Monday, May 18, 2015

Groovy's a Best Seller



I'm happy to announce that A Groovy Kind of Love officially became an Amazon best-selling novel this weekend. It reached #61 on the Romance Literary Fiction list and #79 on the Literary Women's Fiction List.

So now, all three of the Bibliophiles novels, as well as the holiday short story, have hit the best-seller lists at one time or another.

Thank you so much, everyone!




Monday, May 11, 2015

Reflections, Mother's Day 2015



Spring has definitely sprung in Chicagoland. The crabapple tree outside my kitchen window has begun exchanging its gorgeous magenta flowers for green leafy branches.

That tree inspired me to include one just like it in A Groovy Kind of Love. It’s the tree under which Thaddeus and Spring get married. Its appearance is a little nod to my mother. We planted our own crabapple tree in her memory eighteen years ago after she died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Pink was here favorite color, so each year when magenta blooms festoon each branch, coincidentally around Mother’s Day, I can’t help but remember Mom.

I’ve been thinking of Mom a lot lately. Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the states. The weekend prior, my husband and I moved my 75-year-old father from the third floor to the garden apartment of the building in which I basically grew up. We moved there when I was ten. I have snatches of memories from younger days, of course, but most of my cognizant childhood and teen years were spent in that third-floor, walk-up apartment.

While we worked, flashes of my mother bombarded me, things even as seemingly insignificant as having root beer floats came back to me while I washed my father’s glasses and placed them into new cabinets.

I’m glad he moved, so I don’t have to relive the last time I saw Mom in that apartment, now bed-ridden and without use of her legs and arms from the hellish ALS, every time I walked past their bedroom. I don’t know how he lived there for so long after she died, but he and I are very different people.

Mom and me, circa 1986.

My mother was warm, kind, and extremely huggable. An only child, she dreamed of having her own brood, but unfortunately, only had me. Instead, she became “Mom” to my schoolmates throughout the years, from grade school through college, making cupcakes for class holidays and hosting Superbowl parties for college buddies in desperate need of home cooking.



I posted about her on my personal Facebook page this weekend and was touched by how many wonderful words my FB friends had for her, all of them mentioning how nice she was, how kind.

I learned a lot about being a mother from Barbara Wojcik.

Never underestimate the value of generosity of spirit. For that, my friends, is what truly counts.

Thanks, Mom. xx




Monday, May 4, 2015

Twenty Years of Awesome: BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice













Stopping for a second in between the seemingly unending tasks left to do in time for my 75-year-old father’s move, I plopped onto the love seat, careful not to drop the turkey and provolone sandwich on a pretzel bun I had just thrown together for a quick lunch. I turned on the television. Three familiar words shouted out from the on-screen guide.

Pride and Prejudice.

Yes, the BBC production starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Ovation was running a P&P marathon. This episode? Part Four: Elizabeth, along with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, visits Pemberley.

I couldn’t help myself. It didn’t matter that I had seen it too many times to count, that it is my absolute favorite novel adaptation, and that it was required viewing for my two sons as soon as they were old enough to understand it. “I am severely displeased” has become part of our family jargon.

P&P’s siren call proved too much for me.

I tuned in right as Elizabeth scales the Peaks.

Ahhhh, my happy place.

It’s been my happy place for so long, I forgot what year this version was filmed.

1995.

Twenty years ago.

I watched Elizabeth walk the gardens, then leave her aunt and uncle to survey the lake, knowing full well Darcy stood on the other side, warm and dusty from his long ride in from London. I always get so nervous for her, for her embarrassment of being caught on his property. Now, at least, we can creep on Facebook pages or Instagram accounts without fear of being discovered.

He removes his coat and plunges into the water.

You know what I forgot? They never show him emerging from the lake. Firth’s practically air-dried as he struts, white shirt blowing in the wind, when he encounters Elizabeth. His hair is a bit wet, I grant you, but apparently that scene was only imagined and played out in Lost in Austen.

Happily, I was also able to see “the look” before I needed to get back to work. You know,  when Darcy gazes adoringly at Elizabeth while she plays and sings after dinner the following evening. It’s a good thing my husband and I were already married when this came out, or I’d still be searching for the gentleman who would lovingly gaze at me across a room to this day. That look is the thing that endeared Colin Firth to me (and millions of other women around the world) for these twenty years. In fact, I actually have seen every one of his movies. Well played, Mr. Firth, well played.


The 1995 BBC P&P began the Jane Austen craze really, something that hasn’t waned, as evidenced by the amount of Austen fan fiction available on Amazon. And although my opinions of the various characters have changed with my…ahem…more mature viewing, nothing feels more like home than a good binge viewing of my favorite classic of all time.

How about you, dear readers? What is something you watch over and over again?



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Join Me Over at Indies Unlimited









Today, I'm guest blogging on Indies Unlimited, a fantastic blog that provides a treasure trove of information on the business of publishing.

To read my piece on book tours, click here.

My thanks to Kyle and the staff over at Indies Unlimited for all they do.



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ten Things I Love About Shakespeare






Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. A ripe, old 451 years of age, the Bard still resonates in readers’ souls in a way that few can. What is it about Shakespeare that makes his work still so relevant? For me, it’s how he illustrates the human condition and, of course, his gorgeous language. How about you?

To commemorate his birth, here are 10 facts I love about William Shakespeare and his work.








1. Shakespeare wrote strong female characters at a time when women were second-class citizens in England. Many are not overwhelmed by the men in the plays. In fact, Rosalind from As You Like It fights to overcome the limitations placed upon women of the time. Generally, Shakespeare’s women are better female roles than most parts available in Hollywood now.

Fun fact: Rosalind has the most lines of any woman in his plays.

Katy Stephens (Rosalind) in As You Like It.  Photo by Ellie Kurttz. Photo courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

2. Pianist Andre Tchaikowsky donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 for use on stage. It was used sparingly in rehearsals (creeped people out too much) until 2008, when David Tennant played Hamlet and the skull appeared as Yorick. Too cool! To read the full story, click here.

David Tennant stars as Hamlet in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. Photo courtesy of BBC News.com

3. Did you know the 27 moons of Uranus are named after characters created by Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, including Puck, Cordelia, Desdemona, Juliet, Prospero, and Cressida.

The moons of Uranus. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

4. Shakespeare was not only a playwright, but a good businessman as well. He made shrewd investments, built The Globe theater, and knew how to cater to audiences. He was quite wealthy when he died.


Shakespeare's grave. Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner.

5. He wrote 154 sonnets and several narrative poems.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

6. Shakespeare’s works are the second most-quoted in the English language behind the Bible.

Shakespeare statue in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner.


7. He added 3,000 words to the language.



8. PBS’s fantastic Shakespeare Uncovered delves into the plays and discusses their relevancy in today’s world through interviews with actors, scholars, and directors. It examines where the stories may have originated, what were the major political, cultural, and religious influences at the time, and how the plays been interpreted throughout the years. Truly magnificent, this is one of my favorite shows on television, and it features such luminaries this season as Hugh Bonneville (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Morgan Freeman (The Taming of the Shrew), Joseph Fiennes (Romeo and Juliet), and Christopher Plummer (King Lear).



9. King Lear, the greatest tragedy of all-time. There’s something about a pompous, arrogant, aging father who descends into madness after casting off his kind daughter that hits home with me.

Ian McKellen as King Lear. Photo courtesy of The Dobbyn Digest blog.

10. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington is a treasure trove of information. I still have mine from my college Shakespeare class, which was taught by one of the first female graduates from Oxford. Pure magic.



Happy Birthday, sweet Master Shakespeare. May your work and legacy live on to further delights audiences of all ages.



What is your favorite thing about Shakespeare? Do you prefer the plays or the poems? How many of the plays have you seen?


Sources

“Bequeathed skull stars in Hamlet,” BBC News.com

“William Shakespeare,” Biography.com 

Shakespeare Uncovered

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Break





















This year has been flying by.

It seems we say that every year. If last year were a person, she’d be one crazy bitch. And the insanity extended well into 2015 with the release of A Groovy Kind of Love.

I burned myself out, both professionally and personally. You know how it is. There’s always more that can be done. One more marketing venue to explore. One more book review blog to seek out. One more place to pitch your writing.

More. More. More.

My kids’ schedules provided the perfect pause with two different Spring Break weeks. At first, I was stressed out. How could I possibly work with everyone around? I gradually let it go like the Frozen song and enjoyed my time first with my eldest and his girlfriend, then with my younger son.

My husband took a few days off too while the collegiate crew was here, and we all played tourist in our own city, showing my son’s girlfriend Chicago (she’s from California). We took a trip to the Sears Tower (real Chicagoans will never call it the Willis Tower) some 1,353 feet in the air, 103 floors up, out on the Ledge, a glass box that extends about four feet outside the building.

After a bout of vertigo several years ago, I haven’t been very good with heights. Even my beloved roller coasters have been tabled. But somehow, I thought it would be cool to get a picture of all of us out on the Ledge. Again, the Frozen song echoed in my head, so I steeled myself and climbed on.

Wow.

Looking down, I marveled at the feeling of being outside of the building, literally outside of conventional structure.

I felt free.

My father is downsizing and moving to a garden apartment in the same building where I spent a good chunk of my youth. Not good with change, this move is an enormous stressor on him, and consequently on me as well, even if it is only two floors down. A couple more weeks, and he will be in his new place.

The kids are back at their respective schools, and we are in the throes of our first high school lacrosse season (he’s starting attackman on the JV team —hooray for him!), which will be followed by club lacrosse summer travel tournaments. My eldest is finalizing plans for his senior year at Knox College (crazy, right?). I’ve been doing various projects that really needed my attention, including the aforementioned stuff plus various spring cleanings and my youngest’s scrapbook that I have six years of memories to chronicle before I forget everything.

I hadn’t felt the urge to write.

Until now.

A tiny fluttering flew into my stomach this morning, the spark of an idea or two rumbling through my brain. An essay, perhaps. Some snippets of a short story are beginning to make themselves known. Edwina Hipplewhite, actually. We shall see where they go from here.

Taking time off is essential for all of us, and writing is no different. Though it is a passion, it’s still a job.

And we all need a break.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrating Five Years



Today marks the fifth anniversary of the release of my first novel, A Whisper to a Scream. Five years ago, I uploaded my story on Kindle, pressed “Publish” and crossed my fingers.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I started learning about this relatively new thing called social media. I met all sorts of people crazy enough to do the same thing at Kindle Boards, people you might know like Al from BigAl’s Books and Pals, Lynne from Red Adept Publishing, and Karen McQuestion, the first indie darling of Amazon who had her work optioned for film. And yes, Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath were there, too. We shared helpful hints as we all mitigated our way through this infant of an industry alongside birth announcements. It’s amazing what a close community can spring up from a virtual world.

Exciting. Rebellious. We made our own paths, blazed our own trails while Konrath banged the drum of independence.

My first sale was exhilarating. And the one after that. And the one after that. Five years ago, you could actually make sales without four-page marketing plans. The traditional publishers had yet to take e-books seriously and Amazon needed content to fill its new Kindle devices.

Those were the glory days of self-publishing. Some Kindle Board authors were offered traditional contracts, and we all toasted their successes. A win for them was a win for us all. Eventually, some hit the best-seller lists, even in the New York Times. Heady stuff.

Today, the climate is greatly changed. Discoverability is king as more and more books are published on Amazon every day. E-books live forever. There is no shelf life in virtual bookstores. Unlike their brick and mortar counterparts, shelf space is not a precious commodity and doesn’t need to be kept fresh to keep customers coming in.

This is both good and bad for self-publishers. Sure, our books will be on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble for as long as we want them. The bad news is so will the traditionally published authors. Have you seen the Amazon best-seller list lately? Some of those books have been out for years.

E-books represent a solid 25% of the total market share, and the Big Five have finally caught on.

Although Amazon’s KDP makes it possible for anyone to publish, which I’m grateful for, the company has also succeeded in devaluing the written word. Because of Amazon’s bargain-basement prices, the public never buys books at full price. Ever. For self-publishers, who usually sell their work for cheaper to begin with, this means a base price of around $2.99 -$3.99, which then turns into 99¢ or even free when the book is on sale, which is now pretty much all the time to make any steady sales. These basement-level prices have been fueled by the rise of the bargain book sites, like BookBub and all of its clones, and the auxiliary markets that make money off of cheap books.

Great for the consumer.

Horrible for authors.

For cultivating readers?

Depends.

If a book (an entire book!) is only 99¢, will consumers read it or will they just fill their Kindles to the brim with free and 99¢ books and build insurmountable reading lists? 99¢ are expendable, practically worthless really, and can easily be deleted. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you have too.

With giveaways, bargain book sales every day, and book services like Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, why ever pay full price?

99¢ for an entire novel.

That’s cheaper than iTunes for music, my fifteen-year-old pointed out to me the other day. A song is $1.29 for three or four minutes of entertainment.

Not 99¢ for hours or days of reading pleasure.

Awhile back, I had lunch with a traditionally published author of two really good books that orbit the Jane Austen world but don’t rip off Austen’s plot or characters. She had a two-book deal with one of the Big Five publishing companies.

And she was looking for a job.

Her kids were headed to college soon, and she needed to contribute a real salary to the household.

I don’t know if it’s possible to make a living writing fiction anymore. It’s always been difficult, but now, it seems almost impossible. According to Hugh Howey’s author earnings report last year, most Amazon best-selling authors are not making minimum wage.

I’m not writing this to be petty or to whine, but rather to state the facts as I see them.

Still…

When your head bubbles over with characters, situations, and themes, what are you supposed to do? Ever since I can remember, I’ve written things down. Used to be a time when I didn’t feel something was even real until I put it on paper. I have been a professional writer since my sophomore year in college, when I was a stringer for the local paper. I don’t know how to do anything else.

You see, writing wiggles its way first into your life, then into your very core.

Occasionally, I get on a roll, and it’s not even me in control anymore, it’s the characters, and they take over the scene, and I get butterflies in my stomach as the whole piece suddenly comes together.

That’s the magic of writing.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Some of you have been around since the beginning, while others have recently discovered my work. Whether it’s one of the books, this blog, or any of the other pieces I’ve written over the years, I truly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to spend with me.

So, please raise your virtual glasses to five years of publishing. I’m excited to see what the next five bring.

Cheers, friends.

Karen