Soundtracks for Books

 

Ok, my mind is blown. Seriously. I’ve just discovered booktrack.com – a site where you can read books while listening to the soundtracks for those books. So, it’s like watching a movie, only you’re reading.

If you haven’t heard of them yet, then you must – MUST – check them out. It’s cool. Really cool.

And it’s free.

I’ll say that again because it’s important. It’s FREE. Oh, and it’s really easy to use.

If you’re a teacher you should know that booktrack.com has a special membership for you and your students. It’s called booktrackclassroom.com and kids can add their own soundtracks to stories they’ve written. Like many of the other educational resources you’ve used, booktrackclassroom is a closed network, so you have full control of its content which is shared within the classroom only. Students’ work will not be made public.

I will absolutely be making soundtracks for my books, starting with the prequel teaser, Defiant. I can hardly wait to get started!

Once you try booktrack.com let me know what you think of it by leaving a comment below, or by emailing me at valerie@valeriefrancis.ca .

Happy reading (and listening)!

 

Interview with Paul Butler (Part 1)

Award-winning Newfoundland author, Paul Butler is about to release his latest novel entitled The Good Doctor. While the book might centre around Sir Wilfred Grenfell, it isn’t a biography. In fact, what Paul has written is a rather thought-provoking twist on the generally accepted image of this iconic character from Newfoundland and Labrador’s history.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Victoria Barbour (Part 1)

 

Newfoundland author Victoria Barbour is rereleasing her debut novel Against Her Rules as part of a ten-book collection of contemporary romances called Passionate Kisses. Victoria is the only Canadian writer to be selected for inclusion in this box set. In this interview she tells us a bit about her novel and her series.

The final part of this interview, in which Victoria talks about her decision to be an indie author, will be posted July 2, 2014.

And of course you can win a copy of Against Her Rules by entering your name in the giveaway below the video!

 

 

 

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Interview with Author Kate Robbins (Part 2)

 

In this interview, Kate tells us what Promised to the Highlander is all about, and introduces us to the hero, Fergus MacKay. Be sure to check out our blooper reel at 5:11. :)

Interview with Kate Robbins, part one.

The third and final part of this interview will be posted on Monday, June 16, 2014.

 

Interview with Author Kate Robbins

 

Here is the first of three video interviews with Newfoundland author Kate Robbins on the publication of the second novel in her Highland Chiefs historical romance series, Promised to the Highlander. The second interview will be posted on June 9, 2014.

Kate’s debut novel, Bound to the Highlander, won the 2013 TARA Award and hit #1 on the Amazom.com Medieval Historicals bestseller list.

 

Coming Soon … Videos!

A few months ago, when I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish my novel, a wise friend listened to my frustrations with patience and understanding and told me to relax and enjoy the writing process. That friend is Lesleyanne Ryan, author of the award-winning Braco. When I asked why, she said “because writing the book is the easy part.” I scoffed. Nothing could possibly be harder than writing a novel.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Enter book marketing.

For a while I would start to convulse every time I thought about having to flog my wares—book signings at the local Costco where I’d sit for hours unnoticed, lost in a jumble of oversized shopping carts. Public readings with no one but my mother in attendance, the sound of crickets chirping in the background. A basement filled with unsold copies of my magnum opus, destined for use as door stops.

But then I remembered that marketing is really just about connecting with people. As an extrovert, this excites me. Writing requires copious hours alone in front of a computer and I found that challenging. I mean, the cats are fine company but they’re not interested in having ideas bounced off them. They have no opinion on things like character development and point of view. And the dog has long since abandoned me in favour of eating tissues out of the bathroom waste bins.

So while I research book two of my series, I’m also updating my business plan to include marketing.

Most of it will be social media for now, which will be a struggle given the time requirements and learning curves. But millions of other small business owners manage it, and so can I.

For example, this blog needs to somehow magically morph into a full fledged website. I keep waiting for the tech and design fairies to arrive during the night and do it, but so far there’s no sign of them. I suspect they’re vacationing in the Caribbean with the book-writing fairies who have also been conspicuous by their absence.

The other thing I’ll be doing is video!

This is really exciting…I mean, I love to read (love, love, love it!) but when given the option even I will watch a video over reading an article online. Yesterday afternoon I brainstormed a list of nearly twenty videos I can post to this blog and my YouTube channel.

Everything from interviews with authors (I already have two lined up) and the craft of writing, to topics directly related to my novel—fun stuff like character interviews, the Newfoundland dialect and language (we have some funky words—even our own dictionary), and a short stop animation film enacting a scene from my story. I’ve always wanted to try stop animation! Luckily my 10-year-old daughter is as excited as me. We’ve decided to take this on as our spring/summer project.

So, stay tuned! Lots of exciting things to come.

I’d love to hear your ideas for videos you’d like to see on this blog and eventually, my new website. Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Dreaming Up and Writing Down

Now that I’ve finished my magnum opus, many people have asked me what I’ll do next. The short answer is “write book two.” In fact, I’ve already started plotting it.

But what happens to book one? As I write, Crossing the Rubicon is safely in the hands of my beta readers—people who are reading my book and giving me feedback before I send it off to agents and publishers in mid-March.

When I started this blog in 2012, I called it “chronicles of a debut novelist” because honestly, the learning curve was enormous. I took a few writing classes, but for the most part I was learning how to write a book by writing a book. Actually, I think I could write a book about everything I learned about writing a book. :)

Ironically, one of the biggest lessons came from this blog—maintaining a social media presence is both difficult and time consuming. Difficult because I didn’t have a finished novel which meant I didn’t have anything really to talk about—no media interviews, public appearances, teaser text to share, trailer videos to post or cover art to reveal. I was just sitting alone in front of my computer. And that’s dull by anyone’s standards.

But it’s also time consuming and that was by far my bigger problem. I found myself spending precious writing hours drafting blog posts, crafting tweets, maintaining Facebook and well, my Goodreads account never did get off the ground the way I’d hoped.

I was increasing my follower numbers, but I wasn’t working on my novel.

So if social media is such a distraction, why spend any time on it at all? Terrific question. I asked a literary agent, a publisher and many authors the same thing. Bottom line? Publishers like writers to have an online presence. I’m not sure why but my theory is that it shows a person who can write consistently and well. It shows discipline, an awareness of marketing and a willingness to be an active participant in the successful realization of a story from initial concept to final ink and paper/digital product.

When a manuscript from a debut author comes across a publisher’s desk, one of the first things he does is a google search. (For the record, if you google “Valerie Francis” this blog should pop up in the top four. There’s a musician in Ireland with the same name and we toggle back and forth for the top spot. Go ahead, try it.)

Personally, I think quality of writing should trump a google rating or follower counter. That’s why last summer, as many of you noticed, I abandoned this blog and social media and spent all my time finishing my book. (Thanks for asking where I’d gone…nice to know people actually read my posts!)

Now though it’s time to revive the online presence, but in a manner that compliments my writing time. Not overshadows it.

I won’t be here everyday but I’ll pop in once a week (or so) to share more lessons learned, and give you a progress report on my novel’s path to publication.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming up and writing down worlds of new adventures.

Blog Hop: Writing Process—#thisishowwedo

My good friend and historical romance author, Kate Robbins tagged me in a blog hop last week. So now it’s my turn to answer a few questions – this time about my writing process.

What am I working on?

Funny you should ask … in fact, I just finished the first novel in a nine-book fantasy series for children (middle grade, ages 9-12). So right now I’m in the process of plotting out book two of that series, plus I have at last count, five other stories bouncing around in my head:

  • two literary fiction
  • one medieval (maybe historical, but probably fantasy) fiction
  • one women’s fiction (chick lit – my bestie wants me to finish it post haste)
  • and one regency novel set in Newfoundland

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’ll focus on the kids’ series for this one. The Nature Knights has been described as a medieval Narnia set in Newfoundland. So, having a Newfoundland setting certainly sets it apart from most other children’s fantasy novels. However, there’s also an important environmental theme running through the book, so I think that also sets it apart. Environmental protection has popped up in all sorts of books—the dystopian worlds of many novels are in effect, depictions of the world after environmental disaster. My story is pre-apocalypse, and although things haven’t fallen apart just yet, the writing is on the wall and it’s up to my four main characters to ensure Armageddon never happens.

Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy one. I’m writing The Nature Knights because this is the story that presented itself to me. I really can’t explain it any better than that. I was actually trying to write a different book entirely, but one character—Clancy Donovan—kept hijacking it and in the end, she browbeat me into writing The Nature Knights. She really isn’t the type of girl who takes no for an answer.

How does your writing process work?

I find this whole business of “writing process” fascinating. I know lots of authors who have a whole ritual set up to help summon the gods of creativity and inspiration. They couldn’t begin to put pen to paper until (and unless) certain elements are in place: they need to sit in a certain chair or have a particular drink in a particular mug. They need the wind to come from the east or the planet Neptune (which rules inspiration) to be in their fifth astrological house of creativity.

I don’t know about any of that stuff. To me, writing is like any other career so I show up every day and punch in the hours. Sometimes I work on computer, sometimes long hand. Nothing more to it than that.

Now I pass the baton on to three other authors, Lesley Richardson, Paul Butler and Jennie Marsland.

Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has just received her second grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and was also awarded a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets.

Paul Butler is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Titanic Ashes, Cupids, Hero, 1892, NaGeira, Easton’s Gold, Easton, and Stoker’s Shadow. His work has appeared on the judges’ lists for Canada Reads, the Relit Longlist for three consecutive years (2011 for Cupids; 2010 for Hero; and 2009 for 1892), and he was a winner in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards four times between 2003 and 2008 at which time he retired from the competition to be literary representative, and then chair, of the Arts and Letters Committee. A graduate of Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, Butler has written for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s History Magazine (formerly The Beaver), Books in Canada, Atlantic Books Today, and Canadian Geographic, and has also contributed to CBC Radio, local and national. He lives in St. John’s. His website is http://paulbutlernovelist.wordpress.com.

Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for most of her life, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction. Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia for the last thirty years, she lives with her husband Everett and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Chance and Echo. Her website is http://jenniemarsland.com.

Lobsters, Life & Literature

Last week, my kids and I enjoyed mouth-watering, fresh Atlantic lobster with my parents. The poor little crustaceans were taken out of the water Friday morning, and were on my plate by suppertime. Talk about succulent!

Lobsters boiled to perfection.
Lobsters boiled to perfection.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the great joys of living in a seaport on the east coast. The weather leaves much to be desired, but the food is divine. To all my dear friends and relatives living “on the mainland” … eat your hearts out.

Dad, a true gourmet, has always taken great pride in orchestrating elaborate meals for those with refined and discerning palates. This melt-in-your-mouth lobster is merely the tip of the iceberg. My childhood is filled with memories of stuffed fresh Atlantic salmon (too big to fit in Mom’s oven!), flambé crown pork roast and chocolate éclairs (yes, completely from scratch). There was an octopus in there somewhere too.

Now, nearing the age of 70, Dad has begun to pass on some of his coveted culinary secrets to my son (aged 13 and 51 weeks, but who’s counting?). My young man has inherited his grandfather’s love of cooking and all things food. He stuffed and cooked his first turkey (a whopping 30 pounder) when he was only nine – homemade dressing and all.

Why have I chosen to write about this in a blog that is supposed to be about the trials and tribulations of writing a debut novel? First of all, the lobster really was that good. And yes, I’m fiercely proud of my father and my son and will gush about them both every chance I get. But those aren’t the reasons.

It’s because family – the importance of it, the definition of it and the bonds between generations – is an important theme in my novel, Crossing the Rubicon.

My protagonist’s father is about as far from Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee) as you can get. He’s a guy on the edge. His focus is on accumulating material wealth and he’s at risk of losing it all. He’s become a negligent parent, a disrespectful husband and frankly, a total jerk.

Without an effective father, my character still needs a father figure to guide him through his coming of age. This is pretty standard stuff in literature. Harry Potter had Mr. Weasley and Sirius Black (Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling), Tom Ward had the Spook (The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney), and so on. In my case, Al Archer has his grandfather (Liam Finnegan).

In a way it’s a throw-back to times gone by, when several generations lived under one roof. That was quite common here in Newfoundland, and in many other cultures too of course. It still is in some areas.

Fresh Atlantic Lobster
Fresh Atlantic Lobster

I haven’t included a lobster boil in Crossing the Rubicon, but it’s exactly the kind of scene that would be right at home in my story. The wise grandfather passing on sage advice to the young grandson taking his first tentative steps into manhood. Staging this conversation while the characters are cooking opens up all kids of opportunities for subtext and metaphors.

Oh yeah, a lobster boil will absolutely show up somewhere in one of the other books I have planned for the series. I already have one sandwich-making scene in Crossing the Rubicon, but I foresee many more meal descriptions in the future.

So Dad, son, what’s next? Some jumbo shrimp perhaps? Rotisserie chicken on the bbq? Or maybe a little prime rib …

Terrific Summer Read: “Against Her Rules” by Victoria Barbour

Only 8 more sleeps until summer officially begins! Time to break out the frosted drinks, beach chairs and steamy romance novels. No matter how long your summer reading list is, there’s always room for one more book – and do I have a recommendation for you!

Against Her Rules is the debut novel of Newfoundland-born author, Victoria BarbourAgainst Her Rules Cover Art

Set it outport Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada, Against Her Rules chronicles the love affair between B&B owner Elsie Walsh and her hunky guest Campbell Scott. The hero is (you guessed it) Scottish and looks like “someone took a dash of Gerard Butler, added a sprinkle of Daniel Craig, and then spiced it up with a little bit of Colin Farrell.” Yup.  That’ll do.

This book is just plain fun from start to finish. Its sexy, witty and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Elsie and Cam are of course, beautiful and charismatic, but two of the minor characters stole the show for me – 96-year old Aunt Ida who “religiously permed her hair every six weeks” and Asher (Ted) Corbin, the ne’er-do-well rock star. They’re both so vividly drawn, I’m sure I’ve met them. Barbour’s description of the Inn, a renovated 1880s merchant’s home, the stylish décor and the hearty Newfoundland menu made me wish the place was real.

I met with Victoria Barbour recently to discuss her debut novel.  Here’s a bit of our conversation:

When I think of romantic settings for a novel, outport Newfoundland doesn’t come to mind.  What possessed – I mean, inspired you, to set AHR in an outport?

For me, Newfoundland is the most romantic place on earth. I can name a dozen romantic spots in St. John’s, and I just love our outports. When I say I’m passionate about Newfoundland, I really mean it. I love this place. Our scenery is amazing, and our people are vibrant. That said, I think you can make almost any setting romantic so long as you have the right characters doing romantic things. Romance is in the heart, and the pheromones. If you’re “feelin’ it”, it doesn’t matter where you are.

Newfoundland has some great place names – Heart’s Delight and Little Heart’s Ease to name just two. Is Heart’s Ease in AHR based on either of these communities, or is it completely fictional?

Heart’s Ease is entirely fictional, but the name did come from those communities. I love the place names we have here. And I’ve always been intrigued about three communities in a row—Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Desire, Heart’s Content— and how they got their names. I’d initially thought Little Heart’s Ease was there as well, but then I learned that’s on the other side of Trinity Bay. I chose Heart’s Ease because when I thought about Elsie’s inn, I thought it had a warm feel about it. Kind of the idea that you can go there to rest your heart. So whether you’re going for romance, or as is the case for many of her celebrity guests, a refuge from reality, it made sense to me. It’s a place to ease your heart.

Ida and Asher – talk about scene stealers! I have to know, are they based on anyone you know?

Everyone seems to love them. It’s great when your secondary characters really resonate with people. They are completely fictional. When I write, I have no idea where the story is going, or who is going to make an appearance. I think it’s important to build a personality for your main characters, and I find the best way to show who they are, is to observe them interacting with other people. My secondary characters pop into the story and often I don’t know who they are until they start to develop on the page. Aunt Ida is a mixture of a bunch of people I’ve known. Her age comes from the longevity of the women in my family—I have a great aunt who’s 105 or 106! Ida’s personality is her own, but I can see now that some of the things she says might have come from my grandmother, or my own aunts. As for Asher, he was a big surprise. He wasn’t meant to be likeable. But then the more he developed, the more I liked him. In retrospect, I can look back on his character and think that he might have some Russell Brand elements to him, but he’s his own guy.

The house in AHR is so vividly drawn, it’s actually one of the characters. Have you ever been in a place like this? Do you dream of owning a B&B?

I wish I’d been to a B&B like Heart’s Ease Inn. Owning an Inn or B&B is something my husband and I have talked about for a long time. But it’s a pipe dream. I don’t think a house like that would really exist in an outport, at least to that size. That’s why the story was important to explain why it would exist. The idea of building something and then leaving it behind came from the colony of Avalon (in Ferryland), and the whole Lord Baltimore experiment. Of course, this house was built in the 19th century. I think it would be wonderful if people could come and stay in the Heart’s Ease Inn. But imagine the work, and the money, it would take to make it real! Still, we have some fantastic B&Bs in this province, and if I could get some of my readers to explore those places, I’d think my novel was a real success.

Newfoundland has produced some incredible authors of literary fiction – Wayne Johnston, Lisa Moore, Michael Crummey and Donna Morrissey just to name a few. We’re not so well known for our genre fiction though. Why did you choose to write a romance rather than stay with the tried and true?

You know, you have to write what comes naturally for you. I need to enjoy what I’m producing. You spend a long time with your book, and your characters, and for me, I need to feel the story. I love to read those fantastic literary works that come from here, but it’s not me. I didn’t set out to be a romance writer, and I’m sure in the future I’ll create books that are fantasy, or chick lit, or children’s books—who knows, I might even one day manage something that someone thinks is literary. But first and foremost, I write for enjoyment—mine and my readers. At this stage in my life, romance is what works for me.

My reading tastes were guided by my grand-mother, Elizabeth Barbour. When I was a little girl and teenager, most of what I read was on her recommendation. She introduced me to Catherine Cookson and Jean Plaidy in particular. When I was in my 20s, I really got into fantasy and historical fiction.  She had no time for fantasy, but we shared many historical fiction novels. Then when I was in my 30s, she started handing me some really well-written historical romances, especially those by Julia Quinn and Julia London. Nan got sick almost four years ago with cancer, and she died very quickly. The last book we read together was What Happens in London. She left me all her books! And there were a lot of romances. Hundreds. So I started reading my way out of grief with those. And then I thought, I’m going to write a romance for Nan. I still haven’t finished that one. But a funny thing happened when I started writing that romance. I realized all the novels I’d started and never finished were romances. It was in me all along, I’d just just never really thought about it.

You may have written a genre piece, but these characters are quintessentially Newfoundland – especially Ida. There’s an old joke in this province about how hard it is to give directions since the road are actually developed cow paths and there are few street signs. The punch line is “come to think on it, you can’t get there from here.” This scene captures the essence of that joke beautifully. Will you set it up for us?

Sure. Cam, our Scottish hero, is on his way to the Heart’s Ease Inn, but his GPS keeps bringing him to empty fields. The cell service is terrible, and he’s totally lost. He’s frustrated as all hell. And when he does manage to get though to the inn, he gets Aunt Ida on the line, a 96-year-old woman who’s newest goal is to travel to Scotland.

The ring crackled, like he was dialing 1982, but at least it was ringing.

“Hello?”

The voice on the other end was older than he expected. “Hello. Is this the Heart’s Ease Inn?”

“Oh my. Are you Scottish?” the voice trilled.

“Aye. Have I rung the inn?”

“I’m planning a trip to Scotland. Where abouts are you from?”

“Glasgow. Excuse me but…”

“Oh, a Glaswegian, are you? I was hoping for Edinburgh. I don’t have any plans to go to Glasgow myself. Heard it’s a bit of a rough spot.”

Sweet lord. Even in this godforsaken small corner of the globe people had impressions of Glasgow. “Pardon me, madam, but I’m looking for the Heart’s Ease Inn.”

“Oh yes. This is it. Looking to book a room are you? It’s pretty pricy, you know.”

“I have a room booked. I just can’t seem to find the place.” He was also beginning to wonder if he wanted to if he was going to have to deal with this woman for the duration.

“You didn’t go to Little Heart’s Ease, did you? That’s on the other side of the bay, my son, and you’ll have a good couple of hours drive to get here if that’s the case.”

The woman at the car rental kiosk had warned him of that; at least he knew he wasn’t that far off the mark.

“No, I’m pretty sure I’m nearby. I just can’t find the bloody place.”

“Watch your language, boy. Now where are you then?”

It was just his luck to get a schoolmarm on the line.

“I have no idea. I’m in a field.”

“What field?”

“I don’t know. It’s green. There’s grass and trees.”

“Now don’t go gettin’ snippy. Of course there’s grass and trees. Now, what else?”

Campbell looked around. “I can see water, and…oh, it’s just a field. No fence. No building. No cows. Sheep. Nothing. Just a great big grassy area with some gnarled trees.”

“Oh, that could be a couple of spots. Now we’re getting somewhere.” He could swear she was cackling with glee. “Now, what’s the last sign you saw?”

That Campbell could answer, because he still couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d even taken a picture and texted it to his sister with a terse, “Where the hell have you sent me?”

“It said Worms. Ice. Cold Beer,” Cam told the woman.

“Excellent. We’re getting somewhere now,” the woman intoned. “Was it one of them neon magnetic signs, or was it more homemade?”

“It was attached to a derelict gas station. And it was written on cardboard.”

“Oh, sure you’ve gone too far.”

Against Her Rules is available as an ebook from Amazon (Kindle), Chapters (Kobo) and Barnes & Noble (Nook).

Victoria Barbour
Author Victoria Barbour

About Victoria Barbour:  Victoria lives on the island of Newfoundland, and is fiercely proud of her home. She can imagine no better setting for her works, and hopes that her readers will one day come to witness Newfoundland and Labrador’s rustic beauty for themselves. When she’s not writing, or trying to convince people to visit her home, she’s busy with her day-to-day life as a mother, wife, and marketing communications specialist.

She was born in St. John’s, and raised above her family’s fish and chips restaurant. She has traveled and lived in other parts of Canada, but chose to make her home where her heart has long resided. Victoria has a degree in History from Memorial University of Newfoundland, with a minor in Newfoundland Studies. The only thing that stands between her and a Master’s degree in History from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is her thesis. She has a background in broadcast journalism, advertising, and marketing. She is a proud member of both the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their affiliate chapter, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC).

Victoria counts herself lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive family, and thanks her husband daily for his unerring faith in her, and for being a wonderful father to their infant son.