One down, three ups

“You’re stupid.”

“You’re so ugly.”

“Poopyhead.”

“You big baby.”

Yep, these are all things out of the mouths of children – specifically those would be my children earlier this summer. Some people may brush this off as kids just being kids. Often times kids simply repeat things they hear on TV or from other kids without thinking that these things can hurt others. But they can and they do.

In order to curb our kids desire to say mean things we implemented what my husband calls one down, three ups.

Each time one of the kids says something mean or puts down the other kid, they are required to say three nice things about that person to that person.

So if Jase says to Lexie, “You are just a whiny little stinky butt,” then I tell him what he said wasn’t nice, and he owes her three compliments. His reply, “You’re funny. You’re nice. You’re pretty.”

In the beginning, it got to be that he kept saying the same thing each time he had to give compliments. We then implemented the rule that you couldn’t use the same compliment again during that day.

Remarkably, this has worked well. Since implementing it, we have seen a decrease in name calling and derogatory remarks. And if I am not there to catch them, the other child gladly calls the other out on it. I can hear them in the other room complimenting each other.

Now if we can only get them to stop purposively antagonizing the other and talk in a nice voice instead of yelling, our house would be an even better place.

Today’s Featured Author: Sheala Vast-Binder

Today I welcome author Sheala Vast-Binder to my blog.

Interview

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I always have a hard time answering the “Where did you grow up?” question (the “where were you born” one is a little easier). I was born in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida as a military brat. Although we moved numerous times before I was 10, none of our moves were overseas. However, we moved all across the southern part of the U.S.

Although I didn’t like moving as a child (I was an only child and it was lonely), I credit much of my love for Internationals and cultural learning to this experience. I love meeting new people, eating different foods, and traveling to diverse places! Even as an adult, I have moved numerous times and travelled a lot because my extended family is scattered around the U.S. My family currently lives in St. Louis, MO, but since traveling, moving, and trying new things seems to be in my DNA, who knows where we’ll go next? I like the saying, “Home is where you hang your hat!”

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered myself a writer! This is rather ironic since I’ve been writing for a long time. I worked for a publishing house for numerous years, both in-house and as a freelancer. When I joined the non-profit world, I quickly became a grant writer since its “write or die” when you work for a NPO.

However, “10 Things You Need to Know” is the first book that I’ve written so maybe that’s why I hesitate to call myself a writer. That sounds way more impressive than I feel! Perhaps after I write several more books I’ll feel like a “real” writer, or maybe not. Time will tell, won’t it?

Do you write full-time?

I am not a full-time writer, which is probably another reason why I don’t feel like a “real” writer. I’m the director of St. Louis Global Friends, a program that promotes cross-cultural friendships while providing resources for internationals. My writing is a part of that bigger picture.

However, I must say that I LOVED writing this book! Creating it sparked numerous other book ideas, including exploring quirky American traditions and explaining some of the hidden rules of our middle class (and, yes, there are a lot of them). Nevertheless, whatever I write will focus on my passion for befriending and empowering as many internationals as I can.

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration for “10 Things You Need to Know” came from the numerous struggles that I’ve witnessed international friends encounter over the years. Having moved so often myself, I know how hard it is to adjust and learn all of the things that you need to know.  Finding a good car, renting an apartment, or just buying groceries can be intimidating in a new setting. I wrote this book to make moving to the U.S. just a little easier for internationals.

Because the book cannot cover all of the questions a newcomer might ask, I also maintain a blog and weekly digest centered around cultural questions and learning. Readers can find both at www.shealavastbinder.info.

How did you come up with the title?

Creating a good title has never been my forte so when it came to naming this book I turned where everyone turns…to my Facebook friends! I created seven titles and subtitles then asked people to vote. I allowed voters to mix and match the titles and subtitles as they wished. I also gave them the freedom to suggest new titles.

The hilarious thing is that I didn’t go with the title for which the majority voted! The title with the most votes was, “Transition with Ease: A Guide for Internationals Moving to the U.S.” However, I had one international friend who made such a good argument for the current title that I went with her suggestion! It probably helped that having a number in the title is considered a plus (from the marketing side) and that my husband liked this title as well. Nonetheless, it was a close call!

What book are you reading right now?

Since I LOVE to read, I have several books in the works right now. I’m currently reviewing a fictional mystery for another author (who needs to remain unnamed). I’m reading “1000 Gifts” by Ann Voskamp for a book study that I joined this summer. I’m attempting to read “The Bhagavad Gita for Beginners,” although I’m finding it difficult (which is pretty sad since it IS for beginners). I occasionally pick up Craig Storti’s “Americans at Work: A Guide to the Can-Do people.” And I have Cecelia Ahern’s book, “Thanks for the Memories,” checked out from the library, desperately calling my name. (I’ve read many of her books this summer; she’s fabulous!)

I like to read almost anything clean, funny, romantic, or optimistic. I love mysteries, sci-fi, and fantasy—adult, youth, and juvenile. I also enjoy Christian theology and most things related to the faith of other people. I’m a true bookworm and have been for as long as I can remember!

Book Blurb

10 thingsWe all know moving is difficult. Packing. Saying farewell. Resettling in a new place. These are bittersweet moments for us all.

However, moving away from your homeland is beyond difficult. Relocating to another country is one of the hardest things a person can do. Learning another language. Connecting to a new community. Adapting to an unfamiliar culture. Putting down roots can often take years, but this book will guide you through the transition.

“10 Things You Need to Know” is designed to offer support during the in-between time, the interval between leaving your home country and when you’ve adjusted to a new life in the U.S. In this practical guide, you’ll find helpful information about the type of clothes you need, transportation options, visiting an American home, and more! All ten themes are inspired by the author’s personal experiences and those of her many International friends.

You don’t have to take this huge step alone. Let the knowledge of others remove unnecessary anxiety and make your move easier.

Welcome to the U.S.A.!

About the Author

shealaSheala has an M.A. in Religion with a concentration in World Religions. Over the years, she has worked as a college campus minister, Christian writer and editor, grant researcher and writer, media specialist, social services program coordinator, and non-profit director.

Currently, Sheala is the director of St. Louis (STL) Global Friends, a program of iFACE Ministries. Our mission is to support International friendship and cross-cultural exchange.

Sheala’s passion is to build bridges between people of different cultures, meet the practical needs of Internationals, and explore issues of faith and life in community with others.

Sheala enjoys reading, traveling, and relaxing with her family and friends. She lives in St Louis with her husband and son.

You can find out more about Sheala on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase 10 Things You Need to Know on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo store, I-Tunes, and Barnes & Noble.

E-book giveaways: are they worth it?

People love to get free stuff. Giving away something on your blog can be a great way to generate traffic.

When I picked this topic to write about, I was thinking about the people who do a promotion where they enter you into a drawing for a free book or e-book if you visit their site or make a comment on their blog. But when I first researched this topic, most of the sites were about offering your book for free. I have already covered that topic in – Are Free books worth it? (And I still think they are worth it if you have written a series or have multiple books published.)

What I wanted to talk about today is the “One lucky commenter will win a free copy of Summoned today!” type promotion. So is offering your book as a prize a good idea?

Well, one of the things about offering a giveaway is the prize has to appeal to your visitors. If people are on your blog to find out about your books, a book giveaway might be a great thing.

When I did a book blog tour, it was recommended to offer prizes – one for a lucky commenter and one for the blog that had the most comments. I gave away Amazon gift cards. As a new author, I felt that a gift card would be a bigger draw than a book by an unknown writer.

As I said before, people have to be motivated to enter your giveaway. However, if you give away something that most people enjoy – like an Amazon gift card – you can still attract booklovers to your site that you might not have otherwise reached.

If you do decide to a book or e-book giveaway…

  • Decide how the people need to enter such as following you on Twitter, liking your Facebook page, subscribing to your blog, or commenting on your post.
  • Promote your giveaway everywhere. If no one knows about your contest, they won’t be visiting your blog. Send out notices on your social media outlets, post it on your blog, and locate blogs and websites that operate solely to announce blog contests.

The best thing about doing a free e-book is that there is no shipping cost and the cost to you is really low. If you have never given away an e-book, see my post on gifting a copy of your e-book.

If you want more information on having a successful e-book giveaway check out this site (and be sure to click the link to read the first part of the series.)

Shopping for back to school supplies

The end of summer countdown has begun. So while we try to cram in those last fun summer activities, we are also preparing for school. It begins in just two weeks.

CIMG3294The week after the fourth of July, stores begin stocking their shelves with glue, pens, pencils, folders, notebooks, scissors, backpacks and other school supplies.

About two to three weeks after the supplies are put out I picked up all the kids’ supplies. I like getting the items early while they are still easy to find. My only complaint is that whoever makes out the school district’s supply list obviously has not been to a store lately.

They ask for a package of 200 sheets of notebook paper. Packs in our stores only come with 175. Guess we are just going to be 25 sheets short – or rather 50 sheets short since we need two packs.

They list an 8 oz. bottle of glue. First off, the big bottles are only 7.6 oz., and it is never the one on sale. The 4 oz. one is on sale. So, we buy two of those and be done with it. And don’t even get me started on why they ask for a 16 box of crayons when the 24 box is much easier to find and cheaper. (Yep, buying a box of 24 instead of 16.)

Nowadays, buying school supplies isn’t like it was when I was a kid. Back then you got to pick out your folders and notebooks with characters on them. My kids’ list specifies pretty much plain binders and certain color folders. The only real personalization comes in buying spiral notebooks, supply boxes or your backpack and lunch box.

We don’t always get the kids a new lunch box but every year they have gotten a new backpack. This year we added in the lunch boxes because the others had been used for over three years and looking a little worn.

A backpack for Lexie was easy. She wanted a Frozen themed backpack. I bought hers on Zuliliy, and it came with a matching lunch box. Jase, on the other hand, is harder. He is entering the third grade and all of sudden self-conscious about what his backpack looks like. He doesn’t like most of the character ones anyway. His last year’s bag was camouflage, and we may stick with that this year if we don’t find the perfect new one.

As for school clothes, the kids have drawers full of clothes that still fit. But we will still buy – or should I say my mom will buy – them a few new outfits for school. A new outfit for the first day or something nice for picture day is always welcome.

CIMG3298I think the only item the kids’ really need before school is shoes. Lexie is hard on her shoes, and Jase’s feet have grown. Jase always wants Star Wars shoes, so we took a trip to Stride Rite last week. (The center pair in the photo is from Payless for Lexie.)

So with supplies bought in July and clothes and shoes bought last week, we are all set for school. Just 14 more  days until it starts.

Today’s Featured Author: Adam Fitzroy

Joining me today on my blog is author Adam Fitzroy to discuss his latest book, The Bridge on the River Wye.

Interview

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

Quite a lot, I think.  Many of my characters have my slightly peculiar sense of humour, and a lot of them are self-reliant and/or calmly resigned to living in less than ideal conditions – these are definitely aspects of my own personality.  On the other hand I’ve managed so far not to inflict my unpleasant temper on any of them; I suspect that would be far too uncomfortable to write, as well as pretty unattractive to read.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

What I enjoy most is the research, particularly where it’s something I didn’t really know much about beforehand.  For example, with BETWEEN NOW AND THEN I had a wonderful time ‘driving’ around Northern Europe on Google Earth and inventing hotels and so forth.  For other books I researched paint-balling venues, how to make vinegar, and forgotten stations on the London Underground.  Research can often take a story off in unexpected directions, so in my opinion you can never really do too much!

The worst aspect of writing I think is deadline pressure.  Like many people I seem to need a proper schedule before I can really buckle down to working at a reasonable rate, but when the deadline is looming closer and the characters are taking their own sweet time to co-operate it can be very stressful indeed.  (There’s usually a certain amount of un-writerly language to be heard from me at such times!)

Please tell us about your current release.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE was published on 1 February 2014.  It’s the story of Rupert, a chef who’s just escaped from a bad relationship and returned to his native England from Australia.  Picking up the pieces of his previous life, he meets up again with Jake – a former market trader now trying to run his family’s organic smallholding in rural Wales under increasingly difficult circumstances.  Rupert gets caught up in trying to help Jake, and as their relationship progresses they also begin to unravel the mystery of exactly how Jake’s brother met his untimely death.

How did you come up with the title?

For most of its life the book had the working title OFF THE GRID, because there’s a lot in it about self-sufficiency and treading lightly on the land – and also because I wanted the characters to be living in a relatively isolated place without mains services or decent mobile phone reception.  However the area I chose was a bend in the River Wye, which forms part of the border between England and Wales – and since Jake’s brother appears to have died as a result of falling into the river from a derelict railway bridge it wasn’t long before I was jokingly referring to the book as THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE.  After that, a formal title change seemed pretty much a necessity – and, luckily, it also made for a far better cover design!

Which of your characters is your favourite?  Do you dislike any of them?

It often happens with me that a minor character will come along and turn out to be surprisingly interesting; in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE it was the police officer, Sharon Holt, who looked completely ordinary and unthreatening but was remarkably effective at her job; she was based on an off-duty police officer I encountered on a bus – another passenger was causing trouble, and she quietly got out of her seat, showed him her identification and told him to behave or she’d have to arrest him.  It was all done so beautifully and with such a minimum of fuss that I felt I had to put her in a story!

Of all my characters the one I like best, I think, is Callum in STAGE WHISPERS.  He’s a true golden boy, a talented young actor heading straight for the top, but at the same time he’s got a sort of Labrador puppy-like naivete and clumsiness which gets him into any number of awkward situations.  In fact he’s a little bit like Frank Churchill in Jane Austen’s EMMA …he makes a lot of poor decisions and disrupts the lives of everyone around him, yet somehow he still seems to emerge smelling of roses!  Reader response to Callum has been delightful – a lot of people say they ended up wanting to slap him and he really got on their nerves, but that he’s not a one-dimensional character; he learns lessons and gradually morphs into the sort of person anyone would be glad to have as a friend.

The one I dislike most is Thomas, in MAKE DO AND MEND, who was described by one reader as ‘a gigantic tool’.  Thomas hasn’t got a motive of any sort that isn’t ulterior; he’s completely self-centred – although he could also be described as ’emotionally damaged’ – and harbours resentment towards his older brother, Harry, because when Harry escaped the stifling burden of family expectations the weight all fell on Thomas’s shoulders.  Some people feel Thomas is a bit of a caricature, but I can only say that he’s very squarely based on someone I know; everything Thomas does or says is definitely something that person would do or say in the same circumstances.

Have you started your next project?  Can you share a little bit about your next book?

At the moment I’m working on a short story entitled A ROOTED SORROW which I’ll be submitting for Manifold Press’s A PRIDE OF POPPIES – an anthology of modern GLBTQI fiction of the Great War.  When I’ve finished that, I’ll be getting to grips with a book currently entitled FANDANGO in which a ghost-writer, sent to work with a notoriously secretive rock musician, learns more about the man than he could ever have imagined possible.  I also have a half-finished project entitled BOUNDARIES which I want to return to before the end of the year if I can; it’s about two teachers in a tough area of London in the 1960s who bond over trying to start a cricket team from scratch … and thereby incorporates two of my all-time favourite subjects, London and cricket!

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

Hmmm.  This is a tricky one – but thank goodness you didn’t specify living authors!  Top of my wish list would be John Le Carré and Jane Austen, both of whom I admire for their plotting.  Although Le Carré’s books take place on a world stage and Austen’s have a more intimate domestic setting there is a lot of common ground in the intricate way the strands of their plots interweave and overlap – and in the logical development of action and consequence.  Their world-building also has a similar richness; you know there are other people just over the edges of the page into whose lives the story may only give a single glance, but their existence makes the whole structure feel much more solid and secure.  If you stepped into an Austen or a Le Carré book, you could travel a very long way before you ran up against the limits of their imagination!

This breadth of vision is something I would very much like to be able to achieve myself, and it’s definitely what I’ve been aiming for with my own writing.  After all, if you’re going to emulate anyone, it should surely be someone at the top of their chosen profession – and there’s no shame attached to aiming high and falling short; it’s failing to aim at all that’s the real pity.

Tell us a random fact about you that we would never have guessed.

I adore cheesy Hong Kong action movies from the 1980s/1990s, preferably with their original soundtracks and really bad subtitles.  If I’m having a rough day, there’s nothing that cheers me up quite so much as watching Andy Lau, Chow Yun-Fat or Ti Lung outwitting bad guys.  They haven’t managed to find their way into any of my books just yet, but I have no doubt they will at some point in the future!

Book Description

Bridge OnChef Rupert’s picking up the pieces after a catastrophe; he’s lost his love, his business, his home and even his dog, and he’s trying to make a fresh start. Linking up with Jake almost on a whim he soon finds himself involved in a strange tale of organic farming, migrant workers, greed and even possibly murder – in the midst of which the attraction is still there, but Rupert’s not sure whether the feeling’s mutual or if he’s ready to try for a proper relationship again just yet …

About the Author

Imaginist and purveyor of tall tales Adam Fitzroy is a UK resident who has been successfully spinning male-male romances either part-time or full-time since the 1980s, and has a particular interest in examining the conflicting demands of love and duty.

You may find out more about him on his blog or follow him on Twitter.

You can purchase The Bridge on the River Wye on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Smashwords or his publisher’s website.

 

Killing off your characters

No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters.

This is challenging for some writers who grow attached to their characters. It can be equally hard for the readers when a favorite character dies.

I guess before I delve into this topic, I should divide these characters into two categories – minor characters and main characters.

It is quite easy to kill off minor character. Many times you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die.

Criminal Justice uid 179165I write fantasy and in my stories are battles. It would be odd if no one ever died or was at least wounded. In the first book of my trilogy, Summoned, no one died until the battle at the end of the book.  As the trilogy progressed I got much better at willingly killing off some characters but they were all minor characters. Now some of them were not bit players but they were not major players. And none of them were written into the book just to die.

Adding a character just to knock him off always reminds me of a scene from the movie Galaxy Quest. One of the characters, Guy, is sure he is going to die five minutes into their mission as he isn’t important enough to have a last name.

Now killing off a minor character might be easy but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. In my trilogy, no major character on the protagonist’s side died. But in my current WIP there are quite a few battles. It would be unrealistic that only extras or minor characters would die. So I decided a main character needed to die.

Now you shouldn’t kill someone just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character.  Take for example if a husband dies. His wife may have to step up in both his business and at home. Her character can go in a whole other direction than if her husband were still alive.

But don’t kill off a main character on a whim. You need to think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters.

If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.

So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.