Category Archives: Commentary

Kidding Around at the OC Children’s Book Festival

People at the Book Festival 1

When I arrived at the Orange Coast College campus, I was not sure what to expect. I had heard of the Orange County Children’s Book Festival for years, but because I did not have children, I had never gone. I decided that this would be the year I changed that. It was a beautiful southern California day of bright sunshine, a cool breeze and temperate temperature. I discovered ample parking in the campus lots with signs clearly stating that I was free to park without a permit or a charge.

It was a short walk between buildings to find the fair, which was free of charge to enter. There were large canopies everywhere, each one filled with authors, exhibitors and educational vendors. There were booths with tutoring services, illustrators, and plenty of authors that specialized in children’s books. A large main stage dominated the open area with a few smaller stages for other child friendly entertainment available. One popular booth had a kitchen and cooking demonstrations. Many of the Moms stopped there to catch a cooking show and relax in one of the shade covered chairs.

Wow. All The Children!

For every adult there were at least two to three kids running about. Most were between the ages of 3 to around 12 years. There was plenty for them to do; from having their faces painted, to making bookmarkers, listening to live storytellers on the stage, or stopping to pose for a photo with various “monsters” in bright costumes. The trackless train that wended its way through the festival seemed to be popular with the little ones. The ride was full every time it passed me while I was there. I did not see many children thumbing through books, they had far too much energy for that, but their mothers did seem to stop and look over the book booths with an eye toward purchasing. I liked that the Children’s fair was enclosed by the college buildings, so even if the little ones were running about, there was no danger of them running off too far.

There were dozens of authors with tables promoting their YA or children’s books and there was no way to review them all. However, a few struck my interest.

Nikki White - Author and BallerinaNikki White’s table was not far from the main stage. For an author, this might prove to be deadly since you are off the walkway, but in Nikki’s case, her booth decor and striking ballerina costume drew people over. Her book is called Prima: The Ballerina and it is a book designed to teach ballerina dancing to children who might not have access to instructors.

The illustrations in her children’s instruction book were created by her husband Ethan White who created a posable doll that the couple later photographed in the various dance positions being discussed in the book. It created a colorful and friendly character for children to relate to.

Dani Dixon - Illustrator and AuthorDani Dixon is an artist connected with Tumble Creek Press. It is a website of comic books, webcomics, trading cards, and more. Dani had several portfolio books of her artwork on display at the children’s book festival which was quite intriguing.

Dani-s artwork

My last highlight is a small press that had booked a double table and featured a full stable of children and YA books. Ink Smith Publishing is a small independent publishing house with big aspirations. Their authors and editors work together to develop books, marketing plans, and sales. They have only been around since 2012, but they are growing steadily. Their books sell internationally, including Canada and the UK.

Ink Smith Publishing

I enjoyed my time at the Orange Country Children’s Book Festival. I found it well attended by several hundred people, the majority of them small children with their mothers or fathers. There was far more there than books and authors, the exhibitors offered a great deal for parents and homeschoolers to learn from. It was a comfortable event with plenty of restrooms available, a food truck court and wholesome entertainment on the various stages. All of the authors had full tables and professional style canopies to protect them from the sun.

If you are a YA or children’s book author, it is an event you should consider attending. Authors of adult books might want to think twice. While there were people of all ages at the event, it did attract children the most.

Main Stage at Book Festival

Storyteller Booth

People at the Book Festival 2

Cooking Pavillion

Tips For Successful Author Readings

Wendy Van Camp SpeaksAuthor readings are a great way to present your new book to the public. It allows you to give a personal sample of your writing, interact with potential readers, and can turn into a sales event. There are many venues to set up a reading location: bookstores, libraries, seminars, book clubs, restaurants and even private homes. In my area, the writer societies have “salon readings” on a semi-regular basis. If you are a paid member of the society, you can usual find a space in their advertised reading events. I am finding that these events are well attended, with 20 to 30 audience members and some record the readings and turn them into podcasts to go onto the web. It is a win-win for both the writer and the readers because it is a great way for writers to present themselves to new fans and for fans to find authors that interest them.

I have prepared a few tips on getting ready for a reading based on my former experience as a talk show television host. These are some of the things I’ve done to get ready to go “on the air” during my younger days when I hosted “Flowers by Rod”, a how-to program about flower arranging and “Class Act”, an interview talk show.

Rehearse

Remember that a reading is performance art. You are “on stage” the moment you walk into the venue. No matter how many people are there, you want to make a good impression. Choose three or four short passages from your novel. You may only read one or two at the salon, but it is good to have alternate options available if needed. Read your selections out loud while facing a mirror in the privacy of your own home. If you own a video camera, consider video taping your reading performance so you can view it and make any corrections necessary.

Wardrobe

Yes, it is difficult to watch one’s self on television, but remember no one has to see it but you. This is also a good time to select wardrobe. You can see for yourself how you will appear to the audience if you record yourself in your wardrobe choice. Does the fabric move with you? Does the outfit reflect your mood as an artist? Most authors wear clothing that is dressy casual and have something that pops that members of the audience might remember. If you are female, an artistic piece of jewelry is often a good idea.

Biography

You should prepare a written bio to take with you. Often times you will hand this to the moderator, who will introduce you to the audience before your reading. However, sometimes you will be expected to introduce yourself. Keep it short and if possible, humorous. Practice your bio information so you can recite it naturally when needed. As a television host, I would often sit and chat with my guests for a short time before the program and base my introduction on this, but I feel that it is best to be prepared with something in writing too.

Timing

Do not read too long. I would prepare no more than ten minutes of prose to read. When you practice your readings at home, make sure you time it. Ten minutes may not sound like a long period of time, but for a performance, it is substantial. Think about how long a typical television segment on a television program is. That is what you should be aiming for.

After your reading, you should be able to take questions from the audience. You will get typical questions such as:

Where do you get your ideas?
What do you use to write with?
Who are your favorite authors?
Why did you become a writer?
What inspires you to write?

Be prepared to answer questions such as these ahead of time. The readers are seeking a more personal connection with you as an author. They want to know what is behind the story you’ve written, the deeper meaning that is not readily apparent.

Performance

Do your best to relax when reading your work. Stand comfortably and speak clearly. Do not bury yourself in your words, try and look up from time to time and make eye contact with the audience. During question and answer sessions, talk directly to people, remember to smile, and just be yourself.

If you can calm your nerves, your performance time is a wonderful way to gauge how your audience reacts to your words. It is similar to when you are in a critique group and have someone else read your story out loud and then you the author can sit back and gauge the reactions to the story. What is great about a reading is that the audience are not always fellow writers, they are the true public that reads your work. Seeing their reactions can be a golden opportunity.

Publicize

Before your reading date at the Salon, make sure you announce it via your social media platform. Post on your website, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Send out a press release to shopping guides with calendars of community events or to your local paper.

Books

Bring a box of books to sell at the event, fliers or cards with links to your ebook seller sites, or if you are in a bookstore, make sure your book is stocked on the shelves. Double check with the bookstore about their policy of who sells the books to the audience. You want to be able to return to this location, so keep the store happy. If you do bring books, make sure that you sign them, even ones that the store may purchase from you to sell later. Some stores like to keep autographed books on a front table after your appearance is over for book collectors.

Fountain Pens For Writing

Prera Fountain Pen and Ink
Pen and paper is often overlooked as a method of communication. Most prefer to keyboard their written correspondence, then send it via social media, a text, or email. A pen and ink is out-dated and unneeded.

Young students do not learn to read or write cursive handwriting and make due with poor penmanship if they use paper at all. When a young student needs to learn a signature, he is often sent to an art class where the instructor teaches how to develop one.

Among adults, lack of using pens has stunted their penmanship skills. Many have forgotten how to write except for the most rudimentary of script. Cursive handwriting has become a lost art. Many people are at a loss at how it happened and wonder how they could return to having decent handwriting again.

I found myself numbered among these adults several years ago. I used my computer keyboard for most of my writing needs and seldom thought to use a pen and paper. As I returned to writing novels, I discovered that something was missing in my process. I did not retain my ideas and I had trouble brainstorming.

One day, I decided to use a workbook to help plot out book two of a trilogy. The author recommended getting a paper notebook and writing all the exercises by hand instead of using a keyboard. His method asked questions about the characters and I wrote a certain amount each day for a month. I bought my first composition book and pulled out a ballpoint and got to work. At first, the writer’s block was still with me. Within a week I realized that ideas for my book were coming quickly. When I looked back over what I had written, I could remember the details better than when I was writing on my computer. Within that month, the plot for my new novel sprang into being. I became hooked on using paper.

At that time, my handwriting was horrible. I could print, but my cursive had eroded to near unreadability. The long periods of time that I was brainstorming ideas were hard on my hand and I experienced finger cramping. I did not want to give up this new method of brainstorming on paper since it worked for me. Instead I began to explore pen options. That is when I discovered fountain pens.

Why Choose a Fountain Pen?

There are many benefits to writing with a fountain pen over a ballpoint. In writing with a ballpoint, you must exert constant pressure to the page and hold the pen at a low angle. This is what creates the hand cramping when you write for a long period of time. With a fountain pen, you use a more natural writing angle, around 45 degrees when you write. This wider angle is easier on your wrist. The fountain pen flows across the page with little resistance, no pressure needed to put ink on the page. This allows you to write for longer periods of time without cramping your hands. There are a variety of nibs to choose from to give more character to your handwriting.

Plain – This is most basic shape of a fountain pen nib. It gives a clean line in your choice of width, from very fine, fine, medium, broad, and double broad. Most people find that fine to medium will work best as a daily writer.

Italic – This is also known as a stub nib. The nib is a flat plain where it meets the page and it allows the writer to write thin and thick lines as he writes. It adds character to your handwriting with a little extra practice.

Flex – These are nibs allow their tines to widen when a small amount of pressure is applied to the nib. As the writer presses, a much wider line results.

Ink Me, Baby

Besides choosing a nib, there are around 600 different inks to choose from on the market. Some inks have unique colors, others shade between two or three colors, still others have a special shimmer that is known as “sheen”. Some inks are permanent and will last for hundreds of years without fading, others last in the sun for only a few weeks. There are even “invisible” inks that you need a UV light to see on the page. All the different brands of ink and their assortment of hues allows a writer to develop a certain look to their writing. It can make your notes distinctive unto themselves.

For me, discovering the fountain pen has aided my skills as a writer. I now create all my brainstorming notes, character sketches, and plot outlines on paper with a fountain pen. What I write never moves on the page, as it would on my computer screen, and it gives my ideas a more solid presence in my mind. For the actual writing of the drafts and editing, I move to the computer, but with far better results than I had in the past. One extra benefit to this new method is that my handwriting skills have returned with practice. I can write legible cursive and my printing is small and neat. Due to this, I’ve been gradually moving to smaller nib sizes so I can fill my pages with more notes.

Writing with a fountain pen is sheer joy. If you have not tried it for yourself, I recommending buying an inexpensive starter fountain pen. See how it might improve your own writing process.

Author Performance: IWOSC Reads Its Own

As I drove in my car toward the city of Pasadena, CA, I felt a number of emotions. The first was annoyance at the traffic, one can hardly travel anywhere in California without feeling the press of automobiles around you. The second was gratitude for the air conditioning that combated the summer heat and the third was a sense of curiosity for the event I was planning on attending that afternoon.

Twice a year, the Independent Writers of Southern California holds an open salon where members of the society read short excerpts from their novels at the independent bookstore Vroman’s. I am in love with this book and stationary shop. They sell fountain pens, ink, notebooks and Filofax binders along with the usual assortment of books. Upstairs is a lovely gift shop and a small auditorium where they host events. So while I come for their events, I also plan an extra 45 minutes afterward to shop for stationary goodies.

I have never read my work in public, I was not planning on doing so this day, but I am interested in seeing how these published authors prepared for the event, how they performed, and if it would be well attended. Perhaps one day, I might decide to read at this event myself as I gain experience as a writer and more confidence in my own reading performance.

The books being read were a range of subjects, from medical advice, to cowboy poetry, and a woman that claimed to be the ghostwriter for her cat. The event was well attended by an an audience of 40 people that fit comfortably at the Vroman’s Bookstore stage area. Before the readings, the authors circulated around the audience, passing out bookmarks, flyers and other information about their books. There was also a program listing the fourteen people would be be reading and a little information about the authors and their books.

I was impressed by the reading style of each of the authors. They made eye contact with the audience, had flourish to their voices in the manner of storytellers the world over. Afterward, they set up to sell their books to those that were interested. I noticed that many people left with new autographed books at the end of the event. This turned out to be a wonderful event for both authors and audience.

Author Gagik MelikyanAuthor Gagik Melikyan is a scientist, teacher, writer, panelist, publisher and public advocate. His non-fiction book is entitled, Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Antioxidants, Foods, Supplements, and Cosmetics. Mr. Melikyan read a short excerpt from his book, but spent most of his allotted time telling us why his book would be helpful in learning what is going on in the food industry. He had a great sense of humor and he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Karen Kondazian Karen Kondazian read from her novel The Whip which has received many awards for best historical fiction. She is also an actress who has appeared in over 50 television programs, is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio and is currently working on her second novel.

PW ConwayP.W. Conway is an author and cowboy poet. Along with his book Buckaroo Poetry, Cowboy Poems for Young and Old, he is working on a historical novel. He performs his cowboy poetry and chairty events, cowboy festivals and country fairs. He is a member of the Ventura County Cattlemen’s Association and the Simi Valley Historical Society.

The entire cast of authors that performed this day were: Mark Miller, Maryrose Smyth, Karen Kondazian, Flo Selfman, Peter Conway, Erana Leiken, Gagik Melikyan, Adolphus Ward, Janiss Garza, Daniel Lavery, Vickey Kall, Gary Young, Bo Kyung Kim, and Jon Chandonnet.
IWOSC Readers of 2014

Historical Fiction: Learning the Genre

Women on Ship (1800s)Historical Fiction is a genre that intrigues me. I was drawn to Regency and Victorian era historical fiction by my love of Jane Austen and her novels. In turn, this interest moved me into the science fiction crossover of Steampunk, a type of alternate history. The creation of a historical world is similar to the creation of a science fiction or fantasy one. Many times authors will use a past civilization to be the fuel for their own fantastical creation.

To get you started in the genre, I have listed a few sites that I have found helpful in learning the foundation of historical fiction. Let your curiosity move you through time and space and experience more of the human condition than what we live in present day. By learning of the past, perhaps we will see more of our future.

Historical Novel Society
This is an organization devoted to the historical novel. They are a collection of chapter houses throughout the United States and the UK that are supported by many online forums. The group sponsors an annual historical novel conference, hosts a contest for historical novels and short stories where the wear does win a monetary award along with recognition and offers reviews and other resources for the historical writer. Membership is $50 annually. If you are an aspiring writer of historical fiction, this may be a good place to establish yourself.

Queen Anne Boleyn
This forum website began as a new home for a closed group of Tudor reenactment from Facebook. Reenactment is not encouraged on Facebook and members found their accounts frozen from access. Another group that used the Game of Thrones theme had a similar problem. Both of these well-established groups merged into the Queen Anne Boleyn website where they could conduct their reenactments as they wished without the censure of Facebook. Soon more groups followed. Now the membership site is a wonderful resource for historical and alternate history writers, writing groups and more.

Meryton Press
Meryton Press is home to “A Happy Assembly”, a forum dedicated to fans of Jane Austen, a small press that publishes fan fiction of Jane Austen novels and a hub of writers that love regency era historical fiction. Join the happy assembly and read plenty of austen fanfiction and gain reviews of austen spin-offs you can find on Amazon.

Writing Historical Novels

A blog with a rotating staff of four, it is a place to read reviews of historical novels and other topics of interest. They accept a large number of guest writers, so the blog remains fresh and new.

A Writer of History

This is the historical novel blog of MK Todd. She gives advice on writing historical fiction as well as interviews with readers.

English History Authors

If you are looking for a source to learn more about English history by historical fiction writers who love all things British, look no further. This blog features the work of a small stable of historical fiction writers and serves not only as a place to read more about the subject, but as a promotional hub for the books written by the members.

History Refreshed

This blog by Susan Higginbotham delves into the craft of writing a historical novelist that focuses on late medieval and Tudor history. She brings up fascinating topics of discussion that all writers should consider as they develop their stories.

Austenprose

This blog is dedicated to all things Jane Austen. There are reviews of her classic novels, discussions about the author herself and a place to learn more about the multitude of Austen spin-off novels that are littering Amazon, Austen films that are engaging the modern movie scene and pop culture itself.

Reading the Past

This blog will lead you to sources about the historical fiction genre and includes book reviews and publishing news.

Stephie Smith

This is an amazing resource of links of historical resources for writers. Enter at your own risk. You will wander through this huge list of links for weeks and still not see the end of the information.