Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Dwarf's Weight in Awesome...

Longbows, wenches and a butt cheeks giveaway… such were the very serious and in no way silly topics of my blog during my review for Donna Hosie’s fabulous debut novel, Searching for Arthur. Now she’s back with its sequel, The Fire of Merlin, and I’m here to help reveal it. Ta-da!

Seventeen-year-old Natasha Roth and her older brother, Arthur, are reunited once more with the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately their joy is not shared by Arthur’s girlfriend, “Slurpy” Samantha, whose hatred of Natasha has not been lessened by time or distance since the Roth family relocated to London.

But Natasha’s happiness is short-lived. 

The knights come with ill news from Logres: a magical darkness has fallen over the land. The Lady of the Lake, Nimue, is battling against her former lover, Merlin, whom she imprisoned before the enchanted sleep. He has been freed and Natasha soon discovers that her own actions the previous year unlocked more than just a gateway between the past and the present. When “Slurpy” disappears, a frantic Arthur decides they must leave the 21st century once more and return to Camelot. 

With her beloved Sir Bedivere at her side, Natasha follows the sound of the bells and leads Arthur and the knights back into Logres. But there are more than bells ringing in her head. Natasha starts to suffer from terrifying visions in which she sees the destruction of Logres.

As the darkness continues to infect the living, the people start turning on each other, accusing outsiders of witchcraft. Terrified that Natasha will be hurt, Sir Bedivere takes her, the dwarf Byron and Byron’s sister, Guinevere, into the safety of his father’s castle. Yet nowhere in Logres is free from fear and suspicion, and Sir Bedivere unwittingly leads Natasha into a terrifying chain of events in which time itself is manipulated.

Natasha must uncover the truth about the danger to Logres and those she loves. Who is the real threat to Arthur? Can myth and legend become fact? What is the secret that “Slurpy” is now hiding?

And for the love of all things holy, when will Logres invent saddles?

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Well to celebrate it's release on November 30, Donna is offering Searching for Arthur as a FREE download, right here, for the first 5 days of the month. (P.S. That's right now, so go get it!) And to whet your appetite even more, here’s a sample from my review of Searching For Arthur. Enjoy!

 Hand Me A Longbow And Call Me A Wench

...The reason I couldn’t wait to review Donna Hosie's Searching for Arthur is because it changed me. Not in a ‘grab a sword, declare yourself a knight and run off to fight wolf-riding dwarves’ kind of way, (although if that meant hooking up with any of the lead characters then hand me a longbow and call me a wench). It changed me because for a while I forgot I was an aspiring author who beats myself up if I don’t achieve a certain amount of writing each day… For a while I found that every time I opened my laptop to get some work done I would simply stare at the screen, yearning for my kindle, until I gave up and permitted myself one more chapter. (Or two. Or ten)...

Intrigued? Click here to read more!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Return of the Web-less Blogger, and Winners of the Super Spud Contest!

Okay, okay, nobody panic... but I think I just got cryogenically frozen by life. I looked at a calendar today and realized two weeks must have run away while my back was turned, so I’m writing to say g’day again to everyone and a huge, grovelling sorry to anyone who participated in my Super Spud contest and is still waiting for the results. The trouble is I’m going through a separation at the moment and had to move at short notice the day I opened the contest, so I’ve been living between houses, trying to arrange accommodation, not having internet and working at such bad hours I couldn’t even get to the library to use the net there, so I’ve let my blogging fall by the way-side. Again, I’m sorry, but the good news is I have a house and I’m getting the internet on, so I’ll be back to business as usual as soon as possible.

Now while we’re on the subject of good news, I’m thrilled to announce the winners of the Super Spud contest. Firstly, the winner of best flavor/personality combination for a chip packet character, and the recipient of a signed copy of the Super Spud Trilogy and a cameo role for their creation, goes to Rakesh Chauhan! Michael loved the idea of an Italian ‘Mobster’ Meatball flavor with stereotypical Italian accents and a don known as ‘The Spudfather’, and he loved your illustration entry, so he’s working your idea into his next book!

Secondly, the winner of best Super Spud illustration and recipient of a signed copy of The Super Spud trilogy and a $30 e-book voucher, is John Sneddon! Congratulations!

And finally, the rafflecopter winner of the $10 e-book voucher is Tammy Therault!

And that’s it! You have no idea how much I’ve been stressing over getting this announcement out there so it’s an extra big congratulations for me, a sorry it took so long, and a thank you to everyone who participated. Also, I want to give a huge thank you to Michael for approaching me to run the contest, and if you haven’t checked out his book yet, here’s my review to let you know all about it.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Super Spud interview, and How To Win The Super Prize!

Hey everyone, and welcome to my interview with Michael Diack, author of The Super Spud trilogy and generous giver-away-er of the awesome prizes waiting at the bottom of your screen. Here we talk small presses, marketing strategies and ways YOU can win, so without further ado, here let's get into it...

Where did the idea for Super Spuds come from?

The initial idea of walking, talking crisp packets came in primary school when I was asked to write a short story. One day when I was 19, I remembered that story and immediately opened my laptop and typed away. The first chapter of The Super Spud Trilogy is essentially that story – Colin and Lucy meet in a multipack and after becoming separated, strive to meet-up at the local rubbish tip…

How did you get yourself signed with a small press?

I was working abroad when, by chance, I saw a magazine advertisement for Pen Press.  I sent the manuscript out, they wanted it on CD, and everything went from there.  Their critique was quite a thorough assessment but they said they’d be happy to publish it.

Can you give a quick overview of the process from signing to publishing and the time it all took?

From sending the manuscript away to receiving my book took 6 months.  I got my initial critique back (4 pages) after 4 weeks, which highlighted what they liked and didn’t, but crucially said they’d want to publish it.  I was assigned an editor, who helped me broaden my target audience by encouraging me to make the book more approachable for the younger audience (no swearing, etc…) while still applicable for the mature audience (references to film, television, mild innuendos).  After two months of editing I started working with my cover designer. My marketing manager then designed a press release and created a marketing plan for me. He also emailed and rang a lot of bookstores, local newspapers and local magazines (which I got into) and, to this day, he is trying hard to sell the animation rights for the Super Spuds. We both feel the concept would suit animation quite well (something like Spongebob Squarepants, perhaps) and some of the reviewers have suggested this as well. His emails just add the professional touch when contacting these large firms, as they would clearly ignore an email by me.

What are the advantages of small press?

It felt like a very personal experience.  Everyone at the publishing house was like a family and if I ever had a question, I could email and get an immediate response.  It was obvious they really cared about my book and everyone was very professional in their job.

What's been your most effective marketing strategy so far?

Doing a giveaway on Goodreads has helped the book to get noticed; nearly 1,500 people entered my three giveaways so far. I sent copies to the winners and I had some great reviews from them, one girl totally got my sense of  humour and told Family Guy to ‘move over’, which was great to read. I think I’m also going to head to Waterstones book store with some copies of my book and place them on the number one selling shelf, moving Fifty Shades of Grey to number two and take a picture.  Then tweet that I displaced one of the bestselling books of all time from number one spot! 

And there you have it! Now, onto the contest details. For your chance to win a signed copy, a critique from Michael AND a cameo of your very own Super Spud character in his next book, leave a comment with your idea for a Super Spud flavor and the personality you think would go with it. 

For your chance to win a signed copy and a $30 e-book voucher, email your most creative Super Spud illustration to katherineamabel at gmail dot com.

Now if you're stuck for inspiration, my review has a few teasers and a sample illustration, to get you kick-started, and as an extra kicker I'm throwing in a $10 e-voucher, thanks to my handy rafflecopter widget below.

Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Magical Chip Packets, And Your Chance To Win A Book Cameo!

Walking, talking crisp packets, with a taste for dangerous adventures and a tendency to mourn those who don’t survive it by dancing a slow jive of respect… It sounds like the stuff of Roald Dahl, but it’s actually as modern as “green peas” flavored, eco-warrior potatoes and Johnny the pirate chip packet, and it’s all part of Michael Diack’s new novel, The Super Spud Trilogy.

When Michael first contacted me about working on some book promotion (featuring the awesome prizes we have today), the concept alone had me so amused and intrigued that I couldn't resist, and it turned out like nothing I've ever read before. Even Michael’s publishing house couldn't categorize it, so I’m told they just asked him to remove the swear words so it could appeal to children as well as adults, and I can definitely see kids loving this book while their parents get a giggle from the puns, double entendres and satires scattered throughout it.

What's most interesting about this book, however, is that it breaks every writing rule I know. The main characters are constantly dying but their replacements are just as quirky (like G-Bat, the cape-wearing fighter of crimes against fashion, who can’t enter a room without diving through a glass window), and although there's no back story, deep point of view or any of the normal characterization you expect in a book, I wanted to experience the characters' journey with them anyway.

The plot jumps all over the place in a constant parody of films, popular culture, politics and sports. It’s great fun to see classics like James Bond being re-lived by magical chip packets, and even if it can’t teach you much about writing a story-line  it certainly makes enough fun of cliches to give you an idea of what to avoid. Occasionally I caught myself thinking ‘here we go again’, but generally the plot kept changing direction before I could get too annoyed, and my only concern upon finishing it was that I’d like to have seen more from a fairly abrupt ending. I also struggled with the editing at times, as there are instances of passive voice and telling instead of showing given that the book aims for children as well as adults, but you can forgive that if you look to the grown-up jokes which lie beyond it. After all it’s not pretending to be Dickens, it’s just meant to be a bit of a laugh.

While we’re on that subject the world-building is utterly ridiculous in the best possible way, being mainly set in garbage-dump cities like the famous Mount Sombrero in Mexico, and Michael has great attention to detail and a truly imaginative range of garbage related props for his characters to play with. As a result the book reads like an episode of South Park crossed with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s brave, curious, or particularly fond of crisps.

Michael's own example sketch.
Now are you ready to bring out the
prize-winning artist in you?
Now if you want to score yourself a free copy, plus some other awesome prizes, this is your chance!  You see, Super Spud personalities are determined by their flavors, i.e. tuna flavors, being full of fish oil, are extremely smart, while steak and spinach flavors are thick, strong, and will do absolutely anything to earn a medal of ridiculous heroism for their kind. So, Michael is offering a signed copy of The Super Spud Trilogy to the best flavor/personality combo, PLUS their creation will get a cameo role in the next book!

And if that’s not enough, the best illustration of a Super Spud will earn a signed copy, PLUS a $30 e-voucher!  The contest will run from now until midnight on the 22nd October, so grab your drawing gloves and thinking caps because I’ll be posting an interview with Michael tomorrow, along with details on how to submit your entry. Good luck!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Strudels, Throat Singing, and Another Blog Award!

What, dear friends, is a Leibster? I don’t know, and I don’t have enough expendable internet to look it up, so I’m going to assume from the spelling that it must be some sort of German strudel. Why is it relevant? Because Tamara from One Magic Bean Buyer just nominated my blog for a German strudel award!

First things first, I have to answer her questions:

If you could have any talent in the world, which one would you choose? I’m a musician, so I’d like to become a better spoon player, leaf whistler or Mongolian throat-singer.

What's the number one most played song on your iPod? Well since I look 23 but am actually a closet 80-year-old I’ve never actually owned any portable music playing devices. However the song most hummed as I’m doddering about would have to be Gimme Shelter, by the Rolling Stones.

Name three writers you admire and tell us why. Charles Dickens – because A Tale Of Two Cities is the best thing I’ve ever read.  Catherine Ryan Howard – because she’s successfully self-published, her blog is amazing, and she is a constant source of inspiration and entertainment. And Jane Austen – because I’ve read her early works and even as a teenager she was witty, sarcastic, and already challenging the social norm.
Plus, she gave us Mr. Darcy.
If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you want to be? My favorite animals are goats but since they’re a tad lower on the food chain than I’d like, I’d go for my second favorite – a tiger.

What is one of your favorite quotes?
 And on the bank a lonely flower he spied,
A meek and forlorn flower, with naught of pride,
Drooping its beauty o’er the watery clearness,
To woo its own sad image into nearness.
– John Keats, ‘I Stood Tip-Toe Upon A Little Hill’.

What chore do you hate doing? Do I have to pick just one? It’d have to be getting a doona (that’s Australian for quilt) into a doona cover.

What is your favorite month of the year? September – because not only is it the first sign of summer, but it's also the first time all year I can wash my smelly dog without her staying wet for a week.

If you could throw any kind of party (money is no object) what would it be? And for who? I’d throw a Hogwarts-style Christmas party for families on the streets or who are too poor to have a proper Christmas.

If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would you stay? Twenty one. (Would that make my inner self only 78?)

If you had to change your first name, what name would you want? I've always liked Amabel, my middle name, so I'd probably pinch that.

Which superpower would you pick if they were up for grabs? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – I’d have telekinesis, so I could easily get the dirt out of my carpet.

And there you have it! Now on to the rules for my award nominees:

Answer the blogger's eleven questions.
Think of eleven questions of your own.
Choose eleven worthy bloggers (with fewer than 200 followers) to pay it forward.

And my questions:

Can you tongue roll, cross eye, ear wiggle or perform any other feats of physics? (And you can’t say getting motion sick at the slightest provocation, because I call dibs on that).
Would you rather watch that video from The Ring, or start up a nice, family-friendly game of Jumanji?
If you could be any book character, who would you be and why?
What fantasy invention do you most wish was real? e.g. Light sabres… invisibility cloaks… or those completely innocent and in no way drug riddled potions from Alice In Wonderland…
Name one habit you’re trying to break.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? (Because I feel like sleeping with the light on for a month).
What was the first job you ever wanted?
What was the first job you ever had? (Sorry!)
If you had to live in any time period, past or present, other than now, what would you choose?
What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever been?
Finally, if you could apparate, where in the world would be your favourite spot to take your lunch breaks?

And last but not least, my nominees. Go check them out:

And since blogging is meant to be fun, my final nomination can go to the first to call dibs in the comments. Ready. Set. Go!


P.S. Hi to any new visitors to the blog! I've got a super massive $30 ebook voucher giveaway coming up next week, so feel free to stick around!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Pitch Contests: Beware...

Today I’m nursing a gig hangover (i.e. my fingers are blistered from playing bass, my hair is wider than it is long and my eye makeup has migrated beneath my eyes in a mirror image of what it was last night), so I’ll keep this quick. I want to share something I learnt from entering a pitch contest recently, in the hope that no-one makes the same mistake I did. I’ll admit this is pretty basic stuff but probably something easily overlooked, so I’m glad I got the reminder and happy to share.

See I ended up in the top ten entries for a recent pitch contest but one little word planted considerable doubt in the judges, and that’s hardly what you want when the prize is a full request from an acquisitions editor. The offending word was ‘urban’, because I’d listed my entry as urban fantasy when it read as fantasy alone. Given my pitch (which I’ve included below along with the judges’ comments), they were right to assume I’d mislabelled it. The trouble is my story is urban fantasy. It’s set in suburban Wales, where two ordinary suburban kids get roped into learning a crash course in defensive magic from two medieval stowaways who are trying to stop an ancient war. They go to school, do their homework and use the internet (and time travel) to solve the mystery which can save their bloodlines, so I’ve been told by many that it is urban fantasy and I was just sticking to that.

Understandably, I banged my head against a brick wall for about three days afterwards. But once I got over my head wall hangover, I figured you’ve just got to be flexible with the genre you list in these competitions (as I know there are heaps out there and they usually follow this format). Of course you have to be true to the book, because an agent or editor may be looking for a certain genre when they judge these contests and you don’t want to mess them around, but look out for grey areas in your work. I never would have noticed the ambiguity in mine, but now I know it’s there I’ll stick to fantasy as an easy middle ground.

And that’s it. Annoying, I know, but at least I learnt something from my mistake. And what about you guys? What’s your contest stuff up? (Or is it too painful to relive…?)


P.S. Speaking of contests, next week I'm hosting one you can't stuff up, but you can win yourself a $30 book voucher and signed book from my interview guest! Looking forward to seeing you there. :)

5. Name: Katherine Amabel -
Title: The Hourglass Bridge
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 95, 000
Hauled into medieval Wales, a teenage history-buff must embrace her bloodline’s destructive powers to stop a war she potentially started.

Terri’s Vote: (a reserved) Yes
Terri’s Comment: The pitch is really good, though the story sounds a bit “and the kitchen sink” (I would have been happy without the magical powers). Personally, I would LOVE this if it was humorous/light hearted, but it sounds more on the serious/epic side of the genre. Just a note – this doesn’t sound like Urban Fantasy (?) – UF is set in a city, using involving a paranormal element, and usually in a contemporary setting.

Erin's Comment: Yes. I like the idea and I also like the way the sentence is written. This is not urban fantasy, though. Depending on how the time travel happens, it's either fantasy if it's a black box or done with magic, or science fiction if there is a reasonable explanation. This is basically the same type of story as A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, which would probably have been published as fantasy if such genre distinctions had existed back then. I think you are confusing "urban fantasy" with "paranormal" which is easy to do since the publishing industry itself has confused the terms and allowed the one to morph into the other over time. "Paranormal" I will grant you, for the use of magic. Paranormal Science Fiction isn't actually a genre, though-- that's called fantasy. I have a particular love of time travel stories (as you could probably tell, since I was already publishing the Time Yarns Universe before I became Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books) and so I've seen lots of lots of time travel stories. This one doesn't sound exactly like any of the others, though. I would read this for publication.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

On Puppies, Marshmallows and How To Write YA: A Review

As far as feel-good reads go, it doesn’t get much more puppies and marshmallows than What A Boy Wants, by Nyrae Dawn. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I was given my copy for review, but thinking back I remember nothing but fun, entertainment, and enough fangirling over the main character to make even my teenage sister puke, so I’ll do my best to do it justice here today.

Firstly the plot had a classic happy ending storyline, and although I thought I had it all figured out in the first chapter (which, I confess, did irritate me), Nyrae went on to throw in enough obstacles and diversions to keep me second-guessing myself right to one of the cutest finales I’ve ever read. And once we were on that home straight, I couldn’t help thinking, as a writer, that it was a perfect example of how to pull the story threads together so that nothing’s left undone.

I also have to commend Nyrae on the creation of Sebastian, a boy so real I now understand the blogs with the badge ‘what would Sebastian say?’, as I could completely imagine asking him that myself. The voice used to portray him is believable, funny and sensitive, and it was a pleasure to spend time with a real character and his real friends. Part of me wished for a few more complexities in the supporting cast but at the end of the day they’re just normal teenagers, and as it’s a YA novel, that’s exactly what they should be.

Being of that genre I expected the book to be rich in morals and themes and it certainly was, but nothing ever felt too obvious. The concepts of friendship, loyalty, love and maturity (including alcohol-induced immaturity) were nicely dealt with, by showing actions and consequences without delving into a lecture about them. Normally I’d groan at another teen drinking scene, for example, but I was too enthralled by Sebastian’s point of view of the scene to be bothered. And judging from the number of highlighted phrases in my kindle copy, I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the messages and thought them worth pointing out.

The editing, too, blended nicely into the background to tie things together, and as a result the storyline flowed without a hitch. I have a tendency to go all “Ms. Trunchbull” on bad editing but as I didn’t throw a single child out of the window by their pony-tails, it shows Nyrae and her editor did an excellent job.

Overall, I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for a bit of light-hearted fun from their next read. I’d also suggest it for YA writers in particular, not only because of what I’ve mentioned here but also because the opening pages had me wishing I was an agent so I could discover the book for myself, since Nyrae so effectively hooked me on a unique character with a fascinating story to tell. My rating: 8/10