Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Book Review: In the Comfort of Shadows, by Laurel Bragstad

In the Comfort of Shadows
Laurel Bragstad
E-book: $3.99
Print: $12.99
Orange Hat Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1937165635
386 pp
Buy on Amazon

About the Book: 
In the Comfort of Shadows is a story of family secrets and the love and romance often found hidden deep within sins of the past. The novel follows Ann Olson, a big city professor, who longs to fill in the empty pages of her childhood. Unfortunately the only man alive who knows the whole story is Emmett Pederson, her adoptive dad’s crazy, poor, hermit cousin who never married and still lives on his run-down farm in rural Wisconsin. Disregarding her sister’s objections, Ann stubbornly sets out to prove that Emmett is their “father unknown.” Once she gets over Emmett’s shabby clothes and missing teeth, she senses a surprising connection to him. That changes when she discovers Emmett’s WW2 diaries which reveal the truth about her Austrian-born birth mother. As Ann struggles to sort out the facts of her birth parents’ forbidden romance and her own adoption, she finds herself falling in love with a man who has heart-breaking secrets of his own.

About the Author:
Laurel Bragstad was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the oldest of five kids sitting around the dinner table, she learned very early that family stories are often better than any drama, mystery, or sit-com on television--with enough secrets and distinct characters to fill a book.

These days, she teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has an online course with Ed2Go/Cengage Learning. When she's not teaching, writing, or reading, you might find her digging in her garden (weather permitting), where she's either working out an assignment for her class or shaping characters and chapters for another novel.

My review: 
Cleaning out the family closet is risky at best, heartbreaking at worst. All her life, Ann Olson barely contained her curiosity about her parentage after a disgruntled relative broke the news that Ann and her sister were adopted. Elise is content being the daughter of the only parents she knew, but Ann can’t let it go. After her father’s death, and now in her early fifties, divorced, and armed with an old letter, Ann sets off on a thinly-disguised sabbatical assignment studying family history’s effect on family relationships. First on the list is her own family, her father’s cousins.

Bragstad’s novel is a charming, genteelly-paced novel set in rural Wisconsin, with all the typical flavor of “up north.” Her characters never quite go over the top and their lives are all-too-true to life. Frank and Betty, Ann’s hosts, are eager to help Ann unravel the mystery of her and her sister’s parentage. Ann’s chief suspect, the letter-writer Emmett, is an old man now, an incongruous mystery of assumed poverty and dementia. As Ann works through the cast of family characters who might be the birth father, she meets a helpful and compassionate gentleman, John Bennett, who soon becomes more than a friend.

Picking through clues, packets of letters and the detritus of a lifetime in Emmett’s house is a peek through over fifty years of mistakes, lies, and secrets; angst, the gruesomeness and horrors of World War II. Ann must also sort out her own feelings and those of her siblings as the real story comes to light. Ulterior motives, family secrets and grumblings give Ann plenty to consider about her heritage and family relationships.

Filled with both charming conversation and introspection, quotes like “…truth lays bare what is or was; but it can’t fix everything” stays with the reader.

Told in third person solely from Ann’s view, The Comfort of Shadows is part voyeurism, part revelation. Lovingly told, engaging.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Navigate the Choppy Waters of the E-book Industry

For a long while now the publishing industry news has been burning up with the Amazon/Hachette dispute. Both sides have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. Both feel they’re equally justified in what they demand. And this feud is over something as simple as the pricing of e-books.

Guest post by Winter Austin
A lot of authors have come out of their writing caves to voice their opinions on this controversy; everyone from the new indie author to many successful New York Times bestsellers. I’m not going to sway you one way or the other. Frankly, my opinion on the matter means beans since I’m still in the beginner’s stage of this game. Five published books and one self-pub does not make me an expert. What I can give you is an insider’s look at how my publisher, a fairly new division in an already longstanding publishing house, and I have found a way to get e-books out there for the consumer and the drawbacks to some of these ideas.

You’ve all heard it: e-books will last as long as you leave them out there. And it’s true. I’m one of the earlier authors to sign with my house, Crimson Romance, after they first opened their doors to submissions for e-books only. My first book, published in February of 2013 is still sitting in places like Amazon and B&N and still selling; albeit slowly, but selling. Oddly enough, it’s my first book getting the higher sales than the subsequent three. I believe it’s due in part to the fact that Relentless is the first book in a four book series and people are just wanting a cheap read without making a commitment. Typically on Amazon my books are priced around $3.82, on B&N $4.99. Of course Amazon will be the cheaper deal, but to me these are fair prices for a book that averages out at about 75,000 words and over 200 pages in e-format.

Crimson has allowed two of my books to sell for 99¢, which they did well during that short spell, but not well enough to make me a bestseller. Here’s where the joy of having e-books comes in, they’re still out there, and they’re still selling. Had my first book been a paperback right off, I don’t think it would still be sitting on the shelves. E-books aren’t limited to a shelf-life.

Now having said that, it doesn’t mean you just sit back and watch it while doing nothing in turn. When my working and personal life allows, I’m finding new avenues and ideas on how to get my books before new readers’ eyes. Currently, I’m here, visiting Author Culture and inquiring at a few other blogs I’ve never been on before. Sometimes the easiest promoting you can do is a simple spotlight on a book reviewing blog, which I recently finished. Giveaways, within reason, tend to garner interest, yet like I said, within reason. Your goal is to drum up interest, not freebie all of your potential sales.

A huge plus to having e-books as giveaways; no postage to pay for. When you stop and figure up the cost of shipping trade books to winners you have probably spent what you would have made in selling three books. (This is just a guess-tament, don’t quote me on it.) Personally, I prefer this option since my family lives on a tight budget. It’s a win-win for me and the reader.

Speaking of tight budgets, e-books are economically smart for the publisher and author, as well as the reader. In processing an e-book, the publisher cuts their costs when you consider the only people working on the book are the editors and the formatting team. There is no paper to purchase, printing machines to maintain, and the cost of adding a particular kind of cover and binding it. Just a few computers and some people who know formatting codes and how to get the book to read on the handful of e-readers out there.

In my case, as the author, there wasn’t an advance paid out, which meant I started receiving royalties as soon as the book went on the market and sold. No paying back the publisher. And in a best case scenario, the publisher doesn’t lose much money on the venture.

Now you’re wondering, what am I getting in royalties? Sorry, no kiss and tell from me. Just know it’s not your typical royalty rate.

In regard to the reader, if they’ve purchased their preferred e-reader they’ve spent a good chunk of change. And they’re serious readers looking for the most books they can have for less. While not a bad thing, I’m a reader, too, and I look for bargains on some of my favorite authors, or on authors I want to try. This is a marketing deal to help catch a new reader’s eye and entice them to come back and read more of your books.

There is a slight downside for the author. A cheaper book means less pay out. It’s a good thought, but say your book went on a short time deal for 99¢. During that sale a bunch of people grabbed a cheap book. Here’s where reality sets in: that book may languish on the e-reader, left unread for an undetermined amount of time, if it ever gets read. The other downside is the buyer realizes they got a book they never would have read because its not their preferred genre, so they return it. And Amazon is one of the few places that allows you a set number of days to return it for free. Seeing as Amazon is the biggest seller of most authors’ books this is a bite into the royalty check later on.

Granted, I’m giving the perspective of an author published with a house in e-books. My experience is different than an indie author, but the marketing and promoting is, for the most part, the same. The lone difference is my publisher is still trying to find new ways to give new life to my backlist. An indie is on their own to do this.

In closing, I hope you’ve gotten a better inside look at what an e-book author is dealing with in the current climate. Perhaps it’s given you a chance to see what the big fuss is about between Amazon and Hachette.


Winter's Degrees of Darkness series is available, and lucky you, all four books are out and you don’t have to wait on the next installment. And if you’re not an e-book reader, they are available in paperback at all e-retailers.


Winter Austin was once asked by her husband if he could meet some of the people who took residence in her head. She warned they weren’t all characters he wanted to meet, as killers walked among them. Needless to say, that conversation ended abruptly.

A lifelong Mid-West gal, Winter swears she should have been born in the South, Texas or Louisiana preferably. But then she’d miss the snowy winters.

Dividing her day between her four children and their various activities, a growing pet population, and her Beta-with-Alpha-tendencies Hero, Winter manages to find time to write chilling thrillers between loads of laundry.

Don’t worry. You won’t find any of her mouthwatering culinary dishes poisoned. Unless you’re one of her fictional creations.

Where to find Winter:

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stand Out

We’re inundated with book marketing today. Everyone is shouting about books on Twitter and Facebook, so it can be hard to get a potential reader’s attention. One way to do that is through blogging, but even then, you have to make your blog posts stand out.

Special Graphics

Everyone uses the same boring graphics these days, don’t they? There are several free places to get illustrations and pictures (and it’s great to have these resources!) but a better option is to create your own graphics.

I like to use pictures from Morguefile or my own personal artwork and then use a pull quote from my article. (Here’s one example of that.)

I created a separate graphic for a post where I asked bloggers for help in promoting my book, then used that same graphic as an ad on the side to keep it highlighted. It’s colorful and draws your eye to the request.

In sharing some of my poetry, I’ve written, I’ll illustrate it with photos (like this) or use a completely new set of graphics to make it colorful and eye-catching (like this.) I like to use Canva or Picmonkey for things like this (both of these are free).

Visually Tell a Story With Pictures

For posts where you can show a visual, use pictures to help tell your story. Part of my platform building strategy has been to show people a slice of my life, so I’ll visually display the steps of a recipe I enjoyed making or craft project I created.

Author Carol Moye asked me to do a visual guest post for her blog, so I took a few pictures I'd painted and explained the process behind them. But you don't have to be artistically inclined to create a visual post.  Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts) is great at visually telling a story. Although I’m not in love with the music that pops up automatically on her site, I do like the pictures she shares.

Know How to Format for the Web

People read differently on the Internet, so you need to change the way you write. Your writing needs to be clear, broken up into easily digestive pieces, and formatted for the screen. Specifically:

  • Use bullet points to set off important points or lists
  • Use bolded subheads to divide copy (and help with SEO)
  • Break up long paragraphs

There’s lots of argument about how long a post should be. Some places I write for require 700-1,000 words as a rule while others believe 300-500 words is optimal. My personal belief is that it takes a combination of long and short posts to keep a reader clicking through your site. The only thing that doesn’t work? Thin, short content that doesn’t hold a reader’s attention (and gets you penalized from Google.)

Use Getty Images

Getty (arguably the world’s largest source for editorial photos) is now opening up thousands of photographs for use by bloggers. This is really exciting, because you now have access to the top celebrity, news, and stock photographs around… and… you have permission to use them. There are rules, of course, so be sure to follow them. (PC World has a great write up about how to use and attribute them here.)

Use Pull Quotes

I mentioned pull quotes as part of a graphic above, but they also work simply as a text box with words. This is especially helpful if you want to highlight a specific point or make sure someone that happens to be skimming (as people do on the Internet) at least catches the overall gist of what you’re trying to say.


Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website,
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

If you are an established writer with several products published as an “Indie Author” or are a “Want–to-be Indie Author," you need this book.

Houston Writer’s Guild President Pamela Fagan Hutchins tackles what is for many people a very overwhelming subject. She makes sure you understand the process by breaking it down step-by-step and then sharing tried and true how-tos. She does this with a tongue-in-cheek writing style that reminded me of Erma Bombeck. An example is she refers to the book as "Loser."

Reading the book was like sitting at a table at my local Starbuck’s with a friend who is there for me laying it all out, telling me how she self-published a best seller. What gives the book creditability is Hutchins is a great self-publishing success story. This book tells you how she achieved her enviable success.

I  loved her “cut to the chase” approach. She says if you think it is as simple as if you write it they will come (buy it), you are wrong. She points out Indie Publishing does not reduce the writing and editing time, but it can reduce the time to publish once you have completed the writing and editing. It also gives you greater control. She also asked a great question. Who is your target audience?

Hutchins provides numerous resources, including the marketing plan that got her debut novel national distribution.

The last third of the book deals with marketing. Don’t read this part first! She points out people who have sales that are limited to friends and family are the ones who skip the first two chapters of her book.

I loved her positive, can-do voice. This will become the definitive reference book or maybe even “The Bible” for Indie Authors.

While the print version is 280 pages, I bought and read the e-book.  I found it witty, practical, and an essential for the Indie Writer or Indie curious.

The e-book only cost me $2.99 ($3.25 with tax). That is barely over a penny a page. What an inexpensive investment for a resource that will get you on track, save you time and money as well as  give you ideas to increase your sales.

What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? by Pamela Fagan Hutchins is the USA Best Book Award winner in Business: Writing/Publishing.
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Author Intrusion

Yoo-hoo! Over here! Right, yes, that’s me, Lisa Lickel, waving! I’m interrupting your reading experience so I can tell you something…

How many of you readers have experienced this very powerful jerk right out of the story? It’s like pulling off a fresh scab, like ripping duct tape from your lips. Or it can be a comfort, like macaroni and cheese, if you’re a fan of early nineteenth-century literature.

According to’s a fair definition: Authorial Intrusion is an interesting literary device wherein the author penning the story, poem or prose steps away from the text and speaks out to the reader. Authorial Intrusion establishes a one to one relationship between the writer and the reader where the latter is no longer a secondary player or an indirect audience to the progress of the story but is the main subject of the author’s attention.

How many of us authors are guilty of practicing this example of intrusive writing?
Active intrusion is something like the character turning away from what he’s doing and acting out of character, or trying to get your attention to tell you, the reader something: “Jordan trotted after the purse-snatcher, but as the young boy in the hoodie gained distance, Jordan knew he’d never catch up. In order to save face, he veered to tangle with a woman walking her schnoodle. And that, my friends, is how you fake heroism.”

Intrusion can be as simple as changing tense in the middle of your work – “The old houses along the boulevard used to be creepy with their boarded-up windows and overgrown crabgrass lawns. When the rehab project started to clean them or tear them down, the neighbors were pleased. Now they are beautiful and sell for over a hundred grand, and the city happily filled its coffers.” Even if you, the author, are using a bit of truth in your story, remember, if you’re writing fiction, tense is your friend. Your book is a not an expose or a piece of journalism exploring a current topic, it’s a story told in order, using literary devices which must be consistent throughout.

Passive intrusion may often be a simple point of view mistake, like a character telling us her hair is lush and soft, or foretelling the future by saying something like, if I’d known what going to happen, I wouldn’t have…

Author intrusion is not internal monolog, nor is it omniscient or narrator voice.

Is author intrusion always bad? Well, no. If you’re Charlotte Bronte, for example, you wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. If you’re Agatha Christie, you couldn’t have a murder no one would see, much less find; if you’re Jane Austen, Lizzie Bennet wouldn’t know what she was supposed to do to find a husband. Dickens couldn’t have carried off pretty much ANY of his books. Of course, works like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town wouldn’t have the same impact, now, would it? Can you imagine Jay Gatsby not saying good-by? Or Hamlet, like, not announcing he’s croaking?

Our Town is a play—but you see what I mean? It has a narrator on purpose. Sure the characters could have directed themselves, and even spoken, but sometimes an author has to take literary license. As long as it’s for a good purpose, is unique, and the exception.

You’ll notice that these examples are mostly…well, old. Fads come and go in this business. But in today’s American story-telling, it’s still a good rule of thumb: A key goal of an author is to be invisible.  

Here are a couple of other articles to check out.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Author humor

Enjoy a little humor while I get over jet lag....ask me about Istanbul :)

The monster.
Found on
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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Miting, by Dee Yoder

the mitingThe Amish are all the rage these days. Novels about them, TV shows about them, cookbooks written by them. I have a couple, by the way. Amish women know how to cook.

By now, most of us know that the Ordnung is the guidelines or rules of the church, and most of us know Rumspringa is a time in a teenager's life, before he or she joins the church, of testing the waters in the Englisher world. If you watched the beautiful Kate Stoltz change from simple Amish girl to super model on the show Breaking Amish, you know just about anything can happen during the teen's running season.

But what happens when the worst a young lady does is get a job, wear jeans, and attend church on Sundays? What happens when her biggest sin against the Amish is reading a King James Bible?

In the Old Order Amish, the Meidung, or shunning, is just the beginning.

Dee Yoder tells us the story of seventeen-year-old Leah Raber, whose inquisitive mind leads her in a quest for a relationship with the loving God, a rebellious act that subjects her to the terrible choice of denying her family, or denying her Savior. When a young woman is caught in a world unfamiliar to her, when she longs for family and home, when she wishes to cling to her new-found faith in disobedience to the church bishop, what choices does she have?

Each Amish order is different, some stricter than others. Inside the strictest orders, some kids feel the need for escape and freedom. Some endure things not often recorded in the novels we read. As a mentor and volunteer for Mission to Amish People, Dee tells of a darker side of the religion. MAP is a ministry developed to help those who wish to escape a religion that often seems oppressive. Dee's fiction is based on the lives of those escapees whom she now calls friends. The Miting, a coming-of-age story is her first full-length novel, and it is well worth the read.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Be an Author Book Bloggers Will Love

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a lot of authors. Hundreds, in fact. Some were fabulous and I wished I could have crawled through my computer monitor and hugged them. And some? Meh. The problem is the ones that were “meh” are also the ones who seemed to be the most difficult to work with.

Authors really need book bloggers, today, so we can’t afford to leave a “meh” (or worse) impression behind. Here’s some stuff that I personally appreciated when working with authors that left a good impression.

No Drama

There’s nothing worse than getting a last minute request to schedule a post (or worse, review a book) while an author drones on and on about deadlines and how exhausted they are in promoting this book and how busy they are and… sigh…

Know why bloggers hate this drama? Because they have jobs, too. They also have a limited amount of time in a day and while your book is the most important thing to you it isn’t the most important thing to them.

The best authors to work with have been respectful of my time and effort and answered my interview questions without drama.

Personalized Thank You Notes and Even Gifts

Writers are always on a budget, so gifts are a really rare thing, but I was given a couple things by authors and guess what? I remember them fondly. One sent me a cool Elizabeth I notepad from London and Starbucks gift card for being a first reader for her Tudor fiction book. Another sent me an antique coin. Both gifts tied in with their books, and the added effort was noticed and appreciated.

But I’ve also received personalized, handwritten thank you notes from several authors and those meant just as much to me. In fact, I’ve decided to make this a habit for the people that host me on a blog from now on, too. Sending a note doesn’t take much time but it does mean an awful lot to someone who made the effort to put you on their site.

Be Interesting

When you’re doing a blog tour, and answering the same questions over and over, it can be a challenge to be interesting. But resist the urge to cut and paste answers, and really try to make every question, even the ones you’ve answered a bazillion times, reveal something cool about yourself.

Tell a story with your answer. Compliment other writers or the blogger who is hosting you. Add a photo you haven’t shared too much. Find a unique way to interact with readers.

Some of my favorite interviews have been the ones where authors took my boring old questions and were so funny and charming they made me sound like James Lipton.

Follow Their Rules

When you have a book to promote and a blog tour to do, you want to control the show. You might even send an email that says “I’ll do an interview, guest post, and giveaway” but be careful about being too limiting. Some bloggers like to do it their own way.

Several years ago I stopped doing giveaways on my writing blog. My readers seemed to hate them. They enjoyed finding out about new writers but weren’t wild about leaving comments for books, and some even wrote me to tell me they’d like my blog a whole lot better if I didn’t give stuff away.

What did I know? I thought everyone loved giveaways, but if my readers weren’t fans why should I do them? So I stopped the practice but some authors get very testy about this. One insisted I do a giveaway because her publisher required it. (I’m still not sure she had that correct, but maybe it was true.)

I once did an unusual interview where I had to answer a lot of hypotheticals about my dating book that related to pop culture. It was super fun and I got a lot of positive comments on it.  Sometimes bloggers like to mix it up by having you answer questions as your character, or having you answer rapid fire, silly questions… whatever their preference, go with it.


Be sincerely grateful when bloggers are hosting you, because they really are helping your career. One author followed up an appearance on my blog by doing a post on her blog listing the top 10 things she loved about getting interviewed by me. I did mention that my questions are rather boring, right? So this was a clever and creative thing to make the interview stand out, and I was touched that she added that to her site.

However you decide to respond to and thank your bloggers, be sincerely grateful. Your intentions will show in the words and actions you choose, and your bloggers will be happy to welcome you back again when your next book is out.


Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website,
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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Idiot Box

Google Free Imges
Watching T.V. is a real time sucker, and a roadblock to productivity for writers. Wow, that statement sounds like it was made by a die hard non-T.V. watcher. Who was that? Oh yeah, me. Actually, I'm a huge fan of Hawaii Five-O, NCIS (and I can't wait for NCIS New Orleans - Lucas Black!), and Person of Interest, Downton Abbey, Psych (sniff, no more) and possibly a few others. Thank heaven for DVR. My husband and I save them up and get caught up on a weekend every now and then.

To assuage my guilt over watching TV instead of writing, I make sure I have a notepad and pencil (extra sharp) and/or a laptop in my lap. I've jotted down notes that I've used in books and short stories. See? So don't judge me, lol.

Some ways I've used the Idiot Box (that's what my dad called it):

1. Creative metaphors: Witness a TV car chase and terrible crash? This is what ended up in my book:

Marriage? Head on Collision. Career? Run off the road.

2. Prompts: What if my female MC met Steve McGarrett in the diner where she works? What if I played McGee's mother in an episode and Gibbs got a crush on me. Wait, did I just say that? What if is was my number up and Reese and Harold had to protect me? Can I create a brand new character for my favorite show and write a short piece of fan fiction introducing him/her? Maybe that character will find a spot in my WIP. Sometimes playing 'what if' with T.V.  helps flesh out a character for me.

3. Commercial activities: I sometimes jot down the adjectives used in commercials, then use them in sentences. I like to see how many words I can type, without stopping to edit, during a commercial. I ran across this article and thought it might give some ideas:
 Watching TV and Writing Your Dissertation: Using the Commercials to get Something Done

4. Identify the plot. Analyzing the plot of a 30 minute or 1 hour T.V. show is good practice for my own plot planning. It's fun to pick it apart, especially when something happens that I didn't see coming. How did they do that?

Or...don't watch T.V. and get a lot more done;) do you make wasted time work for you?
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