Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: The Dead Guy, by Doug Hewitt

Be sure to read all the way to the end of this post for a FREE OFFER!

The Dead Guy by Doug Hewitt

Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Aberdeen Bay (December 15, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0981472575
Rating: *****


Jack Thigpen is not your typical protagonist: he is an insurance fraud investigator, an ex-professional tennis player, and he is dying. He is hired to investigate a repair shop that has an unusual number of claims, and within a day he is shot at and his best friend is killed.

Through the course of investigating who shot at him, Jack is soon embroiled in something even bigger than he ever thought possible. While shaking down the various people he comes across who may or may not know who took out the hit on him, Jack finds that the disease that will eventually kill him is at the same time hindering and helping him in different ways. He also has the unique perspective of knowing he is dying to help him see what the really important things in life truly are.

The Dead Guy is a fantastic tale in every sense of the word. Jack is subjected to incredible things by people you just don’t meet in everyday life. However, it is all so well presented and written that you believe every word. The characters are rich, with all the little foibles that make them real and human.

Doug Hewitt spins a raucous tale that is entertaining from the first page to the last. It is witty, poignant and exciting by turns, making you want to think a little about what you would do if you knew you would die within a year…or just forget real life for a short time while you enjoy his adventure. I highly recommend it!

And now for the requisite free offer: leave a comment on this post or the one with the interview when it is posted, and receive my review copy of The Dead Guy for FREE! I will make my selection at the end of March.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Author Interview: Ellen Feld

Today we learn a little about Ellen Feld, author of Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse. I am very proud to interview this very ambitious and successful lady!

Jennifer Walker: It's obvious from the book that you have some experience with horses and horse shows. Can you tell us a little about your background?

Ellen Feld: I started riding as a teen and showed on the local and Class A Morgan circuit. I began showing with my first Morgan, Rusty, who I bought from money saved from summer jobs. I currently have ten horses, eight of which are Morgans. Although the stories are fiction, all the horse characters are based on my real horses. That way, all the funny quirks, behaviors, etc. of each individual horse are accurately portrayed.

Jennifer Walker: What inspired the story of Blackjack?

Ellen Feld: The real Blackjack was my show horse in the late 90’s. I raised him myself and when he went off to the trainer’s, I missed him terribly. The trainer was almost 2 hours away from home and during that first winter, it seemed like it snowed every weekend and I couldn’t visit Blackjack. In January of that long winter, I was between writing assignments and wrote a short story about Blackjack, sending him on a fun adventure. I never planned to write an entire book. But several friends read the story and encouraged me to expand it into a book. Thus the story of Blackjack evolved.

Jennifer Walker: Will we ever see Blackjack again?

Ellen Feld: Yes! Blackjack is the star of the entire series and appears in all five books, Frosty, Rusty, Robin, and Annie – and will again find a place in book six, Rimfire, coming out this fall. He’s actually become something of a celebrity because Breyer Animal Creations made a model of him and packaged it with a copy of my book Blackjack. We toured the east coast, going to BreyerFest, as well as Equine Affaire in both Ohio and Massachusetts, and then to northern Vermont for Everything Equine. Blackjack loved all the attention and looked wonderful in his official blue Breyer cooler. He’s just received his first invitation for this year and will be hitting the road again in April.

Jennifer Walker: Can you talk about how you got your books published?

Ellen Feld: Because I’ve been writing for numerous regional and national horse publications for over 20 years, I thought (incorrectly) that it would be easy to get my first book published as I was a proven commodity. Wrong. I contacted about 20 publishers and received lots of form letters saying ‘thanks but no thanks.’ Not one to quit, I decided to self-publish. I created my own company, Willow Bend Publishing, and love it. It’s been a great experience and I truly enjoy having full control over my books, from plot, to format, to cover artwork. Of course there’s also an enormous amount of work involved and I am busy marketing every day. To date, I’ve sold over 50,000 copies of my books, with is a huge number for a self-publisher.

Jennifer Walker: What is your greatest writing accomplishment?

Ellen Feld Professionally, it would be winning the ‘Children’s Choices’ award co-sponsored by The International Reading Association and The Children’s Book Council, not once, but twice! The winners of this award are selected by 10,000 kids from around the country and I was competing with titles from large publishing houses with all sorts of topics. For horse books from a tiny self-publisher to rise to the top is a huge honor.

What touches me the most, however, is when parents come up to me at book signings and tell me they couldn’t get their child to read and then they bought my books and their child now reads them over and over. I really love it when my readers stop by my booth at a signing and tell me they’ve read all my books, then proceed to tell me about a horse they bought because of my stories, and then ask why I can’t write faster and have more books published. It’s very cute.

Jennifer Walker: Can you tell us a little about your family? Are they supportive of your writing?

Ellen Feld: Yes. My husband gets a kick out of the success and has been great about being my driver and handyman whenever Blackjack and I need to travel. I have two teenage kids who have grown up with my books so they’re pretty used to the attention. As long as I include their horses in the stories, they’re happy.

Jennifer Walker: What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?

Ellen Feld:
Don’t ever give up! It takes persistence to get anywhere in the book world. There are so many wannabe authors, but many give up too easily. You also need to stand out from the crowd to gain a publisher’s attention as there are literally thousands of authors vying for that one book deal. What makes your book different? Why should a publisher take a chance on you? Do you simply have three chapters of a book that you’ve been working on forever, or is your book finished? For those who want to go the self-publishing route, it’s a great way to go. But do your research! The average self-published book sells between 60 – 100 copies and most (all?) of those are to family and friends. Regardless of whether you self-publish or go through a traditional publisher, you will have to do most of the marketing for your book. Are you comfortable speaking with groups or strangers? Can you make cold calls? For every ten calls I make to push my books, I may get one or two responses. Some of my biggest successes came after countless calls to the same venue/customer.

Jennifer Walker: Can you tell us a little about your work as an equine journalist?

Ellen Feld:
I’ve been writing for numerous equine publications for over 20 years. I’ve written for Equestrian, The Morgan Horse, The Appaloosa Journal, Young Rider, The Miniature Horse Voice, The Reiner, Horseman’s Yankee Pedlar, Equine Journal, and many others. My favorite articles to write are those that deal with horse or people profiles. What makes them unique in the world of horses? I love interviewing people who have dedicated their lives to their horses. The enthusiasm when they talk about their beloved animals is contagious. As my books have taken off, however, I’ve cut back on my article writing as my time needs to be spent on writing the books and marketing them.

Jennifer Walker: What is a random, interesting fact about you that few people know?

Ellen Feld: Hmmmm…I’m a bird nut and have several parrots that keep me company while I write.

A huge congratulations to Ellen and her success! Her accomplishments as a self-published author are truly inspiring. Thank you again, Ellen, for stopping by!

Readers, don't forget to leave a comment on this post or the review for your chance at winning my review copy of Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse! I will make my random selection at the end of February.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book Review: Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse

Be sure to read all the way to the end of this post for a FREE OFFER!

Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse, by Ellen Feld

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 235 pages
Publisher: Willow Bend Pub; 3 edition (January 2, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0970900287


Heather Richardson loves horses, but she has never owned one—except in her dreams, where a beautiful black horse haunts her. Suddenly, her life is immersed in horses when she has a fortuitous conversation with Chauncy, her new bus driver who just happens to raise Morgan horses. He invites her to come and meet them, where she finds that Blackjack, the horse she has been dreaming of, is real. Soon she is working for Chauncy in exchange for lessons.

When Chauncy decides it is time for Heather’s favorite horse, Blackjack, to enter a horse show in an under saddle class to give him a good chance of winning his futurity, Chauncy decides that Heather is the one who will show him. Heather must learn a new riding style, saddle seat, and help Blackjack get ready for the show ring before they can enter their first under saddle class together. Soon after the show, tragedy strikes and Heather has to figure out how to save her beloved horse.

Although it is written for 9-12-year-old readers, Blackjack is an endearing story that any horse lover can relate to, young or old. It is a classic tale of a young girl’s love for her horse helping her to triumph over any obstacle in her path—whether it is a difficult canter lead or an evil horse trainer.

Blackjack is a wonderful book for young readers, showing them what a little hard work and perseverance can accomplish. Ms. Feld also manages to provide a primer on horse care and horse shows, weaving this excellent information into the story so it isn’t boring or preachy. It is a delightful read, with just the right mix of action and emotion.

There are several books in Ellen Feld’s series, each of which has won at least one national award. In addition, Breyer selected Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse to pair with one of their models! This is the first time they have done a pairing with a modern story—all previous such packages involved classics like Black Beauty and The Black Stallion. Congratulations to Ellen Feld on her tremendous success! We’ll learn a little about her tomorrow, when I post her interview.

FREE OFFER! I will give my review copy of Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse by Ellen Feld to a random commenter for free! Just make a comment on this review or the interview when it is posted. I will make my selection at the end of February.