Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: Across the Pond, by Storyheart

Check the end of this post for a FREE offer!

Across the Pond, by Storyheart

Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation; 1st edition (September 25, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1436371767
Rating (scale of 1 to 5 stars): ****


Fred Squire is not happy to be packed off on a plane from his native England to stay in America with a family he doesn’t know while his parents go to Australia on vacation. However, he makes the best of it and soon finds that “Uncle Phil” and his family are great fun—and that Phil’s daughter, Brittany, is hot and fun.

Fred and Brit soon become an "item", and she refers to him as her English Knight. He stands up for her when she has to face Steve Harris, a boy she dated once and who upset her deeply. Meanwhile, she and her parents show Fred around in fine style and help him with his school project of finding the differences between British and American English.

I can’t help but read the story with an editor’s eye, and I feel there are some places that could have been developed a bit more to enrich the story and bump up the page count a little. There were a couple of minor inconsistencies and other issues that can easily be fixed. However, these issues were few in number and small in nature, and the story was so enjoyable that it was easy to get past them.

Across the Pond is a fun, uplifting story that young teenagers should enjoy. It has everything: love, adventure, conflict, heroism, and even sports. The characters are fun and engaging, leaving you wanting to have more adventures with them, and readers learn a little about what it would be like to visit a foreign country—even one where the language is the same as your own...only completely different.

Coming soon: an interview with the author, Storyheart!

Want a free copy of this book? Make a comment on this post or the interview when it is posted. At the end of February, I will pick a random person to receive my review copy for FREE!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Author Interview: Michelle L. Devon (Michy)

I am very proud today to interview Michelle L. Devon (Michy), who is my writing and editing mentor. She has taught me a lot about the industry in the past year and change I have been working with her, and she has held my hand and let me cry on her shoulder dozens of times while I struggled through writing and editing my books and launching my freelance career. She is the proprietress of Accentuate Services and moderator/mentor extraordinaire of the Accentuate Writer's Forum. Stop by the forum for some writerly companionship, advice and paying writing leads!

Jennifer Walker: How did you get your start as a published author?

Michelle L. Devon: I had a friend in the publishing industry, who was the EIC of a small publishing company. She had contracted me to do some editing work. While working with her, we chatted about some of the things I'd written and she asked me to send them to her. I did, and she offered to publish a book of my essays. I was excited, so immediately started pulling together some of my best things, and the rest is history. Later, I was published in an anthology where I was also the lead editor, and then went on to publish two other books.

So I guess I got my start as a published author by being a manuscript editor first.

Jennifer Walker: Can you tell us a little about the different books you have published?

Michelle L. Devon: I have had three books published, and three short fiction stories in an anthology. Two books are essays and prose, contemporary philosophical type stuff. They are In a Perfect World, and The Path: A Series on Redemption and Sensual Awakening. The other book is a nonfiction book, How to Create an Effective Employee Handbook, with step-by-step instructions, forms, legal information, and a companion CD-ROM. The anthology was a suspense-type collection of short stories from nine authors, many of whom are award winning. It was an honor to be selected to be included with them for my three shorts, The Crazy Cat Lady, Empath, and Dreamwalking.

Jennifer Walker: You are a full-time writer. What kind of writing work do you spend most of your time on?

Michelle L. Devon: That's changed a lot recently. I used to spend most of my time writing freelance articles. Second most were the web content articles. I needed the money from them to keep me afloat while I wrote my fiction. Here recently, though, I'm spending most of my time on fiction writing, working on my novels, and I only write articles now when the mood hits me or I'm really interested in something and feel compelled to write it.

I love working on the novels. I get so wrapped up in the characters, it's hard to pull myself away sometimes.

Jennifer Walker: Does your day-to-day work, the work that brings in most of your income, get in the way of your fiction writing?

Michelle L. Devon: Sometimes, when I take on an editing project, I will put off my own writing until the editing is finished. I've found that the skill set needed to edit is different from the skill set needed to write, and sometimes switching back and forth between the two is tough.

Other times, I use 'work' as an excuse not to write. I mean, I love to write, but sometimes I fight it, particularly when I'm in the middle of a tough scene or have a character being difficult. For the most part, though, I do try to write in my novels at least a little bit every day.

Jennifer Walker:
What writing-related achievement are you most proud of?

Michelle L. Devon: This might sound silly, but with all I have accomplished, I am most proud of is an essay I wrote in the fifth grade. I entered it in an essay contest, and I placed. Can't remember what place or what the award was, but I remember that essay as being the catalyst for making me dream that just maybe something bigger could be achieved with the words and ideas that rattled around in my brain and forced their way out onto paper.

However, talk to me again after my novel, Identify, wins a Pulitzer (fingers crossed), and let's see if I change my answer.

Jennifer Walker:
You do a lot of mentoring to other writers, including me. How do you find the time to do this, yet complete your own projects?

Michelle L. Devon: Sometimes I don't!

I don't know how I do it. What I do know is that the universe gives back to you what you put out into it. I live with that philosophy that, "You are what you help others become..." so if I want to be a successful writer, I should help others become successful writers and my success, along with the divine inspiration and action on my part, will come to me.

So far, the universe has made sure I always seem to have the time to do everything I need to do. I don't question it, but I am grateful!

Jennifer Walker:
How supportive is your family of your writing lifestyle?

Michelle L. Devon: Oh, man. My sister and my mother's husband are fascinated by what I do, and proud of me, I guess. My mother, she doesn't seem to understand at all. At Thanksgiving last year, I gave her a copy of my most recent book and she flipped through it and said, "You're weird." I asked her what she meant and she said something about not understanding how someone could write for a living and come up with the ideas and such. I told her my friends and fellow writers didn't think I was weird. She responded with, "Well, they're weird too."

However, my immediately family, those who are closest to me and who live with me, they are very supportive of what I do. When I was finishing my most recent manuscript, with a working title of What Brothers Do, I recall them leaving the house one night to leave me alone, so I could finish it without interruption. I also recall them laughing at me when I was typing and crying during one scene, but they did it lovingly. I'm blessed to have family and good friends who really encourage and support me in my writing endeavors.

Thanks again to Michelle L. Devon (Michy) for stopping by to chat! While we're at it, let's clear up something people are always wondering's pronounced "Mickey". :)


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Review: Still Life with Elephant: A Novel, by Judy Reene Singer

Still Life with Elephant: A Novel, by Judy Reene Singer

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Broadway (July 10, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0767926773
Rating (scale of one to five stars): *****


Still Life with Elephant
is Judy Reene Singer’s second book, and after reading Horseplay, I had to run out and buy it as soon as it came out. Ms. Singer has a witty and lively writing style that makes me want to read everything she writes—I’d settle for shopping lists at this point!

Still Life with Elephant
is a slight departure in style from her first book in that it has a much more somber tone. Neelie Sterling recently learned that her husband, Matt, is going to be a father—with another woman. Now, she is struggling to pay the bills and mend her heart by throwing herself into her horse training business. When she learns her wandering husband is headed to Zimbabwe to rescue an elephant, she decides to go along in hopes of also rescuing her failed marriage.

Ms. Singer takes the reader on an exciting ride to Africa to obtain said elephant, but the story doesn’t end there. Once the elephant is home, Neelie must tame her so she can become a safe member of the animal sanctuary where she now lives. Meanwhile, Neelie's relationship with Matt and the sanctuary’s benefactor become more complicated.

The introspective nature of Still Life with Elephant touched me deeply. My heart ached right along with Neelie’s, and I felt as though I was a part of her successes. I related to her hearing problem (or is it more of a listening problem?), where she often hears something quite different from what the person actually said, because I often do the same thing. Neelie is incredibly real, with real-life problems—even though those problems come in a package most of us are not familiar with. Many of us have struggled with warring emotions and major life changes, and Ms. Singer presents them very poignantly. Neelie is likable, someone I could imagine having as a friend, and I missed her as soon as the book was over.

Although the overall theme of the books is somber, there are some light moments where Ms. Singer injects her delightful sense of humor. There are some wonderful interactions between the characters and enough lightness to keep the book from being depressing.

Still Life with Elephant is a journey. Neelie travels many miles, and in the end she not only rescues her elephant, but herself. She enters a new era of her life, leaving behind many of the trappings of the old one. I greatly enjoyed taking the journey with her and felt as though I’d changed a little myself by the time it was over. I highly recommend it, along with Judy Reene Singer’s first book, Horseplay.

I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Singer a few questions about Still Life with Elephant: A Novel.

JW: What inspired the story of Still Life with Elephant?

Judy Reene Singer: There is an elephant named Fritha who lives near me, in upstate New York, much like the elephant in Still Life. She had been rescued many years ago from Viet Nam where she had been napalmed as an infant. Yes, you read that right. Our government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to napalm the elephants during the Viet Nam war as a means of deterring transportation. She was flown to New York and treated, and lives in a sanctuary about ten miles from me. I had the opportunity to meet her through a good friend and was struck by her dignity and forgiveness and incredible majesty. Honestly, you have to stand near one, in a small barn, with nothing between you, to understand how incredible this is.

JW: Do any of your characters come from real life?

Judy Reene Singer: I suppose there is a little of me in all my characters. Neelie and I do share some traits. I train horses as an avocation, specializing for many years in troubled horses (my bones don't heal so fast anymore, so I just train good horses now!) and I have a habit of not paying attention and thus mishearing conversations, sometimes to an absurd conclusion.

Jennifer Walker: You seem to know a lot about elephants. Do you have real life experience with them?

Judy Reene Singer: I had to do a lot of research for Still Life and ultimately became a foster mom to four baby elephants in Kenya at the David Sheldrick Animal Sanctuary in Kenya. I did a lot of traveling, met a lot of elephants, and fell in love a million times. Fritha is still my favorite and I visit her on a frequent basis.

Jennifer Walker: I understand you have a sequel coming out. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Judy Reene Singer: The sequel is called An Inconvenient Elephant and it takes Neelie to a new level in rescue. We'll meet Diamond-Rose Tremaine, a gal she meets when they both flee Kenya during the political riots. Diamond-Rose has spent twenty years in the bush as a safari leader and isn't quite housebroken anymore, but Neelie offers her a place to stay. Diamond is sort of a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Eloise and gets Neelie involved with one of the most daring elephant rescues ever.

Jennifer Walker: How did you get your start as a published author?

Judy Reene Singer: I wrote for magazines for years, mostly horse magazines, since horses are my first love (besides dogs, cats, parrots and sundry other creatures!) I had a lot of fans through my humorous feature stories (The Chronicle of the Horse was gracious enough to publish me a lot) and they suggested a book. I had so much material! And so I wrote Horseplay.

A huge thanks to Judy Reene Singer for consenting to be my first review on my new blog! Best wishes for the sequel; I'm looking forward to reading it.