Tag Archives: Amazon

Book review: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert


This is a review of the book The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which follows the life of nineteenth-century botanist Alma Whittaker.

As one of the few women of my demographic who has not read (nor seen) Eat Pray Love, I came at this book with no preconceived ideas about it or its author. Instead, I approached it with the enthusiasm of someone who is given a book by a person who knows them, with the hope it would be a good read. And I was not disappointed.

Gilbert’s tale is told with sufficient detail and background that I wasn’t sure for a long time whether its protagonist, Alma Whittaker, was a real historical figure or not. The information about her father is just wild enough to be true, especially considering his background, and the details of her early life and the characters of her mother and father are so well developed that it was really a toss-up for a long time as to whether this was a biography or a novel. (Of course, a simple Google search would have been enough to stem that debate, but to be honest it was one I rather enjoyed having with myself. It made the story that much more interesting.)

Alma Whittaker is herself an interesting character. Given the background Gilbert provides her with, it is unlikely she would have been anything else, but even that conclusion is testament to the quality of the narrative. We are told the story through Alma’s eyes, with her prejudices, beliefs and opinions sprinkled liberally throughout, but they make the story more compelling, not less. The arrival of her sister Prudence is stated with the bluntness of an eleven year old who had hitherto been the only child; her discovery later of the outcome of some of Prudence’s decisions means that not only she, but the reader, must delve back to reconsider the sisters’ behaviour in light of this new information. As we see through Alma’s eyes, we are forced to realise the limitations that perspective contains.

Other characters, too, are fascinating for both what they offer and what they cannot. The Dutch housekeeper Hanneke de Groot is a font of information – but only if you know how to ask for it. Alma’s father, Henry, is notable for his wide knowledge and fine acquisitions, but also for his lack of empathy and tenderness. Ambrose Pike, the artist who comes to stay at the Whittaker house, White Acre, is someone who can offer Alma what she wants, but not what she needs. And Prudence, who is to Alma little more than a footnote, is capable of much greater strength and self sacrifice than not only Alma believes, but also than of Alma herself.

Running parallel to the study in characters and their strengths and weaknesses (though not necessarily delving into character studies, so to speak) is the scientific narrative of biology in the 1800s. Alma chooses to study mosses, partly because she needs something to occupy her scientific mind while acting as the matron of her father’s house, and partly because they are convenient in that she does not need to leave the property to do so. Her deductions, however, are more far-reaching than even she could have conceived. She may need to travel to reach their conclusion, but the years at White Acre with her mosses stand her in excellent stead for the research to come.

The way Gilbert links Alma’s study with the wider scientific world of the 1800s is cleverly done, and so seamless it is, again, hard to differentiate this work from biography. Sure, Alma Whittaker is a fictional character, but that doesn’t make her presence in this world any less fascinating. In fact, I was almost wishing by the end that she had existed, as it would have added an extra dimension to the scientific activity of the era.

The Signature of All Things is, all told, a very cleverly written story about a character and situation so complex it almost seems incredible they have been invented. The narrative is smooth and the story compelling. All told, I can heartily recommend this book as a worthwhile and fascinating addition to any library.



The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Bloomsbury
513 pages
Available as hardcover, paperback and e-book

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An ode to independent booksellers

Image courtesy of Anusorn P nachol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Anusorn P nachol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I’ve noticed something in the air over the past few years, which seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. It’s the scent of revisionism; the aroma of awareness; the whiff of responsibility, and it’s come in part from the largely global nature of commerce these days. Multinationals are omnipresent and we all support them in some way or another. Me, I had a can of Sprite with my lunch today, I read a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, my mobile phone was made on behalf of Google, and I am typing on a Dell computer that runs Microsoft products.

What I’m noticing, though, is that despite the ever-increasing presence of multinationals – and even just national organisations which seem to have agents on every second street corner – in our lives, people are starting to realise the worth of the small corner store. They are conscious about where their money is going: sure, they want to get value for money, but they are prepared to pay an extra dollar or two in order to keep the profits local. A good example of this is the number of farmers’ markets which keep springing up, around Australia at least. Every second suburb seems to have one every few weeks, where locally grown seasonal produce is sold to eager buyers. Sure, it might be more convenient to buy your fruit and vegetables at the big supermarket down the road, but at least with the farmers’ markets you have more idea about how fresh it is, and you’re helping local producers.

Well, the same goes for books. We all buy books, don’t we? (At least, if you’re reading this, I assume you do.) And it’s probably cheaper to go to Target or Big W or Walmart or whatever your local equivalent is, but wouldn’t you rather your hard-earned money went to a local, independent bookseller rather than whatever company it is that owns Target (or Big W or Walmart)? There are a lot of people for whom this is important, and those are the people I’m reaching out to today.

Today, we’re going to plug our favourite independent bookseller. No matter where you are in the world, no matter whether you buy all your books from them or just a selection (and I admit I’m guilty of going to Amazon or Target or whatever when I’m looking for something cheap or convenient), today I want you all to link to an independent bookseller who means something to you. Who knows exactly what books they have and where to find them, and can offer recommendations based on what you’ve already selected. Who love the books they sell as much as you love reading them. Who inspire their customers to try new things and don’t mind if you sit down and start reading something off their shelves. And who get an enormous thrill out of seeing a young child empty their piggy bank onto the counter to buy a new book because that’s what they want to spend their savings on. (Be honest. Is the teenager staffing the checkout at your local discount department store going to react like that?) Go on. Give them a plug. Because the more of us who keep shopping at our independent bookstores, the more likely it is they will stay in business to inspire other people.

I’m going to start. My favourite is Imprints Booksellers in Hindley Street in Adelaide, South Australia. They’ve been there forever and they always have exactly what I’m looking for, with a smile and a helping hand if I need it. And seriously, check out the photo on the link. Wouldn’t you love to shop for books there?

I’m also giving a special mention to Annie’s Books on Peregian at Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I met Annie at Writers’ Week last week and her enthusiasm was contagious, and if she runs her shop with anything like that enthusiasm it’s bound to be worth a visit. (And checking out the photos on her website, I’d say she does.)

Right. Your turn. What is your favourite independent bookstore? Come on, don’t be shy. We’re all helping each other, and who knows? You might help someone else find a new favourite. :)



Filed under community announcement, reading

Giving it away for free

Fan fiction in the making ?

Fan fiction in the making ? (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

I had a comment on my latest blog entry this morning, asking my thoughts about publishing fiction online. This isn’t self publishing – you don’t do book sales and you don’t need an IBSN; rather, you find a blog or a fiction website and publish a story, novel or whatever on that.

Well, this got me thinking, not least because I have already done that. I’ve written before about earlier novels which will never be published; well, one of those is online, albeit under another name. You see, that novel was fan fiction, which is not something I talk about much in the writing community.

Publishing online is a great way of getting feedback on your work from total strangers and giving you an idea of the range of people your writing may reach.  Fan fiction probably has a lead over original fiction here, though, in that if someone wants to read fan fiction they don’t have much choice but to scour the Internet. If they want to read original fiction, they can get a cheap book or a freebie from Amazon, or go to the library. However, there are a lot of fiction websites out there and people do read and review the stories on them, so I very much doubt it’s a waste of time. You can build up a fan base with a novel published online, and gauge whether your writing is good enough to try to take that next step – write something for publication offline, that people can buy.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though. If it’s a book you are thinking, however remotely, of getting published in the future (other than self published), then it would be my advice not to do it. A book that has been previously published online is not something most publishers would be interested in. Sure, there are exceptions (Fifty Shades of Greywhich was pulled from the Internet before it was published externally, springs to mind) but generally it’s not a goer.

Also, think very carefully about where you want to put it online. If it was me, I’d be looking at one of the many  fiction websites that specialise in this sort of thing. These websites attract people who are looking to read fiction online and would therefore probably get you more of an audience than, say, doing chapters serially on a blog, which may flounder unseen in cyberspace for months or even years. You could well get more comments/reviews on a fiction site, simply because more people who are inclined to read online would find it. If you’re not familiar with fiction websites there are a lot out there – wattpad.com and figment.com come to mind, and there’s also gluttonyfiction.com, though that focuses more on fan fiction than original. There is an original fiction section there, though, so it might be worth looking at. (Disclaimer: I have had bad experiences with both Wattpad and Figment, though I know other people who have had nothing but positive experiences with them so perhaps I just got them on a bad day. I have never used Gluttony. Any other sites I haven’t mentioned are omitted simply because I don’t know of them or can’t think of them just at the moment.) There is a downside, though: online publishing leaves you much more open to plagiarism, which I have experienced. Just be prepared to Google your story title or opening line occasionally to make sure that no one has published it elsewhere under their own name.

So, would I publish online? Sure! But not if it was something I wanted to take further. If it was just to be an online story, it’s a great way of getting feedback and finding out where your writing is at. It’s also an excellent method of connecting with people who like your work, and who may buy it in the future given the opportunity. But I would be very wary about publishing anything that I may want to publish externally at a later date, and I would be very aware of the possibility of being plagiarised.

What do other people think? Publishing online or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Filed under writing

Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part III), by Peter McLennan

Hello all! Today I’m thrilled to be bringing you the third and final installment of Peter McLennan’s guide to self-publishing. If you missed the first two, you can find part one here and part two here, and I thoroughly recommend checking them out. If you’ve ever considered self-publishing but didn’t really know how to go about it, then this series is a must-read. So, without further ado, here’s Peter.


eBook printing experiments

eBook printing experiments (Photo credit: proboscis)

Part III: After Uploading

In previous articles I’ve talked about laying the foundations  and formatting your manuscript  for on-line self-publishing. In this final article, I’ll outline some tactics to help with checking the results of your efforts.


Checking multiple document formats multiple times is obviously repetitive. To speed things up and help me focus on likely problem areas, I produced a checklist of issues to look for. If I get enough encouragement, I could be convinced to put it up on my web site.

In general, you need to look for errors in font, text size, page alignment, paragraph spacing and alignment, indentation, line breaks, pagination, character formatting and special characters (eg, ellipses, m-dashes, non-breaking spaces and ‘smart’ quotation marks).


CreateSpace produces hard copies, but you can check the contents well enough using on-line tools and/or the .pdf download.

Unfortunately, the only way to be sure that your cover is okay is to actually buy a proof copy of the book. If you order a proof copy, you aren’t permitted to continue with publishing until the book has been printed and dispatched to you, so if you’re in a hurry you might want to risk-manage this.

Kindle Direct

Checking your KDP conversion is easy, since Amazon provides a free program for this. You should see what your eBook looks like in different versions of the Kindle (which the program lets you do), since not all Kindles are created equal.


Smashwords eBook conversions are the hardest to check because of the plethora of possible formats and the limitations of the Smashwords converter. I found it best to look at each format in at least two eBook readers since the readers themselves can be idiosyncratic: if you only use one reader, you can’t know whether an anomaly is inherent in your eBook or just the reader being quirky. Here are the readers I used and the formats they handle:

Some file types and viewers do not allow the use of multiple fonts, and some are unable to render bold and italics. If you’ve used such formatting to emphasise or clarify things in your text, you need to ensure that your meaning remains clear in the absence of such cues. Alternatively, you can opt not to publish your work in those file types that don’t meet your needs.

Unfortunately, some eBook formats, or conversions thereto, are so crude as to be unacceptable. For example, .pdb turns all your smart quotes, ellipses and m-dashes into gibberish. I didn’t need any more gibberish in my book: I’d already written enough of it. Rather than further dumbing down my formatting (which would have detracted from the more popular eBook formats), I chose not to publish a .pdb version. Some writers publish separate versions for the less capable formats, whereas others just sell defective documents (check out a few .pdb files on Smashwords and you’ll soon see what I mean).


.pdb silliness: note the inconsistent font sizes in the table of contents and the incorrect special characters

In addition to eBook files, Smashwords also produces two formats for on-line reading. These often have formatting errors that are not present in any other format. Here are two examples:  the preliminary material on page one should be centred, and the first paragraph of the story should have the same font as the subsequent paragraphs. Such errors are distressing since this is the format that a prospective customer is most likely to view prior to purchasing, and they make the author look amateurish. Further simplifying the styles in the document would probably fix these problems—but at the expense of the ‘real’ eBook formats. I chose to maximise the quality of the latter.

.html silliness: note the inconsistent font face and size


Smashwords will automatically insert your cover image into some of the formats, but not all of them (most notably, .pdf). If you want your cover image to appear in all formats, you need to insert it into your Word document. Supposedly the Smashwords converter is smart enough to detect this and avoid duplicate covers, but I could never get this to happen. Ergo, I had to choose between having two covers in some versions or no cover in some versions. I opted for the former.

Smashwords strongly encourages the creation of a table of contents since some distributors insist on it. These can be especially problematic. Several eBook formats couldn’t handle the character formatting I needed for one chapter heading, forcing me to rename the chapter.


When you’ve looked at every combination of format and reader and made appropriate changes to your manuscript, you need to upload the new version and repeat until you’re happy with the results. For Smashwords, I needed four such cycles.


With over one million eBooks for Kindle, and 38 million hard copy books on Amazon, the odds of your book being discovered by a simple search are negligible. Judicious use of metadata to describe your work will help, but marketing is essential. Each self-publishing site provides some recommendations and facilities to help with this, and some other eminently sensible advice is here.

Shameless Advertisement

And speaking of marketing…

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.


Peter McLennan

Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks, Peter! I certainly feel like I know a LOT more about self-publishing than I did a couple of months back, before I’d read these. If this has helped you out at all, I’d really appreciate if you left a comment thanking Peter for sharing his experiences, because let’s face it, the more we know about this sort of thing before going into it, the better prepared we are.




Filed under author guest post

Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part II), by Peter McLennan

Today we have Part II in YA author Peter McLennan’s three-part series on the hows and wherefores of self publishing. If you missed Part I three weeks ago, I thoroughly recommend you check it out if you have ever considered self publishing, or even if you are just curious to know exactly what’s involved. I know it was an eye-opener for me, albeit a welcome one should I ever decide to go down that path. Anyway, if you have read the first instalment you’ll be wanting me to skedaddle so you can read Part II, so without further ado … here’s Peter!


English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, ta...

English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, tablets and ebook readers arranged. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second part of my trilogy on on-line self-publishing. Now that you’ve laid the foundations , you’re ready to reformat your work so it can be digested by the sites that will convert it into things people can buy. (Of course, you should keep a pristine copy of your manuscript safely tucked away, and only work on copies for each submission.)

Documentation on how to reformat your work is available on each of the self-publishing web sites. I’m only going to mention tricks and traps that aren’t otherwise clear or are easily lost amid the eReams of information available.


CreateSpace is the print-on-demand supplier to Amazon. Since the ultimate product is a hard copy, you need to reformat your document so that it looks like a book. This involves adjusting the page size, margins, pagination, etc. CreateSpace provides templates that you can use or refer to, but be careful: these can be defective, with inconsistent font sizes, etc.

While CreateSpace accepts uploads in .doc format, I found that this didn’t always get the page alignment right. The solution was to convert the .doc to .pdf using Word 2010, and then upload the .pdf.

The hardest part about using CreateSpace is cover design (unless you use one of their prefabricated layouts). Since the cover must be printed, it needs to be done in high resolution: at least 300 dpi. Worse, because it may not be printed and trimmed precisely, it has to be larger than your book, there are areas you can’t use, the spine width depends on the page count, there has to be a barcode on the back, and so on. Fortunately, CreateSpace also provides templates for covers.

I used PaintShop Pro (~A$45 here) to do the artwork, then PrimoPDF (free) to convert it to .pdf for upload.


You’ve slaved over the formatting of your masterpiece until it’s perfect. Bad news: eBook readers (the gadgets, not the people) aren’t as smart as word processors. Worse news: they’re wilful. They’ll reformat your work as they see fit, they won’t get it quite right, and they’ll all do it differently. Regardless of the sophisticated formatting in your word processor file, eBook readers will happily place section breaks at the top of a page, start a line with an m-dash, make your block quotes look the same as the rest of the text, etc. While your aim is obviously to minimise such problems, you won’t be able to eradicate them entirely. If you’re a perfectionist (and you probably should be), this is rather galling.

The good news is that eBooks require smaller covers, so you can easily downsize your CreateSpace cover for them.

Kindle Direct

The main problem I experienced with the Kindle Direct conversion was that I wanted to use a sans-serif font for block quotes to distinguish them from regular text. However, Kindle refused to grant my wish so I had to resort to other tactics such as indentation, italics and font size variations. You can see an example on page 1 of the free preview here (compare the paperback and Kindle versions).

A block quote as printed: note sans-serif font


A block quote in Kindle


Smashwords is ambitious: it tries to create nine different formats of eBook from your source file. It’s also relatively crude, and may require you to dumb down your formatting and do things its way. In particular, you’ll need to master the use of ‘styles’ in Word. Unfortunately, I’d already mastered them too well and was using a sophisticated hierarchy; eg, my ‘para-first’ style was based on my ‘para’ style, which was based on my ‘normal’ style.

My first Smashwords conversions were poor. Distressingly, as soon as you upload something for conversion, Smashwords assumes the results are perfect: they go public straight away and are queued for distribution to other sellers (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc). You don’t get to check them first. As a result, potentially defective copies of your work are offered for sale, only to be replaced with the next trial potentially within minutes. (Smashwords does provide an option to ‘unpublish’ your work which minimises the duration for which dodgy versions are out there, but there are dire warnings against doing so.) Because of this, I recommend that you be as prepared as possible when commencing the Smashwords publishing process, avoid excessive experimentation, and be ready to fix errors and upload corrected versions in quick succession once you’ve started.

To avoid spamming the world with defective eBooks (and there’s enough of them already), I quickly succumbed to doing things the way Smashwords recommends rather than trying to gently massage my masterpiece. This drastic process involves stripping all the formatting from your document and then putting it back in again—but in the Smashwords-approved manner.

Actually, I still cheated a bit. If you’ve already used multiple paragraph styles (and you should have), you can keep track of them by prepending the style name to the paragraph mark (¶ ) for the relevant paragraph; eg, ‘Chapter 1’ becomes ‘Chapter 1#CHAPHDG#¶ ’. This makes it much easier to apply Smashwords-friendly styles after you’ve purged the formatting, especially if you use ‘Find and Replace’ to automate the process.

In addition to applying styles, you also have to reinstate character formatting and some special characters.

Even after this radical surgery, my lean-and-mean document still confused Smashwords slightly. I suspect that it inherited some non-standard customisations from my Normal.dot template. If this may affect you, I recommend renaming your current Normal.dot (or .dotx) for safe keeping. Next time you run Word, it will create a nice vanilla one which will be more to Smashwords’ taste.

Part III …

…of this series will provide some tips for checking the results of your conversions.

Shameless Advertisement

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.


Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks Peter! This is all really interesting information. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say in Part III (due for publication on Friday 27 July).

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Guess what? I’ve been published!!

In a real book that you can buy and everything!  How exciting is that?

As you can tell, I’m rather stoked by this. It’s all of six months since I decided to really start taking this writing malarkey seriously, and so far I’ve submitted a grand total of one story to be published. This makes my success rate 100%, which is rather unusual in writing circles. Don’t worry, I’m not under any illusions whatsoever about maintaining this rate, but I might as well enjoy it while I can, right?

100 RPM

The book is a collection of flash fiction, all inspired by music, and it’s called 100 RPM. It’s the brainchild of Caroline Smailes, and features one hundred stories (all 100 words long) inspired by music. Intrigued? I was, which was why I submitted a (somewhat gruesome) story. My contribution was inspired by DOA by the Foo Fighters, which was chosen because (a) they’re one of the only bands I listen to who are known worldwide, and (b) it’s one of those songs that just sticks in my mind whether I want it to or not, so it seemed a logical choice.

All proceeds from the book go to the UK charity One in Four, which raises money to help victims of sexual violence. On top of that, the book is CHEAP – but only for the first week of release. It came out on Thursday so you’ve got till this Thursday to get it at the discounted price, which is 99p (UK) or $1.55 (US). After that the price will rise (though not by a huge amount), which means more cash per book to One in Four, but possibly less sales because it’s dearer.

So, please go out and buy the book. This isn’t to line my pockets because I make absolutely nothing from it (I bought the book myself, even though as a contributing author I could have had a free copy), but to help out a very worthy charity – and read some great stories in the meantime! If you could leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both) that would be awesome too, as we’d like as many people to find out about this as possible. Other ways you could help are tweeting using the hashtag #100RPM or liking the Facebook page.

Besides, you’re curious as to whether I can actually write, aren’t you?:)


For more information about 100 RPM, please check out Caroline Smailes’ blog entry from last week.


Filed under writing

Novel excerpt: Morning Star (Ethos), by Desiree Finkbeiner

Ethos: Morning Star, by Desiree Finkbeiner

Today I’m privileged to host an excerpt from Morning Star, first novel in the Ethos series by Desiree Finkbeiner. It was released on March 28 and already has 70 reviews on Amazon, 68 of which are five stars.

Here’s a taste of this very highly rated book:

Life goes on as it normally does… work, school, recreation, taxes… and for the ignorant, life is bliss. But when a mysterious stranger enters Brianna’s mundane routine, her eyes are opened to the dark underbelly of reality. She’s thrust into a race for her life when Kalen, a warrior from Ethos, discovers that she is harboring a secret… a secret that he’d give his life to protect.

There’s just one little problem… they are tempted by a forbidden romance, which threatens to compromise a divinely appointed mission. They are faced with a choice… love eternal, or the end of the world…

Sound intriguing? Well, the news gets better. Up till midnight US time, the book is FREE on Amazon.com. Actually, there are ten books that Hydra Publications are offering free till midnight, so if you get in quick you can load up your kindle with some great titles for absolutely nothing. So what are you waiting for?

The books can be found here:
Morning Star (Ethos) by Desiree Finkbeiner
Andraste by Marisa Mills
Bridgeworld by Travis McBee
Gnosis  by Tom Wallace
Heart of the Hunter  by Linda Anne Wulf
Secret  by Morinda Montgomery
The Heart Denied  by Linda Anne Wulf
The Universal Mirror by Gwen Perkins
Ukishima by Nigel Sellars

About the author:

Desiree Finkbeiner attained a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Missouri Southern State University (2006) with a heavy background in business, marketing, music and fine art– She was heavily involved in campus affairs and served actively in several committees focusing on campus entertainment and events.

Desiree Finkbeiner

She had a scholarship for acting in college though she was not a theater major. Although she no longer performs or focuses on musical/performing arts, she has chosen to shift her talents to other areas that are more conducive to raising a family.

Continuing education is a constant adventure for Desiree with topics of interest ranging from civil and corporate law, history, political conspiracy, homeopathic medicine and spiritual healing. She prefers to read non-fiction, especially on topics that educate and broaden her perspectives on controversial issues.

With thousands of completed art works in her archives, most of which appear in private collections worldwide, Desiree hopes to focus more on publishing, marketing and licensing her work so she can leave a legacy behind.


Thanks, Desiree! It looks like an awesome book and I can’t wait to read it. I hope that everyone who sees this post makes the most of the free offer at Amazon while it lasts – get in quickly!


Filed under novel excerpt, reading

Author interview: Shayna Gier

Today I’m interviewing Shayna Gier, author of Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse. Shayna is both an author and book reviewer who is just as dedicated to helping other authors promote their work as she is to promoting her own, and she very generously set out some time to answer a few questions. Here is what she has to say.

Shayna Gier

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?

Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse is a really fun book, at least the first 30 times you read it. I must admit that while I love the characters as much as ever before, after all the read-throughs I no longer find it as fun, but I highly doubt that anyone but me and my editor will ever read it to that point.

It’s about a young bartender, Marti, who is married and, due to an increase in medical costs and such, chooses to go off of the birth control shot. Within three months her body has still not returned to normal, and what’s worse is that despite having a series of negative pregnancy tests (once she figures out how to actually take the test correctly), her body is showing all the signs of pregnancy. To make matters even worse, between frequent trips to the bathroom and unexplained exhaustion, she’s definitely developing cravings, and not just for food. Despite her happy marriage to her husband, Spencer, Marti finds herself more and more flirting with the cute and young new bartender who has just joined the team… and her best friend, who thinks life is to short to stay with one guy, just doesn’t help any at all.

What inspired me? Basically, I wanted to write a book in which the doctors were all wrong. Around 1/3 of the way through the book Marti goes to see her gynecologist, to see if the tests are faulty. Dr. Duck (I love that name!) tells her she’s experiencing a perfectly normal “puberty” maturation, just a bit earlier than it usually hits women. This  happened to me, only it took me over 500 dollars worth of doctor bills to be told that. In the meantime, I was searching the internet and trying to figure out what was going on. I ran into a ton of stories about people not finding out they are pregnant, despite frequent testing, until well into their 2nd trimester. Then, when I was told what was happening, about the effects of estrogen and how it controls both the puberty stuff and pregnancy, I looked into the science of what else estrogen does to women, and used that as a framework for Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse.

The response has been overwhelmingly good if you don’t include my inner circle. A lot of people find Marti entirely relatable and really enjoy the book. My inner circle goes either way – my friends love it; my family…well, most keep equating me with Marti and advising that I don’t drink when/if I get pregnant, or else are “disappointed with what (I’ve) made of (my) life” based off the decisions of Marti and her friends. They don’t seem to understand fiction is made up, or how the writer’s mind works, or any of that.

I can see that the book was a collaboration with another author. What made you decide to co-write it? How did the experience work for you?

I give Carissa Barker credit publicly, because if you saw my first draft (available on my website in the archives) you wouldn’t really recognize it. Marti started out as a teenager at Applebees. She was, of course, still going to struggle with pregnancy symptoms and the craziness of hormones, but that was really hard to write, even with her being 19. (I was 21 when this puberty thing hit me… and that was still really young.) So I wrote the actual story. Carissa is my editor, and was able to take my idea, and put it on the paper. It just wasn’t there in the first draft. It was apparent, to a point, in the second draft, and by the third and fourth draft we were working at what I’d consider a typical author/editor relationship. Before the final drafts started to show up, however, I commented to my husband that “I feel like a ghost writer. It’s my ideas, granted, and my words, but Carissa’s done all the work!” And so, in honor of all her work, I listed her on Amazon as having a collaborative part of the story. Because, really, she did.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I’ve always wanted to, and always have written something or other. My first “published” work was in kindergarten or first grade entitled Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk which was an assignment that everyone had to do, of course, but mine was good enough to get published in the district’s “outstanding literature” book they put together each year of the student’s works. So either everyone else sucked, or my writing was decent for y age even then. Take your pick.

After that though, I didn’t focus on writing until I was in 6th grade when I started turning out book after book (and starting even more) of fan fiction. Not yet confident enough to invent my own main characters, I thrived off writing my own Jimmy Neutron fics that were just as long as any young adult book at the time. (Now there’s more novels. But if you remember the days of Encyclopedia Brown, you’ll know what I”m talking about in length. I was good too. I didn’t think so, and I don’t know either, but others did. I actually received fan mail several times telling me how much they liked my stories. Some even follow me today as a writer. And, I suppose if I’m honest my fan fiction was at least a cut-above-the-rest of normal fan-fiction… I just compare it to now and squirm though.

After fan-fiction died off, I didn’t really pick up the pen (or computer as it may be) until I was 19 and my best friend, and then ex-boyfriend dumped me. That “caused” me to start writing Lilliana’s Story, and led to a bunch more incomplete works but that are now original fiction. Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse was the first to be completed and then published. I’m hoping that more of the current ones will make it to paperback and e-book as well… but at the moment I’m suffering a bout where my writing is painfully bad since my grandma’s death… so I don’t know if the others will make it or not. I hope so, because I love the characters so much!

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

Honestly? I suppose there are two reasons. The most important is that I cannot stand the fact that publishers want you to literally sell your rights to them. I love the idea that my book would be read by more people, but there’s a cost to that. In my mind, I don’t care if I get 50 million dollars from having it cooperatively published, it’s not worth selling my ideas and giving up my rights. I understand “risk” to them if I should decide I want to give my book away all around the internet, but as a writer, if I decide to do that, that is my prerogative. I went to a book fair with a ton of authors recently, and they announced over the intercom that “All authors can buy their books at 20% off.” And that itself almost made me lose it. They freaking wrote it. Without them you wouldn’t have the book to sell. The least you can do is give them rights to their own work and give them free copies.

Now, I do realize that most authors are given a few free copies, but if you ask me an author should be able to ask for as many copies as he or she wants, whenever they want. Again, it’s their work. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that comes out of my own head. And with self publishing, I do call all the shots. And while I have to pay for printing, I do get free copies of my work for all intents and purposes. I just pay shipping and handling and production costs.

I’d say the experience of self publishing has been about what I expected. It’s hard to get your name out there, and to market your book… but it can also be incredibly fun! I love having all rights to my work, and while, yeah, I’d love to sell a million copies, I’m seriously just thrilled when I hear of another person that I didn’t know before reading my work. That is awesome. And I love talking to the readers after they’ve read it as well.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Write. Simple as that. Participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, or otherwise turn your inner editor off. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to “don’t talk about your work” because that drives me crazy. Tell people the general idea, and then when you find someone that is just as excited about it as you are, release it to them chapter by chapter as you write it. I find that writers tend to be needy. If I’m the only one excited about my work, it wears off. But if you have someone there to bug you with “what’s next?” and “You have more, right?” Then you find yourself excited to answer their questions and share whats in your mind, with them. This is great motivation to actually writing it down. Just, at least for the first draft, tell them that while you want happy-feedback, it’s not time for constructive criticism — or criticism of any kind — yet. They can tell you that when you’ve finished the first draft, if you feel comfortable with that, or if you ask for it along the way (say you are stuck and you want to know when they think it “went wrong”). Better yet, after the first copy, read it over beginning to end by yourself, no asking others about it while you do so. Take notes. What do you love, what do you think “um… did I really write that?” Were your characters’ motivations clear? Questions like that. Then, start revisions, when you are done re-writing the second draft, have the same person that read it as it was written read it. This is the ideal time for criticism if you elected to not hear it at the end of the first draft. After this, go on to editing and such. But I think that if you follow the above (and nothing tragic happens in real life) then you can easily see your dream of being published come true.


Filed under author interview, writing

Guest post: Toby Neal, the reluctant crime writer

Today I am thrilled to introduce to you Toby Neil, who is the author of Blood Orchids, a crime novel, and the ebook Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything, which is FREE on Amazon this weekend 7-9 April.

Toby Neal

Toby was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5 and has been published in magazines and won several writing contests. After initially majoring in Journalism, she eventually settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”

She enjoys many outdoor sports including bodyboarding, scuba diving, beach walking, gardening and hiking. She lives in Hawaii with her family and dogs.

Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in the Lei Crime Series.

Thanks for guesting on my blog, Toby – you can take it from here.  :)


How did this happen to me? I’m studying Forensics for Dummies with a pack of Post-its. I’m cutting up a chicken in the kitchen with a butcher knife as “research” for a paragraph on dismemberment, leaning in close to listen to the wet thunk and gristly snick of the knife. I’m looking at gruesome pictures of autopsies for accurate descriptions. I’m pulling over to the side of the road and sniffing roadkill, trying for accurate words for the scent of decay. Oh, and I’ve watched about a dozen YouTube videos on handgun cleaning, shooting, loading and handling (still never have touched a real one.)

I’m putting out FB questions—“Anybody know a real policewoman I can interview?” A friend puts me in contact and I meet this intrepid soul for coffee and flattery,  studying her body language, stance, and verbiage while peppering with questions about procedure and the mysterious accoutrements on her duty belt. I’m jogging with my (tiny, fuzzy and idiotic) dogs, imagining myself as the physically fit, badass Lei Texeira, my protagonist, with her Rottweiler.

Through it all, and four books into it, I’m still baffled that I’m writing crime mysteries—but I’ve passed through the denial, bargaining, and anonymity stages and am well on my way to acceptance.

Here’s how it happened:

I wrote a short story on my anonymous blog about a policewoman who’d been sexually abused, who was brave and a little crazy in her persuit of justice. I wrote about the drowning of two young girls, a situation  that I’d dealt with in my real life role as a therapist, helpless to do anything but grieve and help others grieve. I wrote this story to try to work through the trauma of it, to understand it all better somehow.

People wanted to know what happened next so I posted chapters. About 60 pages in, further than I’d ever made it on any of my other attempts, I realized I was so into Lei’s story I was going to be interested enough to actually finish a novel (after about 10 aborted novelets? Novelinas? No-vellums that petered out.)

And I finished Blood Orchids.

I found Lei had more to learn, more cases to solve, more islands to explore, healing to experience and sex to have—and I was still totally into her story. Four books in, and I haven’t lost interest in the seedy underbelly of humanity (did I mention I’m a therapist?) and the dual faces of Hawaii—paradise, and purgatory.

I’m a little embarrassed by this. I’m a nice person, a people helper—staid and a little matronly in my flowered pants and tank tops with pearls.  This fascination with fighting crime really seems…unseemly.

But what I’ve also discovered is that I have a side that loves to root for the underdog, that revels in justice, and that wishes I could be more active than wiping the tears of victims. It’s that side that revels in Lei’s ass kicking of psychologically sick perpetrators… and so in a funny way I guess it all does make sense.

Anyone else surprised by what they like to write—and what they like to read?

Blood Orchids is ON SALE at Amazon (US) for only 99 cents through Saturday April 7!

A little bit about the book:

Hawaii is palm trees, black sand and blue water— but for policewoman Lei Texeira, there’s a dark side to paradise.

Lei has overcome a scarred past to make a life for herself as a cop in the sleepy Big Island town of Hilo. On a routine patrol she finds two murdered teenagers—one of whom she’d recently busted. The girl’s harsh life and tragic death touches a chord with Lei, and she becomes obsessed with the case. The killer is drawn to her intensity and stalks her, feeding on her vulnerabilities and toying with her sanity.

Steaming volcanoes, black sand beaches and shrouded fern forests are the backdrop to Lei’s quest for answers. She finds herself falling in love for the first time—but the stalker is closer than she can imagine, and threads of the past are tangled in her future. Lei is determined to find the killer—but he already knows where she lives.


Filed under author guest post, writing

Book review: Linked, by Hope Welsh

Linked, by Hope Welsh

This is a review of the book Linked, by Hope Welsh, a paranormal romance / thriller.

I am always a little cautious about paranormal romances, probably because of the Twilight effect – namely, that after the success of Twilight the market was flooded with teen paranormal romance titles, often of dubious quality. As a result, anything with vampires, especially, usually has me running for the hills. On that note, Linked was a pleasant surprise, with not a vampire to be seen. Evil spirits and shapeshifters, yes, but not vampires.:)

The book is short, and this is both a curse and a blessing.  A blessing because it’s refreshing to have a well thought-out story expressed with so few superfluous words and scenes; a curse because I felt that some aspects of it should have been fleshed out more.  The romance aspect, without giving too much away, felt a little rushed – while a connection like that in the short space of time in which the story takes place doesn’t bother me in itself, I didn’t really feel the relationship. Perhaps if more space was allocated to the feelings of the characters, their yearnings, confusion, maybe even fighting against the surprising strength of their attachment, it would have felt more convincing.

In addition, I would have liked more exposition about the evil spirit that is stalking the heroine, because that also felt underdone. Perhaps more elaboration on the spirit’s history and why it took the prophecy so seriously might have helped.  I quite liked the lack of information at the start because it felt more mysterious and made me want to read more, but by the end I still felt that spelling it out more would have been useful. As this is the first book in a series, though, it’s likely that I just need to read more books to find out what I thought was missing.  :)

That said, though, it was an entertaining read – easy, engrossing and well written. The story was well thought out and had enough suspense for me to keep turning the pages (or hitting the “next page” button on my kindle – but you know what I mean) to find out what happened next. The characters were solid and believable and the premise well thought out. If you are looking for a decent, quick read with a bit of suspense and paranormal themes, I can recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Linked, by Hope Welsh
Published by ROM On Line
136 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as ebook or paperback 

1 Comment

Filed under book review, reading