Taking Down Crime, Down South: An Interview with Lisa Harris

Ashley: I’m joined by Lisa Harris author of  the Southern Crime series. If you’re a fan of romance, but need that twist of suspense to keep the pages turning, then Hidden Agenda is the right read this spring. Lisa Harris continues her exciting Southern Crime series with the third installment Hidden Agenda. I had some time to sit down and ask Lisa some questions about her new book and about her as an author. Lisa how did you come up with the idea for this series?

Lisa: Like with most of my books, they start with a character. In this series, that was Avery North. At first, all I knew is that she was a single mom and a police officer, but I knew I had to tell her story. A brainstorming session with a group of authors helped me further develop the series that eventually came to revolve around the Hunts, a family from Atlanta who has served their country through the armed service or police department for generations. Despite conflicts that arise between them, they are very close knit, and when it comes to fighting injustice, they stick together and do whatever it takes to stop that injustice.

Ashley: Who are Hidden Agenda’s main characters?

Lisa: I really had fun writing Michael and Olivia’s story in Hidden Agenda, primarily because their stories were different from anything I’ve written. They are two people who come from opposite worlds who end up having to work together to stay alive. Michael’s the son of a former Police Captain and an undercover detective. Olivia’s father is part of a South American drug cartel and wants Michael dead. But despite their mistakes, they both are after the same thing. The truth.

Ashley: I promise these two characters’ stories deliver on the promises of romance and suspense. Lisa, in three sentences what is this book about?

Lisa: For the past eight months, Michael’s family has thought he was dead, but the undercover assignment he’s been working on has just been blown. With a contracted hit on his life by the cartel and not knowing who he can trust in the police department, Michael finds himself on the run from both the cartel and the law with the daughter of the man who wants him dead, Olivia Hamilton.

Ashley: Lisa what are the Biblical threads woven into the series?

Lisa: Overall, I’d say it’s a call for us to realize our own weaknesses and fears and to in turn learn to rely only on God’s strength. Each main character in this series is pulled out of his or her comfort zone to a place where they have to turn to God.

Ashley: Do you prefer to outline the entire series, or do you write as you go letting the characters take control of the story?

Lisa: A little of both, but for the most part I spent a lot of time staring at a pile of sticky notes in order to bring the story together. ☺ The plots of each individual story, and then the three books together as well, are woven pretty tightly, so that forced me to stay organized. But there were also a few surprises along the way as some of the characters took over!

Lisa: I love it when the characters take over. Heavily outlined books that don’t give into the characters’ personalities can seem predictable. I can imagine your characters’ surprise moments only increased the suspense for the books. Did you do any certain research for your books?

Lisa: I spent hours doing research on everything from the setting (Atlanta and the Georgia coastline), to drug trafficking, to bomb squads. I love the research part of writing and too often find myself having to stop or I’d never get any books written!

Ashley: As a reader I appreciate a well researched book. Can you give us a hint at your next project?

Lisa: I just turned in book one of a brand new series to my editor at Revell. It’s about a newly established missing person task force, and this first one is set around the Smoky Mountains. Like the last series, this one took tons of research—everything from rappelling, to poaching, to mobile command posts—but I really enjoyed that part of the writing.

Ashley: Sounds like you invest a lot of time in writing. Are you a full time writer?

Lisa: No. For the first time in seven years, though my role as ‘mom’ has changed. I’ve been a homeschooling mom until just a few months ago when the last of my kids went off to attend a missionary boarding school. It’s been an adjustment, but thankful, I have plenty to keep myself busy with as I’m still writing, am involved in our women’s ministry, and run a non-profit called The ECHO Project that helps meet people’s physical needs where we live here in Mozambique.

Ashley: Thanks for sharing about Hidden Agenda all the way from Mozambique and thanks for serving for the Kingdom there. You can learn more about Lisa Harris from her website lisaharriswrites.com, like her on her facebook and keep up with her tweets @heartofafrica

 

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Family Communication: An Interview with Denise Hunter

Ashley: Denise Hunter is mid way through her latest book series. Centered around the family and explores the unique love stories behind the 4 grown kids of the McKinley family. Denise thanks for joining us to talk about your new release The Wishing Spring. Tell us how you came up with the idea for The Chapel Springs Series?

Denise: The TV show Parenthood convinced me it was time for a family series. In an age where there are so many ways to communicate, we’re so disconnected! I wanted to write about a close-knit family in a small town setting. Family ties come with the good and the bad, and the McKinleys share in all of it: Friday night BBQs, rumors, backyard ballgames, heart-to-hearts, secrets, laughter and tears. Each book is a stand-alone that feature the love story of 1 of the 4 grown McKinley kids. Incidentally, this is my first series set in my home state of Indiana.

Ashley: Very fun, I have enjoyed the show Parenthood myself. It’s been a nice break from the reality TV shows and crime dramas that dominate the screen. The McKinleys sound like an interesting family. Tell us about the main characters? And be sure to give us one fact about each that no one else knows.

Denise: Oh, how fun. I love secrets. :) The heroine PJ was a fun challenge in that she’s my polar opposite. She’s chatty and outgoing and over-the-top optimistic. She’s newly graduated with a culinary degree (I hate to cook!), and she dreams of opening her own restaurant. She’s dealing with the secret shame of having dated a man she later discovered was married.

The hero Cole is steady and quiet (and a little annoyed by PJ’s tendency to run off at the mouth). He grew up as a foster kid and dreams of opening a transition house for kids aging out of the system. Cole blames himself for the death of his family.

Ashley:  Sounds like you’ve developed some engaging characters, that will keep this book interesting. Tantalize us with the plot.

Denise: When an eccentric resident offers her ancestral home to the applicant with the best plan for it, PJ McKinley thinks her dream of owning a B&B/restaurant is about to be realized. But contractor Cole Evans has plans of his own. When the elderly woman can’t decide which plan is better, she proposes a tie-breaker–the competitors will share the house for a year to show what their ideas are made of.

Ashley: Unique! My husband and I love a good stay in a bed and breakfast and have always wanted to own a coffee shop. I can’t wait to read and learn which idea wins out. Would you mind giving us a hint at the next book?

Denise: Married ’til Monday is the last book in the Chapel Springs series and my first reconciliation story–it really packs an emotional punch. It features the oldest McKinley sibling Ryan who’s attempting to win back his ex-wife and soul mate, Abby.

Ashley: Wow, sounds like you have saved a powerful story to close the series. Is this your favorite genre to write for?

Denise: Contemporary romance is my sweet spot. I love love and all things associated with it, and nothing makes me happier than bringing my readers along on the emotional journey of falling in love. My goal is that happily-ever-after sigh at the end of each story.

Ashley: I too enjoy at that sigh at the end of a good book. You mentioned Parenthood earlier, but where else do your ideas come from?

Denise: Oh, they come from all over the place. Music lyrics, Sunday sermons, newspaper articles, Dr. Phil. LOL Not kidding. I have a thick file full of story ideas. I’ll never have time to write them all.

Ashley: Sounds like my husband. If he has an idea he has to quickly text it to himself or email it. He’s got a notepad next to the bed. With all those ideas needing to be written, I’m sure your schedule is busy. How long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?

Denise: I’m on a 6-month release schedule now, so no book takes me longer than that. Some books are easier than others. I think my record is 4 months, but it usually doesn’t go that smoothly!

Ashley: Thanks Denise for taking the time to discuss your latest book. You can read The Wishing Season, while Denise is busy writing Married ‘till Monday and drinking a hot mug of Toomer’s Costa Rican coffee.

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Angels Around Us: An Interview with Jerel Law

I could not put down the Son of Angels series. From the dynamic character development to the intertwining of spiritual themes into a world that each of us lives in, Jerel captured my attention and didn’t let go. Communicating spiritual themes to kid through a story of fiction, can be a challenge in itself, but Jerel did a fantastic job maintain the biblical truths while creating an exciting adventure. With four books out, Spirit Fighter, Fire Prophet, Shadow Chaser, and Truth Runner, readers can really dig into the world and befriend the characters.

After reading these four books, I really wanted to know more about the series, so I asked Jerel for an interview. Take a look and let me know if you have more questions you’d like to ask.

Brock: What is your inspiration for writing this series?

Jerel: I find loads of inspiration for my writing in my three quirky, funny kids! They love to read adventure and fantasy books, and I wanted to give them something that would put their very real faith in a world of action and adventure. Combine that with my own curiosity about some of the more mysterious passages in the Bible (who in the world are these Nephilim anyway?) and the Jonah Stone: Son of Angels series was born.

Brock: What do you hope kids take away from the series?

Jerel: As a writer, my challenge is to make each book nearly impossible to put down! Beyond that, though, if I could take the question to a deeper place, I want kids to find themselves in the book. I want them to see themselves as Jonah, Eliza, or Jeremiah, figuring out how to make sense of their faith in God in the middle of sometimes-dire circumstances. I hope they’ll come away with a sense of how awesome God is and how much of an impact their faith can have in our world.

Brock: Why did you choose to write the fourth books topic about Jonah running from God?

Jerel: Jonah and his brother and sister go through something very tragic at the end of Shadow Chaser, book 3. They experience a loss that no one should have to face, but many do. And like a lot of people, he chooses to deal with the crushing pain of the loss by running away. I tried to carry through the theme of running from God that we get in the biblical Jonah, and then how God gently – but firmly – helps him understand a huge truth – you just can’t outrun God!

Brock: What do you want families to take from this series?

Jerel: A lot of families in novels these days are extremely dysfunctional – and let’s be honest, sometimes that makes for interesting reading. But I wanted to show a fictional family that, yes, has their issues, but is also encouraging one another in their own ways to follow God – no matter what. I hope that families who enjoy the series together will be encouraged to help each other figure out the ways they can serve God best with their lives.

Brock: Expound on the spiritual theme?

Jerel: I find myself writing without a certain theme in mind, but inevitably, when I look back at the books, themes have arisen. I’d say some of the big themes are the reality of the spiritual battle all around us; the fact that we each have gifts and abilities given to us by God that we can use for good; and that everybody, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, has the power to change the world.

Brock: Is it fun to write a spiritual fantasy adventure?

Jerel: I love writing in this genre! There are so many possibilities with each page. I love the challenge of communicating spiritual truth in a way that kids can grab ahold of. I think that will always be something I am drawn to.

Brock: Is it difficult to be accurate to Biblical perspective/facts when writing fiction fantasy?

Jerel: Yes! I’m so thankful for a great editor at Thomas Nelson, who helps me stay as close as possible to biblical truths. Part of the fun is communicating these bedrock truths in fresh, creative ways. But it’s critical that we make sure we land with two feet on a biblical perspective.

Brock: Are there more books planned?

Jerel: We are through book 4 right now…I have as many as 8 planned for the series! I can’t wait to unveil them at some point in the near future.

Brock: Jerel thanks for the interview and I certainly am looking forward to more books in the series, or in a new series. God has blessed your writing.

 

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A Series KickStarted: An Interview with Andrew Peterson

I’m excited to have an accomplished music artist and author on our column this month. Many of you may already listen to his music, or at least heard his name mentioned in last month’s article titled; KickStarting a Book to Life. So even if you’re sitting in a public place like a coffee shop while reading this, go ahead and give a warm clapping welcome to Andrew Peterson.

Brock: So Andrew we know you first as a music artist. What made you want to write the Wingfeather Saga and how did the idea come about?

Andrew: I’ve loved these kinds of stories since I was a kid. My reading interests are pretty broad—which is to say that I don’t necessarily love fantasy as a genre, but I love good books, good stories, whatever genre they happen to be. That said, fantasy has a certain kind of power that drew me in when I was young, and I still get butterflies in my stomach whenever I walk through the young adult or fantasy/sci-fi section of a bookstore. So when I finally decided to stop talking about someday writing a book and to actually write one, there was never any doubt that I wanted to try and tell a big, sweeping adventure story.

Brock: That you did, with four books and a creaturepedia in the series, you’ve created and immersive world with wonderfully engaging characters. Who are the main characters in the series and what makes them unique?

Andrew: The three main characters are siblings named Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli. Janner (12) is the eldest, he’s a bookworm, and he wants more than anything else to be at peace in the world along with his family. His little brother Kalmar (11) is the artist, and he has a tendency to get into trouble because he’s impulsive. Leeli (9) is the musician. She walks with a crutch because of an injury to her foot when she was a baby, but that doesn’t keep her from being fiercely independent.

Brock: Might you give us one fact about each of the characters that no one else knows, even your most avid fans?

Andrew: Facts that no one knows: Janner likes apples, but he likes cheese more. Kalmar once stole a berry bun from the Dragon Day festival and felt so bad about it the next day that he bought three berry buns from another stand and slipped them onto the platter of the first baker. Then he decided three buns was too much penance and ate one. Leeli always thought Faddy, the elder of the Blaggus boys, was very handsome, and before she met Thorn O’Sally (of the Green Hollows), she assumed she would marry him, even though she hated the idea of her name being Leeli Blaggus.

Brock: Ha, ha, you put a grand smile on my face. And this is the sort of wit and humor I’ve come to expect and enjoyed while reading the series. In three sentences what is Warden and the Wolf King about?

Andrew: Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli Wingfeather—Throne Warden, High King, and Song Maiden of the Shining Isle—are children, but find themselves nonetheless at the center of a great battle for the freedom of the world from a monster named Gnag. While Leeli, using her music as a weapon, leads the warriors of the Green Hollows in the battle against the Fangs of Dang, Janner and Kalmar attempt to sneak through Gnag’s dungeons to face him alone. Ultimately, though, the story is about Janner’s struggle to learn what it means to be a hero.

Brock: That’s a theme we can all relate to in our own lives in our own situations. What does it take to be a hero in the plan God has for us? Though you have said the series has come to a conclusion, any chance of more books? Your fans really got behind you on KickStarter, I am sure they would again.

Andrew: Yes! I can’t wait to write my next story. I’ve started one, but music is a big part of what I do so I have to focus on the next album right now. We’re putting together a collection from the last 15 years of music, called After All These Years, then I’ll start writing songs for a new record next year. After that I’ll be able to dedicate more time to a book. I don’t know exactly what it will be yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty of danger, adventure, and strangeness. I can’t wait.

Brock: And neither can I. Did you outline the entire series, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?

Andrew: There was a sort of outline, but it was mostly in my head. I had a general sense of where the story was going, and when I got stuck I would write quick chapter synopses in order to get the thing moving again. But that thing you hear about, where the characters start doing their own thing? That totally happened, weird as it sounds. More than just the characters, though, the story seemed to suggest itself to me. Unless you’ve written something like this it’s hard to understand, but there’s this real sense that the story “wants” to be told in a certain way, that it’s better at times than the author could have planned.

Brock: That I understand 100%. I’ve often tried to explain this to students when I speak, or in interviews. It’s truly amazing how one’s characters can lead you down a path and create a story that comes so alive. I’m a card carrying, “You might think I’m nuts, but my characters speak to me,” author myself. You noted on your website that you had to combine a planned book 4 and 5 together. Was that hard? Did you leave anything out, or is it just a thicker book?

Andrew: No, I didn’t really combine two books. Back in the day, after I finished book one, I planned out the story as well as I could, and it divided neatly into five books. But halfway through book two I realized that things were happening faster than I intended, and four books made more sense. The reason this one is twice as long as the others is because there were so many loose ends to be tied up. Remember at the end of The Lord of the Rings when the ring of power is finally destroyed and there’s still two hundred pages left? The first time I read it I wondered what on earth still had to happen. But it turns out, those last two hundred pages are my favorite in the whole book. Even once the bad guy is defeated, there’s this massive mess to be cleaned up, I realized, and the story just couldn’t end there. Not only that, there were lots of questions and characters that I wrote into the story early on and kind of forgot about. Then I’d get emails from readers saying, “I can’t wait till you bring So-and-so back!” Oops. So I had to make sure and bring the whole saga’s story arc to a finish—not just the fourth book’s. It was much more difficult than with the other books.

Brock: You and I need to exchange notes more often. I’m in the edits for book 4 in The Quest for Truth right now, and my editors biggest concern was the dissapearance of some characters that readers have come to love. Alas it makes editing a 100k word manuscript very interesting when you have to integrate new storylines in to the book after it’s written. And now the fourth book Warden and the Wolf King has been out for a little while,what has been the reaction to the final installment from your readers?

Andrew: To be honest, the reaction has been overwhelming. After ten years of work, I desperately hoped the readers would resonate with the ending. I’ve gotten several emails that were so gratifying I actually cried while reading them. More than just the thrill of knowing that I’d written a book (which is a thrill that fades in about five seconds), I wanted to tell a story that would really get into peoples’ hearts. I hoped that they would close the final book and really feel something. It’s not like everyone is going to have that reaction, but I’ve gotten enough feedback to know that at least a few people have, and I thank God for that. I really wanted the story to still be alive and kicking in the readers’ hearts long after they finished the story, which is why it ends with a question mark.

Brock: Probably the most humbling and honoring thing of writing, is finding that someone reading it has been truly impacted. How does your music complement your writing?

Andrew:  It gives me something else to do while I’m working on a story. I have a songwriter friend who took up painting a few years ago, and he says it’s been a tremendous help—not just to his songwriting, but to his soul. There’s a mysterious connection between one artistic discipline (like painting) and another (like songwriting), in which one improves the other. Back when I first started the Wingfeather Saga I drew a toothy cow (the most horrifying of creatures in Skree!) and was surprised that my drawing was better than it had been in high school when I was building a portfolio for art college (which I never applied for). For some reason, ten years as a songwriter had made me better at drawing, though I hadn’t practiced my technique a bit. So even though I can’t explain it, I suspect studying songwriting may help my storytelling, and storytelling may help my drawing, and drawing may help my gardening, or whatever. So even though I’m sometimes frustrated that I’m supposed to be writing a book when I really want to be working on music, or that I’m working on an album when I wish I could dig into another story, if I was only working on one or the other I’d likely be bored out of my skull.

Brock: With that said, has any of your writing (brainstorming) influenced new song ideas, or song writing?

Andrew: Nothing specific comes to mind, but there’s a common theme that seems to run through both the books and the music—an ache for home, a hope that our dissatisfaction with life and the brokenness of things points to a day when there will be justice and peace and ultimate healing.

Brock: How did you balance your music touring with writing the novel?

Andrew: This may sound like a trite answer, but it’s true: day by day. My family and I are used to flying by the seat of our pants, making it up as we go, and then looking back at the end of the year without knowing how we pulled it off. I just tried to write whenever I could, and I toured whenever I had to. Meanwhile, Jamie and the kids are the most encouraging, kindhearted people I know.

Brock: It’s so key to have a supportive and loving family. I’m blessed by my wife and three girls. What do you hope kids take away from Wingfeather Saga?

Andrew: First, I hope they simply love the story. As I was writing the book I was thinking, “What needs to happen that will make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading?” That’s the first thing. Beyond that, I hope they’re able to believe that even though the world is at times a terribly dark place, there’s a power and a light that dwarfs the darkness. The bad guys are scary but the good guys win. I hope they feel some kind of longing. I hope they’re ultimately comforted and reminded that they’re not alone. That’s what my favorite books did for me when I was young.

Brock: Was that when you realized you wanted to write a novel?

Andrew: When I was in the eighth grade and I read my first Dragonlance book. I tried writing a lot back then, before music took over.

Brock: Well many of our thankful for your music, and we’re glad you got to put your hand to writing as well. In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?

Andrew: My faith informs every aspect of the creative process. It’s no exaggeration to say that before I turned whatever gifts I had over to Christ, I had nothing to write about. Every song was a lame girlfriend song, every story attempt was hollow. But once I began to truly believe that the stories I grew up reading in church were true stories—true in both senses of the word—the world seemed to be brimming with beauty and story and song. If I believe that God is the source of everything good and true and beautiful, then I should pay close attention to the way He tells stories. I should pay attention to the motifs and symbols and metaphors He uses. I should approach the writing of a song or a story with a sense of humility and wonder, because every creative act is possible only because of the Creator. That’s what Tolkien was doing with The Lord of the Rings—he was telling a eucatastrophe story (which is the opposite of a catastrophe) because he recognized that kind of storytelling being employed by God in all of creation and even the Incarnation itself.

Brock: I often get excited when I think about how we (Christian Artists/Authors/Creatives) have a real advantage over non-Christians, we’ve got a direct link to the Creator of everything. And if we truly seek His will and follow His lead, amazing things can happen. We’re simply the vessel to deliver his message! What was your favorite book as a teen?

Andrew: I keep bringing it up, but nothing really comes close: The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t read it until I was about 18, and up to then I’d read a lot of Poe, C. S. Lewis, Arthur Conan Doyle, along with a bunch of terribly written but terribly enjoyable fantasy novels. I loved the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander (which are enjoyable and well-written).

Brock: Now some fun questions, less related to the writing and music. What’s your favorite place to vacation?

Andrew: Castlerock, Northern Ireland. We went as a family on a tour/sabbatical last year, and fell in love. If I ever disappear, that should be the first place the authorities look.

Brock: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

Andrew: I love the beginning of Colossians, about the preeminence of Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” and it goes on to describe Jesus as the center of everything. I read it at the end of every Christmas concert, and it always gives me chills—especially in light of having just sung about him being a little infant.

Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?

Andrew: I usually write in a public place, whether Starbucks or a library or outside in a park. I like the feeling of being present in an active place but slightly detached from it, observing from a corner. Then I put on headphones and listen to movie soundtracks. For the first book it was Thomas Newman’s amazing score for A Series of Unfortunate Events. With this last book I mainly listened to Michael Giacchino’s Super 8. It’s creepy and intense at times, but when it’s tender and beautiful it evokes a lot of my childhood feeling of adventure—or the potential of it. I even made playlists for “Creepy” scenes, “Tense” scenes, and “Warm” scenes, and put them on repeat until the chapter was finished. Any music with words gets me thinking about lyrics, so it has to be instrumental.

Brock: Again we must exchange notes sometime. I do the same thing with certain playlists to invoke the mood of the scene or action sequence, and for me as well lyrics find their way into the text of my book if I am not careful. Lastly, Coke or Pepsi?

Andrew: Neither. It’s either coffee or water for me these days.

Brock: Thanks Andrew so much for the glimpse into your writing of both books and music. We look forward to reading great new books from you in the future.

 

#HiddenWolfKing 

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Four Slurpy Stories to Enjoy: Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack

Frog and Fly

 

 

Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack is a silly book that will have your kids ROTFL (Rolling on the floor laughing) or at the very least make them LOL (if you don’t know that one then…) Frog and Fly’s. A set of simple comics between Fly and Frog that end with Fly getting slurped, however kids will not be sad for fly because he returns in each story. I especially enjoyed Story 3 of the book.

An Interview with Jeff Mack:

Brock: Jeff thanks again for joining us for an interview about your books. How many Frog and Fly comics are there?

Jeff: There are six stories. I originally wrote them as two books with three comics in each. Then I combined them to make a single hardcover book with six chapters. Later, when Frog and Fly was re-published as a shorter board book, two of the stories had to be edited out.

Brock: Is the Fly the same fly each time?

Jeff: Yes. Frog and Fly live in a parallel cartoon universe where animals speak and instantly recover from any nasty injuries. It’s like the old Road Runner cartoons where the coyote falls off a cliff over and over again. It’s totally impossible. I guess that’s one of the reasons I find those cartoons so funny.

Brock: That’s what I was imagining. What is your favorite Frog and Fly story?
Jeff: My personal favorite is the one where Frog and Fly have a contest to see who is faster. Frog keeps losing and crashing into stuff. Then he tricks Fly into saying that he’s yummier. Fly wins again. And, at the same time, he loses. It has a nice logic to it, but it’s still totally absurd.
I also like the final story in the hardcover version. It features a bear, and it has a very twisted ending.
Brock: What advice would you give to a kid who wants to create short comics?
Jeff: While you’re writing the comics, don’t worry about making them short.  Just write what you love. Make the story as long as you want. Then put it away in a drawer, and do something else for a few days. Later, when you read it again, you’ll have an easier time identifying which parts make the comic fun and interesting and which parts just make it long. Then you can cut out the less interesting parts and make it shorter.
Also, with comics, it helps to figure out if you are someone who naturally thinks about the words first or someone who thinks about the pictures. When I write a story, I usually have ideas for the pictures before I know what the words will be. So I start my comics by sketching the characters in different scenes. Then I go back and write the dialogue afterward. For other people, their ideas may take the form of words, so they write lines of speech first. Then they draw pictures to illustrate the dialogue. There are many ways to make comics. My advice is to experiment and discover which way works most naturally for you.

Brock: Thanks Jeff for taking the time to gives us more insight into Frog and Fly.

Order Here

From the Publisher:

Silly comic-strip style stories and two comical combatants make for one laugh-out-loud board book!

Frog and Fly are constant companions. There is only one problem . . . Frog thinks Fly is delicious! This leads to a never-ending battle of wits with laugh-out- loud consequences. Told in short comic-strip style chapters, Frog and Fly will delight kids and leave them begging for yet another slurpy story.

Praise for Frog and Fly:
“Mack’s winning combination of simple text, uncluttered multimedia art, and comic-book-style panels make for a great beginning-reader format as well as a good choice for. . . read-alouds. Many children are going to find this hilarious; it’s reminiscent of both joke books and old Saturday-morning cartoons, when coyotes fell off cliffs and bounced right back, and it never, ever got old.” —Booklist

“This expressive and personable duo provides a spot-on brand of joke book-style humor that children will find plenty entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

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KickStarting a Book to Life: The reader and the author win together

Sages of Darkness - Kickstarter Header

Publishing is a growing and ever changing industry. As recently stated in an Amazon letter to its authors, paperbacks revolutionized the book industry many moons ago, and then came the eBook revolution, and most recently the self-publishing craze. I believe the rise of crowdfunded publishing is the latest improvement to the industry.

“What in the world is crowdfunding?” you ask. The quick oversimplified answer is, “You make it happen.” You choose a project you like and you help fund it. The result; exciting new projects that might never see the light of day otherwise, come to life and provide big payoffs to those who support the project. Crowdfunding brings you the reader and the author into a team like never before.

There are many websites that can be used to raise money for causes, events, organizations, and products. But one in particular has gained a lot of attention in recent years, its called KickStarter, and to me it stands above the rest. Creators post projects with numerous support levels that are directly related to a reward. For example in my KickStarter someone can fund $35 and receive eBooks of all three titles in Sages of Darkness, cool digital art from the series, and they become immortalized with their name in the acknowledgements of each book. Or they can fund $4000 (Yes that says 4 with three zeros) and I’ll write a book about them as the main character (Plus they get a whole lot of other cool stuff.) You see in crowdfunding, the author or artist, needs to motivate you the reader to fund the project, so we dangle all sorts of ‘once in a lifetime exclusive opportunities’ in front of you, as well as the simple ‘just get the product’ rewards. The key is to have something for everyone and to dazzle those who want to get something very unique in return.

What crowdfunding is doing, is allowing projects to release that might otherwise get rejected by a publisher or label because they are too costly or the audience isn’t large enough. But when an author goes right to their fans and their friends, amazing things can happen quickly. For example Andrew Peterson launched a KickStarter to finish his Wingfeather Saga last year after WaterBrook ended the series after just two of the five books were released. Andrew set his goal at $14,000 to finish a fourth and final book and ended up raising $118,188. He blew everyone, including his own expectations away, and set a record on KickStarter.

I asked Andrew why he chose KickStarter as the platform to fund the book and he said, “When it came to publishing this last book I thought it would be a fun opportunity to raise some extra funds in order to go out with a bang. That meant a fancy hardback edition, tons of illustrations, a fold-out map, an audiobook, that sort of thing.” And ‘out with a bang’ they went, with nearly $120,000 raised, they were able to add a whole lot of awesome stretch goals (more on those later.)

Andrew agrees, KickStarter is about the reader and the author co-creating the project. “This Kickstarter thing gave the readers a chance to express their encouragement and to interact with me as the author. It was wonderful,” adds Andrew. And Andrew has worked hard to show his gratitude and fulfill his commitment to the backers. He explains, “One of the perks for backers was a signed set of all four books; that meant I had to sign about 6,000 books in two weeks.” Still he’ll tell you it was well worth it, “I’ve cried quite a few happy tears in the last month.”

Another KickStarter just successfully concluded for Enclave Publishing (Formerly Marcher Lord Press) by Steve Laube. Enclave turned to KickStarter with very specific goals in mind, “We needed a way to allow our readers to pre-order the new books since, at the time, the online outlets did not provide that service. Ironically the last day of the campaign a major online retailer announced they are now offering a pre-order service! In addition we were looking for a way to announce the new books and create anticipation. Kickstarter seemed to be a good method for that type of marketing.” I myself backed this project to see what it was all about and for $20 landed ebooks of their five latest releases, plus helped get more Christian fiction into the marketplace. Crowdfunding brings on the euphoric, “We did it!” feeling and that’s something most of us can appreciate, like the end of an awesome book.

The great news is, if you go to fund a project, but they don’t reach their goal, no money exchanges hands. You keep your funds, and the author goes on to find another way. But when a project meets its goal, and begins to exceed those goals, the creator usually starts to add stretch goals. These promise more perks for the supporters when they reach higher funding levels. For example, though my goal is just $6,000, I have a stretch goal at $20,000 that says, “I will give a digital download of the audiobook for HowlSage at no extra cost.” Andrew had a stretch goal to write an original song for the series at $110,000 which his supporters reached, and he did indeed write.

I myself faced a similar situation as Andrew with a trilogy I was writing. The first book HowlSage was released, but the publisher ended their fiction imprint and the second and third book never saw the light of day. Yet I get emails, comments on my website, and am always asked at book signings, “Where is BlizzardSage.” After hearing of Andrew Peterson’s success as well as a $55,000 Potato Salad KickStarter, I decided to give it a try.

The awesome news is that the Sages of Darkness KickStarter was successfully funded at $5,120 and so all three books; HowlSage, BlizzardSage, and CrimsonSage will be released. I’m honored and delighted to finally be able to complete the original trilogy. I also look forward to launching another KickStarter in the near future.

EYES Graphic for Sages of Darkness

 

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Elephants and the Moon: A Review of Meet Me at the Moon by Gianna Marino

Meet Me at the Moon

Meet me at the Moon by Gianna Marino is full of beautiful and captivating illustrations. The scenes of the animals on the African savvanah will steal your child’s imagination and get them dreaming of traveling there one day. My girls enjoyed reading this book and looking at the colorful illustrations of animals. There might be a few moments where your children are concerned for Little One while his MaMa is gone, but be assured that they are reunited under the moon as promised. Wrap your own arm (like an elephant’s trunk) around your child in an elephant hug as MaMa and Little One reunite.

From the Publisher:

A heartwarming love story between mother and child. When Mama Elephant must leave Little One to ask the skies for rain, the young elephant is worried. Who will care for Little One? Who will sing Mama’s special songs? When will she return? Mama is very reassuring – Little One will hear her song on the wind and feel her love in the warmth of the sun, and, after the rains come, they will meet where the moon sets. Exquisitely illustrated and supremely comforting, Meet Me at the Moon is a mother and child love story to be enjoyed again and again.

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PRAISE FOR MEET ME AT THE MOON:

“Marino’s breathtaking panoramas make an already powerful story sing.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The textured mixed-media art paired with the flowing text elevates this title above most missing-mama fare … Radiating warmth and comfort, this distinguished title strikes home.” —Kirkus, starred review

“Heartfelt and sincere, yet never cloying, this will work well one on one or in story hours.” —Booklist

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Quick and Slick: A Review of Smick by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Juana Medina

Smick

A quick easy read with rhyming like Dr. Suess. Doreen Cronin and Juana Medina’s Smick will make your kids smile as they flip the pages and memorize the easy text of this picture book. “Smick is a quick slick read.”

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From the Publisher:

Smick is a BIG dog.

Sit, Smick.

Chick is a little chick.

Stay, Smick!

So what happens when they see a stick?

Written by New York Times bestselling author Doreen Cronin and ingeniously illustrated by newcomer Juana Medina, Smick is a story of unlikely friendship, a sense of adventure, and a lot of wonderful wordplay.

PRAISE FOR SMICK:

“Maximum fun.” —Booklist, starred review

“Less is definitely more in this fetching, fun-filled mix of dog, chick and stick, guaranteed to tickle all.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

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Across the Ocean They Sailed: A Review of Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Three Bears in a Boat

 

One of the most wonderfully illustrated books I’ve read to my kids. Three Bears in a Boat is a fantastic story with a great message set amid the gorgeous backdrop of the sea. The story and images will capture your kids’ attention and imaginations as you read to them. They’ll want to explore the island and rise along the boat with Dash, Theo, and Charlie. When the three bears break their mom’s favorite blue sea shell they try to cover their tracks, but at the end of their journey, though they find a shell, the bears decide to tell their mama the truth. The forgiveness of their mama brings the story to a wonderful ending, but adds the simplest of consequences when the three bears get no desert. This consequence though is one many children will understand.

 

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From the publisher:

From the co-creator of the New York Times bestselling Ladybug Girl series comes a high seas adventure inspired by the classic picture books Little Bear and Where the Wild Things Are. Three bear siblings break their mother’s favorite blue seashell, and rather than tell her, they decide to set out in their sailboat to find her a new one. On their quest they encounter salty sailors, strange new islands, huge whales, and vast seas but no blue seashells. When a treacherous storm suddenly blows in, the three bears find themselves tossed about in their little boat, far from Mama. What will become of their search, and what will it take to bring them safely home?This read aloud shares its best qualities with classic picture books: breath-taking illustrations, epic adventure, and a subtle message about taking responsibility for your actions.

Praise for Three Bears in a Boat:

* “Gorgeous . . . A first purchase for all.”—School Library Journal (starred review)* “Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be treasured for years to come.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)* “Breathtaking . . . Beautiful . . . Gentle”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A beautiful journey you’ll want to return to repeatedly. . . . If you’re looking for a gift book, a bedtime book, or just something uniquely attractive to the eye, seek ye just three little bears. Charm incarnate.”—Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse 8 Production, School Library Journal

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2014
A Kirkus Best Book of 2014

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Perfect for a Spring Day: A Review of When the Wind Blows and interview with Linda Booth Sweeney and Jana Christy.

When the Wind Blows

An adventure that rhymes along the way. The style and free flow of the wispy illustrations match the rhyming flowing poem of this book perfectly. A fun and beautifully illustrated edition to anyone’s library for their kids, When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney and Jana Christy will take you to a seaside village on an early spring day. The adventure of the little boy and his grandma, reminded me of my childhood outings with my Grandma Swigart and while we did not live by the sea, we did find ourselves at the lake feeding ducks and flying kites in our hometown park.

Brock: And now an interview with Linda Booth Sweeney. How did you come up with the idea for the poem When the Wind Blows?

Linda: When my oldest son Jack was two (he’s now 16!), we went out to run an errand. It was bright and sunny when we left, but as we headed back home, a storm came in and the wind blew, and blew.  His stroller was literally blown off the side walk!  Jack loved the whole thing and kept pointing out to me what he saw — the sign shaking so hard it looked like it would fall off the post, the awnings billowing and snapping, the puddles shimmering…I had my head down trying to get him home safely but his excitement was contagious!  I joined him in his wide-eyed awe of the wind and found myself laughing and skipping home, and loving every minute of it. That’s how the first draft was born. I just wrote down all the things we noticed. And then from there, I began to fill it out and develop the rhyme.
I wrote the book, in part, invite children outside, to keenly observe the wind, or the rain and snow for that matter!  My guide here is the poet Mary Oliver. Here are her ““Instructions for living a life”:
“Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
What happens when the winds blows?  The snows flurry?  The rains falls?  I want kids to get out there and get there noses in it, and be amazed and tell about it.
Brock: What a great motivation to create this tale. Is spring time your favorite season?
Linda: It is definitely one of my favorites. Spring is all about renewal and rejuvenation. It’s about faith too.  Faith that the purplish asparagus crowns will find their way through still icy April earth, and those little green daffodil shoots will once again appear. We had six major snow storms here in New England so it definitely tested our faith that Spring would finally come. Even this week (the first week of April), my iPhone showed snow flakes for this week’s weather forecast!
Brock: I’m in Colorado, so I know all about the constant sometimes unpredictable changes in the weather. What is your connection to the ocean?
Linda: I do love the ocean and would spend time every summer in Truro, Massachusetts with my family in a tiny, one-room cottage. I have to say though, the beauty of the ocean connection in this book is really Jana’s inspiration. You’ll have to ask her!
Brock:  What advice would you give to a future poet?
Linda: Quiet down. Be fully present wherever you are. On the soccer field, in the woods, even in the grocery store. See what words emerge and then go home and write them down. Start with four lines and see how it feels. Then, if you get hooked, become a student of poetry. Read as much as you can. My favorite guidebook is by Mary Oliver’s “A Poetry Handbook”. And then read other’s poetry. Two of my favorite poetry picture books right now are “The Forest Has a Song” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and “A Rock Can Be” by Laura Purdie Salas.
Brock: Thanks Linda for the wonderful answers!

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From the Publisher:

Spring weather can be exciting!

When wind chimes start singing and clouds race across the sky, one little guy knows just what to do—grab his kite!

But as the kite soars, the wind picks up even more, and soon he and his grandma are chasing the runaway kite into town. As they pass swirling leaves, bobbing boats, and flapping scarves, breezes become gusts and the sky darkens. Rain is on the way! Can they squeeze in one more adventure before the downpour?

Scenes rich with springtime details for little eyes to follow and lyrical verse that captures the changeable mood of the weather make this perfect for spring story times.

Praise for When the Wind Blows:

*“Electric colors evoke the kinetic energy that crackles before a storm and the irrepressible excitement a good squall brings out in young and old. …   The book’s exhilarating verse [is] metronomic and as succinct as the heartbeat throbbing in the cold ears of a child racing back to his dry house… Gale-force gusts of invigorating artwork and imagery will leave readers breathless in windswept wonder.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The rhythm of the book seems to mimic the steady blow of the wind on each page. Young readers will enjoy following the story in the supporting gorgeous watercolor images as they watch the winds pick up speed.”–School Library Journal

“The rhymes are fresh and unpredictable, and the narrative maintains a crisp rhythm throughout. Christy’s illustrations align closely with the text, effectively capturing swirling winds, swinging signs, and swaying tree branches.”–Booklist

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