic. Zack has a lot to learn. He has not had to struggle. He lives under the umbrella of safety that the United States provides to him. What happens to any of us when our umbrellas are pulled and the full force of the storm hits us?

WJ: No good historical action-thriller with a romantic twist can thrive without an antagonist – and Passage at Delphi has a most memorable one in Bessus, the Persian commander who threatens and harangues Zack and especially Lauren throughout the story. Can you tell us how you created such a menacing character, and why?

AP: Bessus represents evil, but would not most ancient warriors act in the manner he does? There are no terms of chivalry, no mercies extended. That is true today also. One aspect of Bessus I might mention is that he has suffered and struggled, and in his mind, cruelty and domination is survival. A monster such as Bessus is not all evil. He yearns for his son, to hold onto his hard-won gains back in Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan). He was betrayed by his mother and her people, seriously enough that you can hold a grain of sympathy for him. Even though he transposes his brand of malice to the modern day, evil, greed, and malevolence can come in many forms. It doesn’t just hold a two-headed axe. It can wear a three-piece suit with cufflinks and plot domination of markets, too.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

WJ: How did this gritty, elaborate story originate for you?

AP: PASSAGE originated as a vehicle to bring the Battle of Thermopylae to the attention of readers. The Greeks of that time were presented with a horrific decision of submitting to slavery or fighting the overwhelming power and wealth of The Persian Empire. I find the Persian Wars period fascinating, and it could be considered a climactic event in the development and survival of Western culture. The questions may soon come to be: are we living in such pivotal times? And what may we have to do to survive and pass our way of life to succeeding generations?

WJ: How do you feel people today are connected to the Ancient Greeks themselves in order to arrive at this correlation you’ve formed as a major plot point?

AP: The ancient Greeks might be called our distant grandparents. Their significant advancements in philosophy, mathematics, architecture, art, sculpture, and playwriting are a solid foundation of our western culture. Ultimately, they gave birth to democracy and more so, fought to the death to defend their way of life, allowing those advances in human spirit to be passed to us.

WJ: Can you elaborate?

AP: Sure. When freedom was largely unknown in the ancient world, when kings and despots ruled the lives of populations, a hardscrabble group of Greek city-states on the western edge of the great empires of the east forged a society. As it turned out, that society made a lasting impact on the future generations of the west – and the east, for that matter. We look to Athenian democracy as our crucible of freedom, but it was not inclusive. Only male citizens of wealth and military training were allowed to vote. It is a kernel of what we have today, but an amazing development for the time. Our enlightened founding Fathers declared equality for all, but that didn’t happen for some time.

WJ: What endeared you to the history of Ancient Greece and its relevance in today’s world?

AP: I loved Hercules movies and some of the other big Sword and Sandal Classics of the 50’s and 60’s. Cleopatra, Spartacus, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and my ultimate favorite, The Three Hundred Spartans from 1962.  Without video in those days, you would see a movie once and then wait years to see it again. Torturous, if it was a movie that made a big impact on you!

I have been entranced with ancient history for so long that a lot of the events and settings are second nature to me. I did dig deeper into authors and texts regarding life in those times. I especially respect author and educator Edith Hamilton and her works. When I develop plot twists, then I’m looking for an unusual aspect of ancient life to add substance.

(Part Two will be published on Wednesday, Nov. 27)

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Bring On the Digital Publishing Revolution (You’re Already a Part of It)

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of "Just Add Water", tearing it up in Maui.

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of “Just Add Water”, tearing it up in Maui.

Back in the saddle after two weeks of working in Maui with surf star Clay Marzo on our book, Just Add Water (due out in Summer 2014 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), meeting with musician Stevie Salas to discuss his memoir, When We Were The Boys (due out in Fall 2014 from Rowman & Littlefield), revving up the PR machine for author Allan Patch and his exquisite new novel, Passage at Delphi (due out in late November), and presenting at the Digital Author and Self Publishing Conference in Los Angeles …

… Which is where we’re going with this blog.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few years about the rise of e-books, online publishing, and the impending death of the printed book. While the printed book is not going away, at least anytime soon, it is no secret that digital publishing is taking over the industry – and self-publishing is a huge part of it.

One statistic bears it out more than any other: according to R.R. Bowker, which issues the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) that every book must have to be distributed, the number of ISBNs in circulation has grown in the past 15 years from 900,000 to 32 million. That means there are 32 million different book titles circulating in bookstores, libraries, online booksellers, website stores and wherever you can buy a book.

"Passage at Delphi," the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

“Passage at Delphi,” the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

The vast majority of these books are self-published by digital means. In other words, I write a book, format it into a manuscript, and deliver it to either a print source (such as CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon.com) or an e-reader service (Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, Nook, Diesel, Sony e-reader, Apple, etc.). If Smashwords is involved, the e-books are made available for purchase on hundreds of online booksellers. Obviously, if CreateSpace is involved, you can find them on Amazon.com as a print or Kindle title.

Authors can also turn to any number of companies that offer these services, plus scaled-up services for marketing and distribution (extra charge). There are plenty of choices, but I’ll caution you now – do your due diligence. Some are exceptional, like PublishNext and Balboa Press, while others will gladly take your money, print your books and not worry about the quality of their service. Major publishers now offer self-publishing operations as well; two examples include Author Solutions (Penguin) and Balboa Press (Hay House).

This massive shift into self-publishing, or Indie Authorship as it is called among serious authors, has occurred for two reasons: 1) the technology to produce our own books inexpensively is available through our home computers; and 2) authors want the money from their book sales.

Which begs the question: Don’t authors get paid when their books are published by traditional publishers? Of course – but that book sale is cut many ways. On average, authors receive 10% to 15% of each book sold by a traditional publisher. If they are advanced money to write the book, then they only get their 10% to 15% royalties after the advance earns out – sales top the amount advanced. Given that the traditional publishing world has shrunk to five major publishers, their imprints and the smaller publishers, the opportunities to get published are shrinking by the day. Plus, publishers are more unwilling than ever to take a chance on someone who does not have a viable name and presence in the public eye – which is blatantly unfair to writers with good stories that would certainly be read.

However, that’s life in 2013. This is not our parents’ publishing world. What a shame.

The Indie Author approach puts sales in the writer’s hands. But it also includes the responsibility of marketing, promotion and publicity. That’s where a traditionally published book has a huge advantage. Publishers bring distribution, production and marketing to the table, and they do it with full staffs and decades of work on well-built networks. When you give up 85% to 90% of the cover price of the book, that’s where the money goes. (Well, most of it, but that’s another story that would take a very long day to discuss.)

However, writers who are smart enough (and have the funds) to hire experts in traditional and online book marketing, promotions and publicity (shop carefully; there are plenty of shysters out there) can prosper through digital publishing. After loading their manuscripts onto CreateSpace, PDF files on their computers, and/or the e-book readers, they retain 70% to 100% of sales. Or, you can try my approach, which is to collaborate with a publishing partner (in my case, Tuscany Global Publishing and the very exceptional Brian Wilkes). You write and promote the book, the partner handles the production, loading and fanning out to the online retailers, and you split the money down the middle.

Then there’s the world of hybrid authorship, which is where I reside. Agents and traditional publishers are getting used

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

to this approach, with the publishers having a particularly tough time of it. Hybrid authors self-publish and work with traditional publishers. For example, I’m working on two books under contract (Just Add Water and When We Were the Boys), while showcasing two other books that I put out with Tuscany Global (Backroad Melodies and Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories: Word Journeys Dispatches Vol. 1). With much more to come.

How the digital world has opened it up! The options are many. More and more good writers are capitalizing on them. Chances are, you own plenty of books by Indie Authors on your bookshelves or e-readers, and don’t even know it. Nor does it matter. What matters is how good the book is. That’s the beauty of digital publishing…

… and why this past weekend’s Digital Authors and Self Publishing Conference in LA was so valuable. Hats off to conference director Tony Todaro: he knows how to present diverse conferences that nail the pulse we feel on the front lines of this shapeshifting industry! Publishing experts such as legendary literary agent Ashley Grayson, agents Claire Gerus and Toni Lopopolo, CD Baby and Book Baby CEO Brian Felsen, science fiction icon (and one-time Star Trek writer) David Gerrold, and author-marketers Linton Robinson, Karen Angermeyer, Gary Philips, Steven Booth and yours truly, were among those discussing this crucial subject. The workshops were packed, the insights riveting and eye-opening, and the information invaluable.

You’ll hear plenty more from me in this blog about digital publishing, especially since I work with it all the time for my clients, and my own work. And that’s about to expand, greatly, but I’ll save that announcement for November…

 

 

 

 

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More Reads in the Sun: A Mid-Summer’s Reading List

Now that you’ve already marched through your first round of vacations, visitors, backyard or beach barbecues, and stack of summer reads, it’s time to replenish. Which brings us to the Word Journeys Mid-Summer Reads list. It is the first of a quarterly series where we’ll present recommendations in the middle of each season.

I would like to share some books from my writing friends, all of which are excellent summer reads.  They are available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle, and can be yours in a matter of moments (thank you, Whispernet!). Beware: these particular works feed reading addictions! All are gems in a crowded summer reading field.

As an added favor, in the spirit of summertime, if you buy and like the book, would you be willing to drop a quick review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads? You only need to write 25 words – and the authors will appreciate you more than you can possibly know.

So stoke up the BBQ, open whatever goodies and libations you have in the cooler, grab your board or fins, set out with your canoe or kayak, or lay down a towel, and take in one of these nine books, recapped below:

Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni

Intimacy Issues, by Claudia Whitsitt

The Hot Mess, by Gayle Carline

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong

Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne

Fobbit, by David Abrams

Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor

The Hummingbird Review, Charles Redner, publisher

Ridin’ Around, Elaine Fields

51OWOAxPA8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni: Femi Fatoyinbo leaves his native Yoruban culture and tradition in Nigeria to become a doctor in the American South. There, he tries to immerse in a culture radically different than what he knows, dealing with racial issues, relationships, and numerous adventures – some funny, some not at all. This poignant novel captures how a person can change and grow in unexpected ways when presented with an entirely new environment, but also be able to retain his core tradition.  Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.75

Intimacy Issuesby Claudia Whitsitt: Sometimes, you want to just ask protagonist 51OJ9sPrCdL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Samantha Stitsill, “Do you plunge into sticky situations for the thrill of it?” This inquisitive mother of five with a sharp sense of humor is a hoot – and quite the amateur sleuth. In Intimacy Issues, Samantha releases she can’t move on after her dog, friend, and possibly husband are killed. So she tracks the killer down, going from the Midwest to Japan, and dealing with new questions as she always does:  with a mixture of moxie, reckless abandon, humor, and revelation. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.5

51HFN4G3ehL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ The Hot Mess: A Peri Minneopa Mystery by Gayle Carline: The author returns to her feisty favorite private investigator to find the real killer in a fatal house arson fire in which the owner, Benny Needles, is the prime suspect. Benny turns to his old friend, Peri, for help, but probably wishes he didn’t. During her investigation, Peri digs up long-held family secrets that create a dangerous turn – and spike the thrill meter in this thoroughly enjoyable book, the third to feature Peri. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.55

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong: Since we’re on a Mid-Summer 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_heroine/protagonist roll, here’s another: Kate Conway, the journalist-turned-amateur detective who makes her third appearance in The Fashionista Murders. This time, Kate gets caught in a dangerous web after the queen of fashion media, Paisley LaForge, is murdered to set off a serial killing spree. We race from the runways of Paris to New York in a taut, well-detailed thriller as Kate, her photographer friend Cam, and her father, retired detective Paul Conway, work to track down the killer before he takes his next victim – Kate. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5

 51dVdC6FtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne: What can mystery readers not like about a book that combines murder, mayhem, a madman, a woman trying to start a new life, and enough plot twists to strangle a pretzel? Here we go again. Homicide detective Mac Jackson questions his methods when he uses “bait” to track a sadistic serial killer. The bait, Jessica Croft, moves away from a shameful past to begin a new life — only to find herself the target of both Jackson and the killer. Desperate, she tries to lure the killer, which leads to … you’ll have to get the book to find out. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.8, Goodreads – 4.45

Fobbit, by David Abrams: Earlier this summer, we interviewed David Abrams in this blog, 51S4MUUXEQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_and for good reason: Fobbit has quickly asserted itself as one of the best war novels ever written. It’s hilarious and tragic, cynical and fierce, troubling and redeeming. Starting with an Army public affairs specialist’s tour in Forward Operating Base, Baghdad, Fobbit showcases the stated necessity, and ultimate folly, of war from a half dozen character perspectives. I’m not a war novel reader, but I couldn’t put this book down. It received accolades from more than 300 media reviewers for a reason. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.3, Goodreads – 3.5

51QoQvHDExL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor: This switch from war novels to romance seems rather abrupt, but Laura Taylor belongs on any list of great storytellers, regardless of genre. She’s been on a bestselling tear with her romance novels the past two years, and Wilder’s Woman again showcases the reason. The way she depicts the betrayal and separation of Tasha and Craig Wilder, and their painful attempts to reconcile, speak deeply to the motives of the human heart, and how interconnected every moment can be. The story is powerful, sensual, written beautifully, and a reminder of the complexity of the heart. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.57

The Hummingbird Review, published by Charles Redner: Every Mid-Summer reading list 51wibrs-s8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_deserves an anthology, for those who like books broken into shorter pieces. At the risk of appearing biased (which I am), The Hummingbird Review is well worth checking out. The collection of essays, poems, stories and interviews from writers known and unknown has gained a strong reputation in literary circles. For the Spring-Summer issue, Hollywood was the theme, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins the interview subject, Michael Blake and Martin Espada two of the featured poets, former Rod Stewart lead guitarist Stevie Salas and X vocalist/bass player John Doe the featured lyricists … and there’s even an excerpt of a screenplay by David Milton. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 5

41IMAM3yCuL._SY300_Ridin’ Around, by Elaine Fields Smith: No summer reading list is truly complete without a summer cruising tale. Ridin’ Around is the story of four college frat sisters and their summer of cruising the streets in Texas, looking for parties, guys, and the next fun thing to do. It may feel like an updated American Graffiti, or a somewhat more toned down Dazed & Confused, but this story is unique in the way the author presents the characters’ lives and how they find further bonding and purpose through both entertaining and somewhat frightening situations. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.71

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Twists & Turns of a Mystery Author: Part 2 of Interview with Claudia Whitsitt

This is Part 2 of our interview with Claudia Whitsitt, the author of mysteries Intimacy Issues, Identity Issues and The Wrong Guy, all based on real-life experiences. Claudia’s taut writing and captivating story lines have made her a fan favorite of a lot of readers the past two years. In this interview, she talks about how she developed a narrative voice that turns every day life into an event, laced with equal parts humor and seriousness – and then converted it into mysteries with more twists and turns than Six Flags.

READ PART 1 OF THE CLAUDIA WHITSITT INTERVIEW

Claudia’s latest work, Intimacy Issues, released on April 28, but this is a woman on a mission. After 37 years as a schoolteacher, specializing in Special Education, Claudia retired in June. She wrote four novels (Two of Me) in the past three years while teaching full-time. One can only imagine what we’re in for now from this delightful, engaging tour de force. Speaking of which, her next novel, Two of Me, is being prepped for publication in the next several months.Claudia Whitsitt copy

Word Journeys: What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?

Claudia Whitsitt: I love storytelling. In the classroom, it was one of my favorite things. I’d tell my students, “I’m going to tell you a story.” Their ears would perk up, they’d take a collective lean forward, and I had them in the palm of my hands. An electricity takes over when you tell or hear a good story. I love that element of writing fiction. When the story and the characters take over and lead me down an undiscovered path, the adrenalin rush is amazing, and oh so satisfying.

WJ: What about the mystery intrigues you so much? Why does it play so well into both your personality and the way you write?

CW: I grew up in the “olden days”. We had a 12-inch black and white television, which the seven of us crowded around to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. Reading provided me with some alone time. Mostly, I picked up mysteries. I’ve always loved solving puzzles. With five brothers and no sisters, it seemed like a good skill to develop, as they were always cooking up some kind of scheme! While I wasn’t always successful at figuring out what they were up to, I was quite accomplished at guessing what would happen next in the mystery I was reading. I took great pride in putting the pieces together.

READ THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FOR IDENTITY ISSUES

IDENTITY ISSUES COVER copyWJ: Your main character in Identity Issues, Samantha Stitsill, has been a crowd favorite since she was first released to the reading public. I could see you writing a series around her. What about Samantha made it so much fun for you to write her character?

CW: Samantha has a fiery spirit. When I sit down to write, her voice flows through my fingertips. She’s smart and sassy, and she has a comeback for everything. I give myself over to her. I trust myself with her. She trusts me, too. Sometimes I disagree with her, but she’s strong and stubborn. It’s very difficult for me to change her mind after she’s made a decision. I love her. I think she feels the same way about me.

WJ: A question from one converted academic writer to another: How did you move beyond critical, objective writing? Did you practice journaling, writing exercises, etc.? Or were you able to make the shift in the course of writing the story?

CW: I welcome the opportunity to divert my writing from thought-based to emotion-based and from objective to subjective, but I need coaxing at times. Because my life is so full (CRAZY), it’s often difficult to transition. Journaling and free writes have helped me enormously. I’ll put my fingers on the keyboard, or better yet, pen to paper, and let the words flow. That, and listening to music, opens my soul to the depths required for novel writing.

WJ: How did you develop your taut, humor-laced writing voice? Did that come from what you intimacy issuesread, or through finding the novelist within yourself and trusting how it flowed out?

CW: Good question. I grew up in a sarcastic household. I have five younger brothers. FIVE! There was teasing and joking in our household 24/7. I carried that caustic nature into adulthood, so much so that people don’t always know how to take me. As a result, I’ve learned to be more careful about what I say, but my inner dialogue is fast and furious. I tend to be critical, so it was essential that I learned to temper that in the classroom. When an acerbic comment slipped out like, “Seriously, dude. You’re going to talk when I’m teaching?” my students enjoyed it. They’ve always considered me “nice” and “sweet”, so I guess I haven’t damaged too many psyches.

The tautness in my writing comes from juggling so much in my real life. I’m quick to cut to the chase because I don’t ever have “extra” time, and I’ve always viewed my life as a “to-do” list. There isn’t much wiggle room, so this part of my personality comes through in my voice. I’ve even been accused of jumping ahead, writing the second paragraph before the first. Hmm.

WJ: Humor really enhances a book, doesn’t it? I find it works great to provide levity after, or in the midst of, deadly serious scenes. Plus, most of us use humor for any number of reasons. How do you see it?

CW: Humor is a healthy release and a welcome coping mechanism in times of strife. It’s a natural defense, and a very helpful tool in surviving life’s body slams, or controlling a tenable situation. The funniest people are those who’ve suffered great pain in their lives. They look at life in a way that allows them to survive those wicked blows, and say, “Go ahead, Life. What else have you got? Give it to me. ‘Cuz I can throw it right back at ‘ya!”

The Wrong Guy Cover!!WJ: Who were your favorite authors growing up? Who are they now? And which authors did you promote to your kids?

CW: Growing up, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. I hid under the covers with a flashlight and read into the wee hours of the morning. Hence, I became a mystery writer.  My high school years were all about discovery. I loved the classics. The Scarlet Letter. Catcher in the Rye. And anything by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. For years, Holden Caulfield held the honor of being “my favorite character”. Then, D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nuff said. One of my favorite passages is when Holden Caulfield says:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Raising kids, I read to them each night. Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein were the top requests at bedtime during those twenty years.

For a while, I read mostly Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and Janet Evanovich. Quick, easy reads for a busy mom. Then Anita Shreve, Elizabeth Berg, and Anna Quindlen. To this day, Fortune’s Rocks, by Anita Shreve, is my favorite book.

WJ: What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an author?

I’m in my element when I’m writing. Losing sense of time and place and becoming immersed in my characters and story gives me untold joy. Having someone read my work and enjoy it is rewarding, too. It’s nice to know readers care about my characters as much as I do!

WJ: Finally, what is the most surprising thing someone said to you about your books, or your writing, at a book signing?

CW: I’d met a gentleman at a book signing at Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago shortly after my first mystery, The Wrong Guy, was released. He read the book, sent me a creepy email about the parts he would have changed (all related to the sex scenes, and very graphic, of course), then had the nerve to show up at Printers Row the following year.

When he saw a man standing behind me, he had the nerve to ask, “Who’s he?”

“My husband,” I answered.

He was indignant. “What’s he doing here?”

Wish I hadn’t been so darned naïve and nice the year before. (It does make for a good story idea though…writer stalked by reader! Scary!)

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Innovation & Technology Today: A New Adventure in Digital Media

During this barnburner of a writing year, I took on the editor’s position at a publication that brings my loves of innovation (all entrepreneurs should bne innovators!) and technology together with digital publishing  — Information & Technology Today Magazine, published by my friend Charles Warner’s company, Innovation Properties Worldwide, out of Denver, CO.

it today cover lo-resOur premiere digital issue came out last week, and is available on Zinio and Apple newsstands. To get the ball of subscribers and readers rolling, it’s on sale for just 99 cents on Zinio. You can read it on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Its digital enhancements really come to life on tablets.

Innovation & Technology Today grew from The Legacy Series Magazine, which I edited last fall and which made a big splash at MacWorld/iWorld 2013. The areas of innovation and technology not only continue to grow rapidly, but they serve as the undercurrent of both business development and the way of ingenuity and independence that has come to define doing business in the U.S. Consequently, our magazine is fun, colorful, full of great links – and highly informative.

The magazine features a rich mix of editorial. This includes regular features and updates on green technology, digital publishing, social networking, communications, security, education, women in technology and new products. We also sprinkled the magazine with metrics, statistics and infographics, again keeping the emphasis on enjoyable reading. For this issue’s women in technology piece, written by Lisa Lunney, we focused on two of the world’s most powerful women, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author of the runaway bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. 

The core of each issue is the theme-based feature section. We are taking about one-third of the editorial well to deeply address business areas that are either booming or of major consequence to lives and our economic futures. For the Spring-Summer issue currently on sale, we focused on Smart Home Technology. For the upcoming Summer-Fall issue, we will switch to Sports & Medical Technology. Our Fall-Winter issue will showcase Green Technology & Energy.

In Innovation & Technology, we continued a series of conversations with leaders and innovators that we started with The Legacy Series Magazine.  This time around, we interviewed Al Choperena of the smart home technology provider Smartenit, John Clements of Mitsubishi Electric, Michael Sykes of Enertia Homes, and a pair of authors with major street cred, Twitter Revolution co-author Warren Whitlock and App Nation author Brad Adams of Sunstone Publishing Group, who helps small businesses customize their apps – a major growth area for the next several years. Our guest contributor this issue was Chris Voss, one of Forbes Magazine’s Top 50 Social Media Influencers in the U.S.

I had more fun with this project than with any magazine work in years. I dove headlong into the world of digital publishing, and more specifically, of how to enhance content to animate it for the reader. What we need to remember about working with online content or digital publications (books, magazines, etc.) is that readers want an experience. They don’t merely want the same word-reading exercise they would get from print books or magazines. They want to be taken further.

That’s where links came in. I made it a point to choose our links selectively in Innovation & Technology Today, because, let’s face it – when you choose this title for a publication, you’d better be forward-thinking with your application of digital publishing technology! So we embedded videos, infographics that move, articles  from unusual or under-utilized sources that took readers deeper and broader from the central piece, photo galleries that further tell the story, and also pathways to chat rooms, social networking groups or resources where they can interact with the newsmakers, movers and shakers mentioned in the pieces.

Our goal is simple: if you read the magazine, we want you to receive a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, educational and enligtening experience. Enjoyable-Entertaining-Educational-Enlightening. Those should be the 4E’s of any digital publishing endeavor that moves beyond Smashwords-produced e-books, which are text-only.

So I hope you will zip over to Zinio newsstand and pick up a copy of Innovation & Technology Today, and let me know what you think about it. While you’re thinking about, also stop by the magazine’s Facebook page and Like it!

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Writer’s Conference Fever

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Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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