The Hidden Life of “Vanished,” a novel by Mark Bierman

Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always truly until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…

So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.

Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, to get his book, and to contact him) reveals what he’s learned about him writing process and his readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.

Vanished by Mark Bierman cover.

The Hidden Life of “Vanished,” a novel by Mark Bierman

A few weeks ago, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.

First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.

Here’s a quick synopsis

Driven to despair by a shared loss, Americans John Webster and Tyler Montgomery try to self-medicate by embarking on a mission of goodwill to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The reconstruction of an orphanage transforms into a nightmarish hunt after a young girl is kidnapped.

 Unequipped, culturally illiterate, and alone, the pair are forced into alliances with shifty characters, as they delve deeper into the treacherous underbelly of the human trafficking world. Can they survive long enough to keep their promise to the child’s mother?

I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.

If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.

The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.

You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.

The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.

So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire to promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.

I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.

Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.

Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium security prisons.

Novelist/blogger Mark Bierman.
Novelist/blogger Mark Bierman.

The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.

This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize that Hollywood and the news are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.

I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.

Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve led normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.

I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick when I wrote this book.

It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.

I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”

I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.

The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.        

The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.

Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.

At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.

Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.

Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.

Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.

Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.

Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.

John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

Here’s how one woman works to help victims of human trafficking.

Do you believe a book can evolve beyond the author’s dream for it?

Make Transgender Visibility daily and Valeska Réon’s great news!

Rachel Crandall started Transgender Day of Visibility as a day of hope, back in 2009. Indeed it is this year! For the first time, a U.S. President, Joe Biden, issued a proclamation on it!

Here Rachel talks about the annual event…

Now is also a good excuse for an update on what Valeska Réon’s been up to since I wrote of her a while ago.

Valeska Réon has wonderful news!
Valeska Réon has wonderful news!

Her book, “Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer,” has a favorable opportunity to become a Netflix film. Here’s an interview with Valeska and director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler who will film it in Maastricht, Netherlands. If you, like me, don’t understand German, Google Translate does a terrific job.

Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.
Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.

In addition, her next book is set to published in less than a year. Already, Valeska is working to make it a Netflix miniseries. The historic novel features Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), the only woman who served twice as France’s queen consort (the most powerful sort of queen). Not just that, Anne was queen consort of Naples, and a duchess consort of Milan. All that and she died when she was only 34!

“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.
“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.

“The Multiple Lives of Author Valeska Réon” in her own words

When I started writing back in 1997, the world of literature was not like it is today. Self-publishing wasn’t yet invented, so you first had to find a publisher before the book could see the light of day. The Internet was still in its infancy in Germany, so you had to resort to traditional marketing strategies.

In 2012, after three non-fiction books on health and beauty, I took all my courage and wrote my autobiography, “Flowers for a Chameleon.” What happened next — I hadn’t expected that! Perhaps I should tell you that I was not born a woman, but had already worked as a model in Paris before the sex reassignment surgery. Always I was careful that nobody learned of my secret. 1985 was another time, and models like Andrej(a) Pejic and Lea T. did not exist. The reactions to my book were overwhelming, it sold very well, and a filmmaker contacted me to film it.

But above all, I became aware of one thing – as an author, you market yourself best when you are authentic. Due to my life story, I was suddenly in the focus of the German LBGT community, which I first had to deal with. Countless letters from my readers all had the same core message: “Thank you for giving us such courage with your book!”

Today #beyoubetrue is my favorite hashtag, and I use it not only on Instagram but also on my author portraits.

Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.
Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.

After that, I changed my genre to now writing thrillers –- and that’s when I had a new marketing idea. In my book, “Double Sacrifice,” the song, “J’aime tellement,” plays such an essential role that once I wrote the lyrics, I then found a singer/composer to set them to music. Finally, it was remixed and is now available for download –- a great compliment to the book.

My new thriller, “Walking on Sand,” is was rewritten into a stage play that premiered in Düsseldorf, December 2019. Another autobiographical story, this one is about the transsexual children’s book author Lea. After many years, she returns to her hometown to avenge the terrible things her classmates did to her. The children’s book mentioned within it, “Charlotte Inside,” is taken out of the crime plot and made into a book of its own. It is the first children‘s book ever to tell young readers about therapy with the inner child.

Valeska Réon lays on the sand, a watchtower in the background, with her dog.
What new creative adventure is Valeska Réon conjuring?

My greatest wish is for “Charlotte Inside” to appear internationally so it can bring joy and courage to children everywhere.

How many lives have you lived?

It’s Never Too Late: Especially for writer/actress Lee Gale Gruen

“No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatsoever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.” Martha Graham (United States, May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991), modern dance pioneer.

“God has pitted you against a rought antagonist that you may be a conqueror, and this cannot be without toil.” Epictetus, Greek philosopher, (c. 50 – c. 135 AD)

Cover of “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years,” by Lee Gale Gruen.

Heck, anyone can tell us we’re never too old to embark on bold new adventures. But we all know what they say about seeing! To get any eyeful of believing, let’s take a gander at actress/author/blogger/lecturer Lee Gale Gruen.

A retired probation officer, Lee Gale first visited us here to describe her newfound passion for acting. Bringing her father along to classes inspired her to write her first book, “Adventures with Dad.”

These days she continues to act, now in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Catch some of her performances by typing her full name into the YouTube.com search bar.

Since she recently published a second book, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years,” I invited her to tell us about that too…

Self-reinventor Lee Gale Gruen

Passion at Any Age by Lee Gale Gruen

Too many retirees and seniors have no idea what to do in the new stage of their lives called retirement. Many sink into isolation and depression. When I first retired, I had no clue what to do next. My 37-year career as a probation officer was over, and my children were launched. I struggled for a long time to carve out a new identity for myself.

After trying many different things, none particularly satisfying, I mistakenly signed up for an acting class for seniors, thinking it was just a play reading group. I was hooked on acting that first day despite my lifelong stage fright. My 85-year-old father began attending the class with me and was my scene partner in the class showcases where we performed the humorous scenes I wrote for us. From there, I networked with classmates and learned about going on auditions. I eventually found an agent and booked real, paid acting jobs. I then got the idea of writing a memoir about it, and in 2013, Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class, was published.

Cover of "Adventures with Dad," by Lee Gale Gruen.

As an author, I learned that I was expected to promote my book. Fortunately, I had slowly and painstakingly been able to overcome my crippling stage fright as a result of my acting. So, I started giving interviews and appearing before groups, talking about the book. People shared their own stories with me about how lost they felt since they retired. I realized I had something to give back to the community. I could show people how to reinvent themselves in retirement. I had discovered the secret: find a passion which will motivate you to want to get up in the morning, get dressed, get out of the house, and embrace life. That’s what happened to me after I discovered a passion for acting.

I developed a lecture from my own experiences as well as research I did, and I began giving talks titled “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years” aimed at the retiree and senior demographic. I also started writing a blog of the same name to share my thoughts, observations, and experiences with the goal of helping my readers reinvent themselves after they retire. I have been blogging and lecturing on this subject for the past eight years.

Audience members at my lectures began asking if they could buy a book about my talk. That has resulted in my recently published book which is an adjunct to my blog and lecture. All three share the same title, Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years. My new book contains the contents of my lecture as well as seven years of posts from my blog. It is available on Amazon by clicking here. My goal with my blog, lecture, and new book is to help retirees, those soon to retire, baby boomers, and seniors find joy, excitement, and purpose after they retire just like I did.

Seniors make up about a third of the population of the United States, so that’s a pretty big demographic. However, it’s often a forgotten group. It shouldn’t be. A group that big has great influence socially, economically, and politically. The senior population can learn to flex that muscle. It would improve their status and put them back into the role of wise and respected elders that they once held and really still are.  There is no need for retirees and seniors to feel like their life is over. Plenty of exciting pursuits and opportunities await them. They only have to figure out what they might like, where it is, and how to access it. My new book is geared to help each individual find activities and pursuits at their own comfort level. It will guide them through the maze in developing their own “second act” in life.

For more about her, her books, and to connect with her, visit her blog.

Do you worry that you’re too old to accomplish something you ‘re passionate about?

Self-Publishing: How David Gittlin Markets His Fiction

David Gittlin, writer.

Do you think I’m crazy for taking heart whenever I see books of fiction — novels, mainly — make it big even when, in my opinion, they stink? That goes ditto for just about anything, but before you call me a nut, let me explain.

Persistence goes a very long way when it comes to success. So does obtuseness about failure and criticism. Throwing heaps of money at an endeavor is another way to lead readers/buyers/voters/whatever to prefer style over content.

For us novelists who want people to purchase our books, there are myriad “experts,” aka “vultures” galore. As I research how to eventually have that happen for the novels I’ll eventually serialize into podcasts and then sell as books, Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat, it’s impossible to avoid avalanches of Youtubers parroting each other’s basic “secrets” about marketing/platforms/etcetera. Each concludes with the same pitch, which is that, in return for our dough, they’ll fulfill our ambitions. Indeed, some may be legit. My jaded ears, however, remind me, “A fool and their money are soon parted.”

That’s why — and here’s what this post is all about, my friend — it’s like finding gold when someone with real experience shares their knowledge without charging us money.

Without further ado, here I present David Gittlin, who blogs from Florida and who is exactly that man. He’s authored three feature-length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels, each in a different genre! (Links for them are within his post.) Before that, he worked for over thirty years in all sorts of capacities related to marketing and the internet.

Read on for his hands-on wisdom that he’s kindly letting us in on. Lucky for us too, he’s not charging us a red cent…

How do I Cost-Effectively Market My Book Online? by David Gittlin

Comparatively speaking, writing a novel is the fun, easy, first step of the self-publishing process. The second step, creating an attention-getting book cover, offers its own unique set of challenges. However, the most intimidating and difficult undertaking, to most authors, is the third step—Online Marketing.

These words strike terror in many authors’ sensitive little hearts because they want as little to do with the outside world as possible.

The most intimidating marketing question is: “Where do I begin?” In this blog, I’ll let you in on some of the advertising methods I’ve tried and the results I’ve had. I’ll save you time and money. I’ll guide you through the marketing process from the completion of your manuscript to the final strokes of your marketing plan.

Before we begin, bear in mind that more than a million books are published every year. Therefore, we have to be good at marketing. Damn good!

After completing your final rewrite and the inevitable tweaks that come afterwards, it’s finally time to upload your book to online retailers. Next, you announce it on your blog, your author website, your Facebook page, and your YouTube channel (optional).

Now what? Gulp…

This is the seriously hard part—driving people to these outposts in cyberspace.

Let’s take a look at what has worked for me and what hasn’t.

Book Covers

The first step in marketing your book online or ANYWHERE is to create a relatable, attention-getting cover. We’re taught not to judge a book by its cover.  Ironically, this principle doesn’t apply to actual books.

I’ve read that the cover of a book needs to be genre specific.  By this I mean your reader can quickly identify the subject matter inside, whether it be Romance, Action/Suspense/Adventure/ Thriller, Espionage, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and so on.

The trick is to make your book genre specific without making it look like every other book in the space.  The idea is to stand out from the crowd, not get lost in it.

If you are an accomplished graphic artist, go ahead and do it yourself.  Just be sure that you follow the specifications of your print on demand supplier.  If you are not a great graphic artist, like me, go ahead and shop for an artist who can turn your cover vision into a commercially viable package.

Please choose an artist with a specialization in book cover design.  This person can have other specialties, but they must also be fully versed in the art of book cover design.  If you are creating the book cover, make sure to research the subject.  There are many pitfalls, just as there are with writing a book.

I used three different artists to create the covers for the three novels I published.  Besides the fact that I get bored easily, there may have been a method to my madness.  Each of my novels is in a different genre.  Some artists have genre preferences and do better work in those genres.  There is no set rule.

Some artists are good in any genre.  They may be more talented and expensive than others, but you won’t have to go through the angst of breaking in new ones.  And you may get a better overall result.  Or not.  Choose carefully.

If you have an idea of what you want in your book cover, great.  If you don’t, that’s okay.  Just be sure you choose a capable artist who you can communicate with.  Don’t be guided solely by cost.  Choose someone who knows what they are doing; who inspires your confidence, and “gets you.”

Blogging

Blogging is a great way to get yourself and your work “out there.” It’s not hard to create a blog, even for graphically challenged people like me.  WordPress and Wix are two of the most popular sites now.  You don’t have to be an expert at coding to make a nice looking blog.  You can also choose an upgrade plan that will give you more customizing options.  I believe the upgrade plans are worth it.  WordPress has a premium plan for only $99 per year.

Once your blog is created, don’t let it just sit in Cyberspace. Take a little time each day to read and comment on blogs by folks who write about subjects that interest you. Those people will then read and follow your blog if your content is good.

Take note of how other people promote their work on their blogs.  I’ve found that the subtle approach is the best way to do it.  Keep in mind that content is king.  What you have to say and how you express it will ultimately determine your degree of success.  Andmake sure the template you use to create your blog is Smart Phone Friendly.  I finally woke up to the fact that most people read blogs on their phones. Duh. I dumped my old templates and replaced them with new, easy to read, phone-friendly ones. Now, I’m attracting more followers than ever before, and I’m making many new friends.

Facebook Ads

I’ve experimented with ads on Facebook.  I’ve racked up tons of likes and very few sales.  In my humble opinion, paying for ads on Facebook is a total waste of time and money for self-published authors.  I have an author friend who is running great ads on Facebook, but he’s not selling any books.  I’m not saying ads in general don’t work on Facebook.  They do.  But you are an up-and-coming author struggling to find an audience.  You aren’t Macy’s.  You aren’t selling specialty items currently in demand like face masks.  See what I mean?

Facebook Pages

A Facebook page isn’t essential, but I strongly suggest that you put some time and effort into making a good one.  If nothing else, FB pages add credibility and overall impact to your marketing campaign.  And they are FREE.  You might even sell some books from your page using the SHOP NOW button.  Pick a glowing book review and pin it at the top of your posts column.  This little maneuver has increased views and engagements on all three of my Facebook pages.

Instagram

Upload a JPEG of your book cover with a link to your Facebook page.  If you have lots of friends who spend half of their lives on Instagram, you might get lucky.  I don’t use Instagram.  Don’t ask me why.

Press Releases

I’ve created and distributed press releases on PR Web with a target audience of 30,000 journalists and bloggers. The idea is to drive traffic to your websites and generate publicity on major news sites and search engines.  You can participate at various cost levels starting at $99.  The more you spend, the bigger the audience.  I participated at the second highest level at a cost of $289 per release.  (The highest level currently costs $389).  To add interest to the releases, I created a book trailer video. (A simple book trailer without actors will cost anywhere from $250 to $300 from a reputable company).

Bottom line: I could not relate any book sales to my press release adventures.  So, save your money.

Book Trailers

Book trailers are nice to have but they aren’t essential to your marketing campaign.  When I first started marketing my books twelve years ago, the pundits all said that you were dead in the water if you didn’t have a book trailer.  As it turns out, this is baloney.  Book trailers are a nice addition to your marketing package, but they aren’t powerful generators of sales.  I made trailers for my first novel, Three Days to Darkness, and my second one, Scarlet Ambrosia–Blood is the Nectar of Life.  I had fun making them and they didn’t cost too much. Recently, I used the first trailer I made as the cover photo on my Facebook page. (Note: The video has to be two minutes or less to be uploaded to the cover section). To my amazement it worked. More than a thousand people visited my Three Days to Darkness page in the span of two weeks. I made some book sales at the rate of two percent of the visits. I’m still getting views.  But here’s the thing: if you have a limited budget, use it where it will do the most good.  I’m getting to that.  Stay with me.

Audio Books

If you can swing the cost, make an audio version of your book.  As you are no doubt aware, people don’t read as many books as they used to.  Audio books are getting more popular every day.  I used ACX to make the audio book for my third novel, Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.  I liked using ACX and they are part of Amazon.  I signed an exclusive agreement with them, which means I get a bigger royalty (70%) on each audio book sale.  With this agreement, your book is automatically uploaded to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.  The downside is, you don’t get exposure on sites like Hoopla, Overdrive, and Bibliotheca, which serve libraries.  If you don’t go exclusive, ACX offers a non-exclusive agreement wherein you can distribute to any platform and get a 25% royalty.

If you hire a narrator for your audio book, which you can do through ACX, a good one will probably cost you between $100 and $150 per finished hour.  Your narrator does the narration and all of the production work.  You direct them and approve the finished product.  I had a great time making my audio book with an amazing woman who did a fabulous job.  I’ve done reasonably well with my audio book.  I’ve noticed that having an audio version available has increased my overall book sales.

Paid Reviews

When you launch your book, you want to have a sufficient number of positive reader and editorial reviews available on retail sites and Goodreads to convert browsers into buyers.  Unless you have twenty friends and a handful of book critics ready, willing, and able to post glowing reviews, it makes sense to purchase a few of these.

There are a number of sites available for these services.  I have found the best and most reliable site for reader and editorial reviews to be indiereader.com.  Check out their website.  I bought reader reviews and an editorial review from them. I’m 100% satisfied with their service, reliability, and results.  I’ve also used midwestbookreview.com for fair, reliable, and less expensive editorial reviews. Readers Favorite is an excellent site for FREE reviews. Check it out.

Amazon Advertising

Sponsored ads on Amazon.com are the most effective marketing tool I’ve used so far.  If you have a limited budget, this is where to spend it.  The ads are easy to create. You set your daily budget, write your copy, set your campaign dates, and off you go.  If the ad doesn’t work, you can scrap it and try different keywords.  You can see which keywords are working and which are not and adjust accordingly.  Best of all, you can see how many books you’ve sold and how much it has cost you to sell those books.  There’s no baloney and no guesswork.  And, let’s face it, most of the books people buy are sold on Amazon.  To create a campaign, sign in to your KDP account, select the book you want to advertise, click on the three dots to the far right of the book, and select promote and advertise.

I hope you will find these tips helpful.  I wish you all the success in the world, and keep writing.

Do you have first-hand publishing and marketing knowledge to share with us?

When Life Gives You Oranges: chat+video w artist Uzo Njoku by da-AL

Books + Art = Happiness

Dear readers, that’s why, when I learned of Uzo Njoku through Bust Magazine (a lifestyle/feminist publication started in 1993), I thought of you. Many of you are novelists like me, most of you writers and creatives, and lovers of books.

"When Things Fall Apart," by Uzo Njoku: "My favorite book by Chinua Achebe."
“When Things Fall Apart,” by Uzo Njoku: “My favorite book by Chinua Achebe.”

Her self-published coloring book, “The Bluestocking Society,” launched the statistics-turned-art-major a couple of years ago when she was a 22-year-old college student. It’s filled with images and facts about all sorts of wonderful women throughout history. She also offers free printable coloring pages.

Uzo moved from Lagos, Nigeria, to the United States as a child. Here’s a writeup about her by the University of Virginia, and here’s another by their news magazine.

"When Life Gives You Oranges" by Uzo Njoku: "I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist."
“When Life Gives You Oranges” by Uzo Njoku: “I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist.”

Along with Uzo’s comments on these paintings, what follows are the answers she kindly emailed back to me…

Question: How does being bi-cultural play out in your day-to-day life and influence your art? And in terms of how you regard your own loveliness and potential?

Answer: Being in the middle of two worlds gives me more content to work with. My work addresses important issues such as identity, duality and spirituality, yet is approached with a particular openness snd beauty. The themes addressed in my work stem directly from my life experience as a female artist living and working between cultures, and yet the aim is to show how a single person’s ‘double vision’ can produce images that possess much wider social effects by collapsing racial and cultural borders.

"Stretch," by Uzo Njoku: "Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern."
“Stretch,” by Uzo Njoku: “Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern.”

Question: Many of my readers (myself included) are struggling creatives. How do you juggle making art, marketing, fulfilling orders, and attending university? How did you initially let people know about your amazing coloring book? How do you continue to expose people to your art?

Answer: Everything I have done starts from my friends supporting me. Constantly telling others about my work and word-of-mouth helping to spread the news. A lot of artists don’t have a business mindset, and I believe that is how a lot of them do get exploited initially. I took an arts administration class in college, and that really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes. This helped me understand more what it takes for shows to happen and the right people to reach out to.

I studied Statistics in college before switching over to art, so by nature, I am a very technical person. I see numbers alongside art a lot and understood when it was time to pay a marketing personnel to run ads when I released a new product on my website. I don’t really know exactly what to advise people because everyone is different, but I learned everything from Google and YouTube videos. So a lot of research.

"Strangers," by Uzo Njoku: "I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything."
“Strangers,” by Uzo Njoku: “I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything.”

Question: How has the horrific politics of late as well as the pandemic affected you and your work?

Answer: I am not a social artist, so I do not create art based on political events. But in regards to Oluwatoyin passing away, I feel it was my duty to beautify her image because I know a lot of media outlets would try to show her in a negative light. A good amount of the sales during this period I have been able to donate out to small BLM groups and artists struggling during this pandemic.

Artist Uzo Njoku in her studio.
Uzo Njoku in her art studio.

Question: How do you find and choose your marketing personnel?

Answer: My marketing personnel reached out to me. He had been following me for years and felt that he could reach new customers for me. Basically, anyone who understands how to market on Social Media is an asset.

Question: What are one or more mistakes you see artists making business-wise most often?

Answer: I would say the biggest mistake is forgetting to follow up on business taxes when tax season comes by. It can bite you if you’re not careful. Also, you need to get into the habit of having a second pair of eyes look at contracts with you, whether they are those of a family member, a friend, or a professional.

Dear reader, if you didn’t do what you do now, what would farm oranges…or what?…

Guest Blog Post: Discovery and Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri

Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere!

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

More about Maria Alfieri here. Her “The Silent Scream Anthology” is available in hardback here and here, in paperback here, and in both here.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Guest Blog Post: Goodreads Listopia for Book Promotion by Mae Clair

Mystery and suspense author Mae Clair.

Goodreads is sort of like Facebook, only it’s a site for book lovers! How do you find out about good books?

Here mystery and suspense author/reader/blogger Mae Clair explains how book lovers of all sorts can use Goodreads to let others know about their favorite reads…

Story Empire

Hi, SEers! Mae here today with a small promo tactic you may not be using. This one involves some help from your friends, but it’s another avenue to get your work noticed.

Screenshot from Goodreads showing navigation drop down for listsHave you ever searched lists on Goodreads? You’ll find them under the BROWSE drop-down on the main navigation bar (screen shot at left). The link will connect you to Listopia—Goodreads’ home for sorting books by category.

You’ll find plenty of genre lists, along with specific niche lists as well. These are the ones likely to benefit you the most.Screenshot of book covers for several cryptozoology fiction lists on Goodreads Listopia

As an example, I enjoy books featuring creatures from cryptozoology (i.e, Loch Ness, the Mothman, the Van Meter Monster, etc). Fortunately, Listopia has a Crypto Fiction list that allows me to sort through a number of books at once. As a reader, I find GR lists easier and more accurate to use than Amazon, especially when I want to search…

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Guest Blog Post: Self-Publishing: It Gets Easier by Ashley L. Peterson

Writing a book is a big thing — and then publishing it is even huger, whether through the traditional or the self route. As I complete my novels while building my platform, Mental health nurse/blogger/author Ashley L. Peterson of Vancouver, Canada, has already put out several books!

Ashley’s favorite photo of herself with one of her adorable little ones!

She first visited us here — and now she’s back with a new book and more self-publishing advice!…

Writing is more fun with a sidekick like Peanut, Ashley’s guinea pig.

“Self-Publishing: It Gets Easier” by Ashley Peterson

I remember how overwhelming it was when I published my first book. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and I was just flying by the seat of my pants. I had no idea what to expect when the book was released.

My second book was released 7 months later. I felt much more prepared, but then tossed in the new challenge of selling on sites other than Amazon, including my own website. There were also some hiccups; it felt like forever before Amazon accepted the file for my paperback, which turned out to be because there was a special character that it didn’t recognize and therefore didn’t accept. The biggest problem was my paperback cover; it wasn’t showing up on the Amazon listing as the same colour in the cover file I’d uploaded. I spent a whole lot of time trying to get that sorted out,

Now with my third book, I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole process. Sure, formatting and converting file types is still frustrating; I don’t think that would change even if I’d published a whole bookstore. Overall, though, I’m much more at ease. I feel a sense of mastery that I know how to do this – a very different feeling from the first time around.

I’m a huge list person, and my book launch lists are nicely fine-tuned. I’ve got all the steps laid out, so I can just do things without having to think about them.

While the learning curve is steep and self-publishing can be daunting, it gets easier – really. And if you’re thinking about self-publishing, dive right on in; the water’s warm.

Details on my new book Managing the Depression Puzzle can be found here.

What’s your experience with publishing and building a platform?

Happy 200, Anne Brontë!

“Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read,” as quoted from Anne Brontë.

Novel writing is daunting — at least it is for me. If, like Anne Brontë, I’d been born youngest into a dynasty of superstar writers, would I have begun the two novels I’m currently working on? Hmmm… Do you have ultra-successful family members, and if so, how do they influence your work?

The Brontë Sisters (l-r: Anne Brontë, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë) circa 1834, oil on canvas by their brother, Patrick Branwell Brontë. On display at the National Portrait Gallery.

To celebrate Anne’s 200th birthday here’s “The Brilliant Bronte Sisters,” a documentary about all the sisters…

https://youtu.be/dLI1Bm6rNuc

To further honor Anne, here’s a post by blogger/artist/poet/author DM Denton, who’s published, “Without the Veil Between: Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit”…

bardessdmdenton - author- artist

If she were more perfect, she would be less interesting

Finally

it’s Anne’s own Brontë200:

Today is the 200th Anniversary
of Anne Brontë’s birth, January 17, 1820!

A very special day as

she is subject of my novel …

Above all, through the well-measured words of Denton, a young Anne emerges more and more. She frees from the web of religiosity with which she traditionally is painted, [and] tries to leave something good in the world through her measured but deliberately targeted writing. A different Anne at the beginning of the book, timidly in love; then resigned to accept her own death with dignity and fortitude. A meaningful homage to the memory of Anne Brontë.

~ Maddalena De Leo, Italian Representative of The Bronte Society

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving)…

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Guest Blog Post: Lynn Love’s Lessons in Novel Writing Rejection

How do you deal with rejection? Whether you’re a fellow novelist — or you adore reading fiction as much as I do — or simply you too are human — at some point we all experience disappointment and frustration.

Here, while I take time off to complete my upcoming novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” Lynn Love opens her heart to us. This is how she keeps rejection from getting the better of her novel writing…

Word Shamble

Image: Pixabay

Writing novels is a strange way to spend your life.

You take months (in my case, years) working alone on a project then there comes a point – if you want your baby to develop, to grow and not remain swaddled to your over-protective breast forever – when you must push what you’ve made into the world and watch from a safe distance to see if it will fall on its face or walk, perhaps even run.

But what if it manages to both face plant and saunter cockily round the block on the same day?

A few weeks ago, I learned I’d come second in a Writing Magazine competition (more on that nearer publication day). My prize was either a modest amount of cash or a critique of 9,000 words.

Now, as I’m a writer with heaps of artistic integrity and a yearning to polish my craft…

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