Friday, August 28, 2009

Tips for Authors - Adding Reviews to Your Book

When your manuscript is finished, consider sending it out to several experts in your field to get pre-publication reviews for the book. These are different from the five or so pre-publication journals (such as Publishers Weekly) that post reviews in their journals. These experts may never have provided a review for any book, but they are well-respected members of the field in which they study/work. You don't need a full-blown, several paragraph review. Rather, ask them to provide a paragraph or so to be used either in the front or back of your book. I've found that including them in the front works best because I've noticed buyers at book signings notice the reviews right away.

Do you need to send them a finished, edited version of your book? No. Since you'll probably be on a tight schedule, it's okay to send the manuscript before it has been visited by your editor. Just be sure to let the reviewer know that the text is going out for editing at the same time so they may find some typos, etc. in the manuscript. You don't want them to think that the finished product will have errors or they may decide not to send you a review.

How do you get well-respected, busy, and perhaps famous people take the time to read your book? Ask them several months prior to publication so that you have plenty of time, but give them a deadline a month or more (if possible) before you need the review. There are always one or two people who take forever and need numerous reminders to write their comments. Make sure you make the deadline date clear! It's amazing how many people will forget and wait until the deadline is past. It's also a good idea to give a follow-up call a week or so after you mail the manuscript to make sure they've received it. There's nothing worse than waiting a few months for a review only to find that your reviewer never got the book. You've just wasted two precious months!

When you ask them, mention where your book will be sold, tell them it will mean national exposure for them/their business. In short, sell them on the idea of writing the review, saying it will help THEM. It also helps if you tell them you only need a few sentences to a paragraph. Readers don't expect longer review quotes inside the book.

Once you have the quote, DO NOT change the text, or reword it in any way with the exception of fixing typos. If there is a problem with the quote (perhaps a character was mentioned in the wrong context), contact the expert and ask their permission to fix the error (although it's best not to use the word "error."). Set the quotes up so that you have the quote followed by the expert's name and his/her claim to fame (business, award-winning author, etc.). Readers will be very interested in these quotes and they DO help sell books!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Self-Promotion or Death: PR Tips from Sara Dobie

I was forced into Twitter last week. I already had a Facebook page. I already had a blog, but I was FORCED into Twitter last week. Since then, I have already developed a rapport, and posts (140 characters or less) only take about fifteen seconds. However, my blog has BLOWN UP. I broke all my clicks-per-day records last week, over and over, with each passing day. The lesson learned? Social media does work, and as an author, you should get involved. You should have a website, of course. But you should also have a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t. You can set things up to make life easier. (For instance, my Twitter posts to my blog; my blog posts to my Facebook.) It’s all about web presence. The more avenues leading readers and fans to YOU, the better. So get involved in social media, no matter how dumb it sounds to “Tweet.”

For the interested parties:

Sara’s blog:

Sara’s Twitter:

Sylvan Dell, the new company blog:

Sylvan Dell, the new company Twitter:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tips for Authors - Reviews vs. Ads

This week's tip focuses on a marketing tip rather than a book design idea.

Many new authors, in their excitement, will begin to place ads all over the internet as well as through more traditional methods such as newspapers and magazines. They want to get word out about their new book. Is it worth it? Will you, the author, get back your investment plus a little profit from these ads? The simple answer is... probably not.

Large, traditional presses are known to place ads, particularly is places such at Publisher's Weekly and other journals where the important library and bookstore buyers linger. But they also get their books reviewed in those journals. True, they also advertise in newspapers and magazines, but typically, those ads are for books by established, best-selling authors. First time authors with the big presses aren't normally given ads unless there is some unusual buzz about that author/book.

For the small press/self-publisher, ads rarely give a good return on investment. The reason? The buying public is much more likely to buy a book based on a good review or on word-of-mouth. An ad is simply the publisher's hype about a book (in the buyer's mind). Why should they believe it?

What about internet ads? How about placing ads on websites, and/or using resources such as Google AdWords? Talking with numerous authors, we've rarely heard of successes with these venues. True, it can sometimes be hard to measure the success of these ads. They do help build recognition of a product, a key element in creating sales. But do they, by themselves, sell books? For the most part, no. Also, consider how many books you'll need to sell to pay for that ad, let alone make a profit. For example, an ad on a popular website in your book's genre might cost $300/month. The book retails for $9.95, and when sold through Amazon (using Amazon Advantage, will garner the author/publisher $4.48. You'll have to sell 67 books just to break even (and that doesn't even take into account the actual profit on that $4.48 after you deduct shipping to Amazon, printing costs, design costs, etc., etc.)

A few ads placed judiciously might work in your niche, but try and swap ads for services, a free book to the site's owner, etc. Then concentrate your efforts on reviews. Readers trust reviews, readers buy books from reviews!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ripple Connects Families with Recorded Children's Books

This article originally appeared in PW's Children's Bookshelf.

By Craig Morgan Teicher -- Publishers Weekly, 8/14/2009 7:11:00 AM

The Internet does nothing if not connect people, and Colorado-based Ripple has created a platform that uses the Internet to transport the intimate experience of reading a book to a child across long distances. Basically, Ripple is a Web-based audio recorder and player that also displays the pages of children's books. The idea is that a traveling parent, a long-distance grandparent, or a deployed soldier, for instance, could record the text of a children's book and then send a file with their recording, along with a digital version of the book, to a child. "We're all about connecting familes," said Mariah York, author/publisher representative at Ripple.
Right now, Ripple is building its library of books it will have the rights to sell recordings of. The deals are still in the works, so York can't announce any particular titles, but she said, "I'm working on some pretty amazing stuff with big names. I am talking to individual authors, indie publishers, and very large publishers about posting their books to our library." Ripple plans to launch to consumers in the fall.

Ripple presents an interesting situation in terms of rights to the books. "Basically what we're asking for is the digital right to post the book in its entirety on our site. One of the reasons it's taking a while is it's a brand new technology and publishers are trying to find a way to fit this into their rights deals. It's not an e-book, not an audiobook, not really software. What's separating us is it's a personal recording, nonpublic," said York.

A screenshot of the Ripple player.The person buying the recording will interface with a special recording site, on which they'll see a large version of the book they pick and make their recording. Then, they'll email the recording to the recipient packaged with a version of the book that will appear smaller on the screen in order to encourage reading along with the print edition. York says the files will have full DRM to protect intellectual property rights. The audio recording is only available through Ripple to the person who recorded it, who can send additional copies to other recipients at a discounted rate. A single recording will cost $9.95, and there will be three other packages available for 4, 12, or 24 recordings, with the price per going as low as $4.58.
A few factors make Ripple an especially attractive deal for publishers: first, the company is asking for non-exclusive rights to post books, meaning a publisher can still sell their books as e-books elsewhere. Ripple also sees the physical book as an integral part of the children's book experience, so the company will initially post a link to whatever e-tailer the publisher wants to buy a physical copy. Down the line, the company plans to sell physical books through its own site. Publishers will get $1 per recording sent, no matter what package the consumer buys.
More news to come as deals are announced.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Mexico Women Authors Book Festival


Festival to Feature 71 New Mexican Women Authors in a Variety of Genres

SANTA FE, NM—Seventy-one New Mexico women authors will gather on Museum Hill on Saturday, September 26, for the second “New Mexico Women Authors’ Book Festival,” the only festival in New Mexico that spotlights the strength of the state’s women writers and celebrates the joy of reading for people of all ages.

Admission is free to the festival, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Milner Plaza on Museum Hill. Guests receive a free book bag and free admission to the Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Food booths will be open on Milner Plaza.

Nationally acclaimed “Chick-Lit” author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Tony Hillerman Prize-winner Christine Barber, award-winning investigative reporter and author Sally Denton, beloved children’s book author Barbara Beasley Murphy, renowned feminist author Sallie Bingham and 66 other notable New Mexican authors will present works in areas of fiction, poetry, history and biography, creative arts, spirit, health and family, and children’s literature. A variety of authors will also explore such special topics as self-publishing, romance writing, memoir, revision and rewriting, and more. (A full schedule of authors, topics and presentation times is attached and at )

Modeled after the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, the New Mexico Women Authors’ Book Festival features a series of open-air pavilions where authors read and discuss their craft in 25-minute intervals in a casual, interactive setting. Book signings follow each author’s presentation. In addition, select authors will meet with members of local book groups who wish to make an author’s particular work a selection of their book club. And Santa Fe’s popular Book Arts Group will exhibit a selection of handmade books.

The New Mexico Women Authors’ Book Festival is a project of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation Shops’ “New Mexico Creates,” program, which provides marketing and promotion opportunities and support to artists, artisans, authors, and other creative entrepreneurs statewide. The event is made possible by a generous grant from the Marineau Family Foundation.

For information about additional festival sponsorship opportunities, or how to become a festival volunteer, contact John Stafford, Museum Shops Director of Retail Operations, at 505-982-3016, ext. 25, or email

For more information about the New Mexico Women Authors’ Book Festival, and for a full schedule of events, please visit

Monday, August 17, 2009

Self-Promotion or Death: PR Tips from Sara Dobie

Follow up. You have to follow up, and you can’t be afraid of being annoying. Don’t get me wrong—sending an email repeatedly, every day, obsessively, like Andy’s library in Shawshank Redemption isn’t the idea. However, here’s how it goes in promotion. Let’s say you want to do an interview on a certain blog, so you send them an email. You don’t hear back. After a week, you should NOT pout and go eat worms. You should send a follow up email, as in, “Hey, wanted to follow up on that email I sent your way last week. Did you have time to consider my interview offer? Keep me posted!” And always include the initial email, pasted beneath your signature as a reminder. If you still don’t hear anything, start posting comments on the blog of interest. Sooner or later, you’re going to get the host’s attention. Then, you’ll get your interview. Success. So the lesson for today: FOLLOW UP!

Sara Dobie Still Needs YOUR help!

Sara Dobie still needs help with her new short story, “I See Monsters.” She’s up to entry SIX in this writing waterfall, and she would love comments. Head on over to her blog to catch up with Joshua and Caleb: The final post will be Monday, August 24!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tips for Authors - Back Cover Design

You've no doubt heard that the cover of your book must sell the book. It should grab the reader quickly and make him/her want to purchase the book. While most attention on design is directed to the front cover, DO NOT forget the back cover! Next to the front cover, it is probably the most important element of your book that will convince your audience to pick up the book. As reviewers, we've seen plenty of good designs and also some that actually "unsell" a book. Here are some suggestions on what to do/not do with that back cover, taken from actual covers of books we've reviewed.
  • DO NOT - use the entire back cover to talk about what a great writer you are, particularly if you are an unknown author.
  • DO NOT - mention the writing award you received in third grade (yes, this was on a back cover!).
  • DO NOT - start the book description with phrases such as, "the greatest book on..." "the new blockbuster..." "destined to be a classic..." "the incredible new story on..." etc. Yes, you want to promote your book but if you get carried away with such exaggerations, the only person who might believe you is your mother.
  • DO NOT - use the entire back cover to describe the topic of your book. You should be able to do it in one or two short paragraphs. Shoppers will lose interest before getting to the bottom of the text and move on to the next book.
  • DO NOT - have typos anywhere on that cover! Obviously, you don't want any typos in the book, inside or out. We've seen plenty of books with several typos on the back cover. Consider it one easy way to lose sales!
  • DO NOT - include a picture that overshadows the text and makes it hard to read.
  • DO NOT - use hard to read fonts or text that is extremely small. Remember the 40+ crowd doesn't like to squint at text.
  • DO - include at least one quote from a well-known person in your book's field. Getting a top notch quote can sell a lot of books.
  • Do - include a brief bio on the author
  • Do - include a succinct plot overview - this is perhaps the most important part of the back cover. You need to draw the reader into the story/text, convey the need to read the book, without giving away the ending.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Author interview with Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Our interview today is with Kathleen Cunningham Guler, author of A Land Beyond Ravens (Book 4 of the Macsen’s Treasure Series)

FQ: What is your process for collecting historical data to use as a basis for your work?

Collecting historical data is an ongoing, exhaustive, arduous and utterly fascinating task. The known history of a selected period provides the framework on which a story is hung. That’s where a novelist must employ the historian’s craft of seeking out as much information on the time and place involved as possible, then integrate all this information into a dynamic interpretation of the culture, political situation, mindset and so on. If documents contemporary to the period exist—histories, letters, diaries, annals, anything written down during that time that show what life was like and when events happened—these are the primacy sources that provide the lifeblood of setting.

For my work, unfortunately, none of these kinds of documents have survived and it’s likely very few or none ever existed in the first place. Fifth century Britain was a time of oral tradition—the spoken word reigned in an illiterate world leftover from a time when writing down sacred doctrines was taboo. In lieu of primary sources, the next choice combines secondary sources and archaeology. Secondary sources are documents written in later times that mention events and people of the earlier period in question. While they can be valuable, their reliability can also be questionable because they have suffered through years (often hundreds of years) of handed down memories, multiple translations, unreliable copyists, and of course, storytellers’ embellishments. Archaeological evidence can be tricky to rely upon as well. I have visited most of the significant Arthurian sites in Britain to gain a feel for place and atmosphere, but again, archaeologists can only ‘interpret’ their finds. Modern eyes sometimes do not recognize the true function of an object from long ago. How many times do we not recognize a simple tool from 19th century farming anymore? Quite often, and that’s involving much more recent objects. So how do we know what we’ve actually found in a fifth century dig? Ask ten archaeologists; receive ten opinions. Likewise with historians.

Sometimes—actually most of the time—the collection process is not orderly. It’s so easy to become distracted while in pursuit of a particular point and along the path a number of other interesting facts will crop up that instantly need pursuit as well! The best part is discovering a wonderful piece of information that is totally unexpected and utterly enhancing to the story. The down side is having too much information, then having to decide how much to use and how much to leave out. Experience and keen instinct will guide an author to the right mix.

FQ: Can you tell our readers about your background and what initially drew you to the Arthurian era?

Curiosity led me to learn more about Arthurian legend. In the 1970’s, Mary Stewart’s four Merlin and Arthur novels became bestsellers. This was my first real exposure to the legend. In the meantime, throughout high school, then university, I spent a lot of time studying medieval literature, Shakespeare, European history, art and music. I always love and appreciate how all these facets of the humanities are interconnected through their history. Although I ended up with an art degree and, later, a business degree, I probably had enough study to have earned history and literature degrees as well!

When I began to feel out the possibility of writing historical fiction, of course I had to decide which era in which to set my first book. Because Mary Stewart’s portrayal of Dark Age Britain had thoroughly caught my attention years earlier, and because the historical side of King Arthur intrigued me more than the later literature written about him, I chose to let my curiosity take me through the puzzling mystery of Arthur’s alleged existence. While it’s still unproven whether he did exist, it’s been a long, fascinating journey to explore the possibilities!

In a related thought, my ancestral heritage is mostly Welsh and Scottish. While I was growing up, no one in my family ever said much more than that their forebears came from Britain, and so pride in heritage was not an influence then. However, in the course of researching the Macsen’s Treasure Series, much of which takes place in what became North Wales and lowland Scotland, I discovered those two places are some of the ancestral homelands of my family. No logical explanation. I can only marvel at how I was strongly drawn to write about people in those same places before I even knew that’s where my family came from as well. Spooky, but fitting!

FQ: What is it like to study a period where there is no primary source material and so much pure speculation?

Very frustrating sometimes, I’ll admit. Yet I’ve always loved puzzles. You’re so right about calling it pure speculation—there are a number of theories out there about Arthur’s alleged existence—who the Arthur of legend is based upon—but none them truly completes the puzzle in a satisfactory manner. They place their historical figure too early, too late, or in the wrong place, and the pieces just don’t fall in order.

I have the greatest respect for historians—I know how difficult research is. It can become a lifelong pursuit that is never finished—everything known about history is an interpretation (or re-interpretation) of facts. But after studying countless available primary, secondary and archaeological sources, then reading as many interpretations by historians as possible, an author will begin to recognize what has the ring of truth to it, form his/her own opinion and interpretation. It doesn’t mean this is the correct solution to the puzzle; rather it means finding the setting and background as well as the seeds of the story itself.

FQ: Why do you think so many people find the legend of King Arthur and the characters surrounding him so alluring?

I think part of the mystique is that he and the other characters can be whatever we want them to be, because we simply don’t know the truth. But the overriding theme is that Arthur is the hero who rises from obscurity to become the rescuer of mankind. Though flawed, he thrives in strength, honor and fairness and he does not waver from these, no matter how hard things become. We also can sympathize with him because of his flaws and how he tries to overcome them. Maybe deep down we all have a secret wish to be part of this enduring tale where the hero sweeps us out of the gutter of despair and into a golden kingdom of peace, prosperity, and freedom.

FQ: What is the next book we can look forward to from you? Is there a “book five” in the works?

No, I’m not planning a “book five” for the Macsen’s Treasure Series. However, I’m doing a little re-editing of the series’ first book (Into the Path of Gods) because my publisher is planning to release the whole series in an e-book format next year and perhaps trade paperback as well. Into the Path of Gods first came out in 1998, and my current editor and I agreed it needs a little polishing.

I’m also in the beginning stages of research for another book that’s been racing around inside my head for quite some time and has been knocking to get out. It will probably be a group of interrelated short stories, each set in a different historical period. I suspect one story might be Arthurian in nature, but I’m not that far along yet! As I make progress, I’ll be posting on my blog.

Thank you so much for the great questions. It’s been my pleasure to share a little of my writing experience with you.

To learn more about A Land Beyond Ravens, please read the review at Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Self-Promotion or Death: PR Tips from Sara Dobie

Tip of the Week: Be the hot topic version of an ambulance chaser. This tip is directed at the blogosphere, and it works—I’ve done it on my personal website. As a writer, you have a blog, because it’s what writers do. We WRITE. As a writer, you should also read, specifically issues of pop culture popularity and newsworthiness. Then, as a reader and a writer, you should write about what you read. Post the popular pop culture post on your blog, and voila, whenever someone searches for additional articles about, say, book burning in West Bend, Wisconsin (, your blog will pop up. This will drive traffic to your blog, which will drive traffic to you and your work. So stay up on all industry news and pop culture. Write about the hot topic when the mood strikes, and I’m telling you, your blog will explode with Google searches for weeks because of it.

Sara Dobie Needs YOUR help!

Back in May, I did an experiment. For a week, I wrote every day, creating a short story through day-by-day blog posts. I’m doing it again this week, and I would love to get a critique going as I write. So be sure to head to Keep an eye on the posts, and comment as much/often as you can with kudos and feedback. Writers gotta help each other out! Hope to hear from all of you this week!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tips for Authors - Submission Packages

This week's tip comes from our reviewer Lynette Latzko.

Authors and readers alike are well aware of the old adage that one should never judge a book by its cover. However, in this competitive, fast paced world, there are times when it is critically important for an author to pay particular attention to the presentation of his/her new book. Parents of a newborn would never think of dressing their precious tot in a potato sack when they are out in public, and so authors should take that much care and pride in their new work when sending review copies to reviewers. Here are some important tips for authors to consider when they are mailing their works to reviewers. Remember, you want to make a great, if not unique, first impression.

1. If you request a review, or a reviewer inquires about your book, send out the book promptly. Many reviewers receive loads of books - the quicker you get it to them the sooner they will be able to review it.

2. Pay particular attention to the type of book you are sending, and how it will survive in transit. For example, if you have a thin paperback children's book, send it with a hard piece of cardboard
so it does not get bent. Also, if the book is on the larger side, don't squeeze it in a small package which may end up getting torn before the package arrives. Of course there are always "postal accidents" that are out of your control, but try to lessen the likelihood that your book will end up crushed, or in poor condition before the reviewer even has a chance to read it.

3. Be careful when sending a letter or note of introduction along with the book. Don't forget to use spell check. It's best to slip the actual paper inside the book instead of merely in the package. This will make it easier for the reviewer to locate promptly. Wrapping the book/submission form in a plastic wrapper is another added precaution - it keeps the book/papers together and protects them against the occasional wet postal package.

4. Some reviewers may have different preferences, but I personally appreciate books that are signed by the author, as it gives the book a personal touch.

5. Add something unique to the mailing that sets your book apart from others is always a plus. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Consider including a business card, a personal thank-you, a bookmark, etc. It won't change the reviewer's opinion of the book, but it certainly can help leave a good impression or intrigue the reviewer enough to want to read your book first. Also, if the reviewer enjoys the book, they may be willing to spread the word about it, and what better way to do so than by having something small to hand out to others.

6. Finally, don't forget to keep the reviewer's information handy to send out a thank-you note for the review. It's always good to leave a good final impression, by showing your appreciation, especially if you plan on writing more and need reviews again.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New eBook Format from Sylvan Dell Publishing

JULY 29, 2009

Sylvan Dell’s innovative eBook format promises to improve reading speeds, comprehension, and language learning skills

MT PLEASANT, SC – Sylvan Dell Publishing goes LIVE this week with its next generation eBook, proving the company represents “so much more than a picture book;” it represents a full-fledged campaign for literacy in America.

From Sylvan Dell publisher and co-founder Lee German: “These are the most technologically advanced eBooks in the world today, featuring Auto-Flip, Auto-Read, and Selectable Language. There is nothing even close to this on the market. Amazon/Kindle and Barnes & Noble eBooks are not even in the same category. I encourage parents and teachers to take a test-drive and see for themselves. Let the children play with these for a few weeks, and you’ll be amazed at their excitement and improved reading performance. For children wanting to learn a foreign language or ESOL families learning English, these are phenomenal tools.”

Below is a link to a 90-day trial of all 45 Sylvan Dell eBooks:
Code expiration date: 10/31/2009
For guided directions:

Sylvan Dell eBooks will rock your world

Sylvan Dell eBooks will rock your world

“Whether in Auto-Flip or Manual Mode, switch back and forth between English and Spanish text and audio (more language choices on the way) and remain on the same page,” said German. “With the addition of Auto-Flip and Auto-Read features, our Sylvan Dell eBooks are powerful literacy and language learning tools to complement our mission of teaching ‘Science and Math Through Literature.’”

Sylvan Dell is no newcomer to literacy education and no stranger to technological advances. Since the company’s founding in 2004, co-founders Lee and Donna German have been ahead of the picture book publishing curve. Last year, Sylvan Dell awarded free eBook site licenses to over 2600 elementary and Title I/III schools nationwide through their School Resource Grant Program.

What’s next? According to German, “We want moms, dads, and grandparents to be able to record a reading of our books and add that audio to the language selection list. This is especially important for military families with a parent overseas. We are also developing an iPhone, iPod, and iPod touch application so that our eBooks will be available on handhelds and an online data capture system to allow teachers to track student reading and quiz performance.”

Sylvan Dell eBooks are available on the company website,, as are an array of free educational resources, which include Teaching Activities and Interactive Math and Reading Comprehension Quizzes. For more information about the eBooks, visit For more about the eBook Resource Grants:

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Self-Promotions or Death: PR Tips from Sara Dobie

Being that my company is in the midst of a massive PR blitz (, the tip for this week is well founded on my experience over the past five days. The word is BLOG. I know I already told you to make friends with your local media. The same goes for your blog community. Your blog community does not have to be composed of your geographical neighbors. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Your blog community DOES have to be related to you and your book. First, find blogs that relate to your target audience. Second, build a rapport with said blogger, following his/her posts and commenting where applicable. Then, you can ask said blogger to review your book. Maybe said blogger can cover a new release or write about your upcoming events. Either way, I’m beginning to see the techie world is the world that matters. So go out there and conquer your blogosphere. (I just did a full month series on blogging, in fact, so if you want some extra help, visit ForeWord Magazine’s Publishing Insider, month of July:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Reading Suggestions

Here are some of the hottest new books to arrive in August:

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Jonathan Tropper writes compulsively readable, laugh-out-loud funny novels, and his fifth book,
This Is Where I Leave You is his best yet. Judd Foxman is oscillating between a sea of self-pity and a "snake pit of fury and resentment" in the aftermath of the explosion of his marriage, which ended "the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake." Foxman is jobless (after finding his wife in bed with his boss) and renting out the basement of a "crappy house" when he is called home to sit shiva for his father--who, incidentally, was an atheist. This of course means seven days in his parent's house with his exquisitely dysfunctional family, including his mom, a sexy, "I've-still-got-it" shrink fond of making horrifying TMI statements; his older sister, Wendy, and her distracted hubby and three kids; his snarky older brother, Paul, and his wife; and his youngest brother, Phillip, the "Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead." Tropper is wickedly funny, a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up. But what elevates his novels and makes him a truly splendid writer is his ability to create fantastically flawed, real characters who stay with you long after the book is over. Simultaneously hilarious and hopeful, This Is Where I Leave You is as much about a family's reckoning as it is about one man's attempt to get it together. The affectionate, warts-and-all portrayal of the Foxmans will have fans wishing for a sequel (and clamoring for all things Tropper).
--Daphne Durham

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Mixing the magic of the most beloved children's fantasy classics (from Narnia and Oz to Harry PotterEarthsea) with the sex, excess, angst, and anticlimax of life in college and beyond, Lev Grossman's The Magicians reimagines modern-day fantasy for grownups. Quentin Coldwater lives in a state of perpetual melancholy, privately obsessed with his childhood books about the enchanted land of Fillory. When he's admitted to the surreptitious Brakebills Academy for an education in magic, Quentin finds mastering spells is tedious (and love is even more fraught). He also discovers his power has thrilling potential--though it's unclear what he should do with it once he's moved with his new magician cohorts to New York City. Then they discover the magical land of Fillory is real and launch an expedition to use their powers to set things right in the kingdom--which, naturally, turns out to be a much murkier proposition than expected.The Magicians breathes life into a cast of characters you want to know--if the people you want to know are charismatic, brilliant, complex, flawed magicians--and does what Quentin claims books never really manage to do: "get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better." Or if not better, at least a heck of a lot more interesting.--Mari Malcolm

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley

"The movement for the conversation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." So wrote Theodore Roosevelt, known as the "naturalist President" for his efforts in protecting wildlife and wilderness, merging preservation and patriotism into a quintessential American ideal.
The Wilderness Warrior, Douglas Brinkley's massive(ly readable) new biography, intrepidly explores the wilderness of influences (Audubon and Darwin), personal relationships (Muir and Pinchot), and frontier adventures (too many to mention) that shaped Roosevelt's proto-green views. Topping 800 pages (ironically, one wonders how many trees fell for the first printing), The Wilderness Warrior makes an excellent companion to Timothy Egan's The Big Burn and Ken Burns's The National Parks: America's Best Idea. --Jon Foro

FREE Book Contest for August!

Every month Feathered Quill Book Reviews runs a FREE book contest. There is no obligation - it is simply our way of saying thank you for visiting our site. This month's book is A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi. You can read the review here. Then, simply follow this link to enter your name in this month's contest. Good luck!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Author interview with Syrie James

Today we're excited to talk with Syrie James, author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

FQ: How much did you know about the Bront√ęs before you started this project? How did your perception of Charlotte change (if it did) once you started writing?

Before I started my research for this novel, I knew nothing about the Brontes, other than the fact that they were sisters who wrote two of the world’s most famous novels. I was incredibly curious to find out who Charlotte and Emily were, and what inspired them to write these books that I so admired. I was astonished to discover the incredible volume of writing the Brontes did as children, and what wonderful artists and poets the sisters were. I was delighted to “meet” Anne. I was surprised to learn that Charlotte was secretly in love with a married man, and that he was the partial inspiration for many of the heroes in her novels.

It was intriguing to discover what a private and introverted woman Emily was, considering the very passionate novel she penned. I was touched to learn that Mr. Nicholls was secretly in love with Charlotte for so many years, before he had the nerve to propose. It's a remarkable story, and the Brontes were a complicated and fascinating family.

FQ: Bronte remarks that she didn't care for Jane Austen's literature because it was "lacking in sentiment." Since you have also written a book about Austen, what do you think she would have made of Jane Eyre?

I believe Jane Austen would have greatly admired Jane Eyre, for it is one of the most perfectly conceived gothic novels ever written. It has romance, mystery, horror, and the classic medieval setting of an ancient manor home that resembles a castle. Jane Eyre's story is very appealing: the rise of a poor orphan girl against seemingly insurmountable odds, and a tormented hero who is ultimately redeemed by her love and determination.

Jane Eyre also has serious things to say about timeless issues, such as women's struggle for equality, the realization of self, the relations between men and women, and the nature of true love. These are topics which were all dear to Jane Austen’s heart—and Austen always loved a good story. Although Austen did write her mature novels with more restraint (when it came to passion) than any of the Brontes, she enjoyed gothic novels, and wrote incredibly torrid and passionate stories in her youth which are very similar in subject and tone to the works of the Brontes.

FQ: Did you need to change Charlotte's tone or the narrative to make the book appeal to a contemporary audience?

I made a concerted effort to stay true to Charlotte’s life story and to the voice in her novels and correspondence, and to represent the people in her life as accurately as possible. For much of her romance with Mr. Nicholls I was obliged to use my imagination, since we do not know exactly what transpired between them in the early years of their acquaintance—nor can we know exactly what occurred on their wedding night. I may have romanticized a few things about their relationship for today’s audience, but in the end, I wrote the story that I would love to read!

FQ: You begin the book with a marriage proposal. Why did you choose to lead with that diary entry?

My goal is always to keep the reader turning pages: to begin with a hook that poses a question, and keeps the readers in suspense to find out how that question is resolved. This is such a huge story. I didn’t want to tell it in linear fashion. This seemed to be the most interesting way to structure the novel.

FQ: What is your next project?

It’s entitled Dracula, My Love. It's a retelling of Bram Stoker's famous Victorian novel from the point of view of the heroine, Mina Harker: the untold story of her secret, scandalous passion for the man who is not her husband—the young, gorgeous, charismatic, intelligent Count Dracula, who she deeply loves, despite herself.

This is a Dracula unlike the one we usually see in film and print: a vampire with a heart and soul, who struggles against the evil within him, and has been misunderstood. The novel will be published by Morrow in 2010. I’m having such a fabulous time writing this book. If you liked Jane Austen's Mr. Ashford, I promise this is a Dracula you will love!

Syrie welcomes visitors and messages at her website,