Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Introducing Heidi Skarie and Call of the Wind

 

Hello, book lovers. 

I've always been addicted to writing. It was (and is) my cheap therapy. For years I wrote mysteries—and more—that provided wonderful virtual adventures in my challenging life. Many of you know about these various traumas, from my posts over the past years. Guess what? We survived and/or learned to deal with all of it. In the meantime, I published twenty-nine books in the background. 

When the pandemic started, I lost my "day" job and needed to find another way to keep the family going. I decided to capitalize on my absolute passion for helping other authors with their books. So I added "writing coach" to my resume and now am pleased to announce that I have a number of superb clients I help with polishing, formatting, and getting them ready to publish on Amazon KDP. 

This month, Heidi Skarie has published a book in her Star Rider series, Call of the Wind. I'm so proud of her. You can read a bit about the story as well as learn about her in the following interview. Let us know what you think in the comments, below. 

Stay safe and warm this February. 

All my best,

Aaron Paul Lazar

www.lazarbooks.com

Meet Heidi Skarie and Call of the Wind



What inspired you to become a writer and eventually write Call of the Wind?

 

I had a series of six dreams that was like watching an exciting space opera, sci-fi movie such as Star Wars. Each dream continued where the last one had left off. The story had such a great plot and interesting characters that I was inspired to turn it into a novel. After writing the first book, it was as if I’d turned on a faucet to a creative waterfall. The next novels flowed out as I continued to write about the same characters. Writing became my passion. The first three books center around a strong female protagonist who is an undercover operative during an interplanetary war. This book is about her son who continues in his mother’s footsteps and becomes an intergalactic fighter pilot. Call of the Wind can be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel since it focuses on new characters.

 

What do you think your readers will love about Call of the Wind?

 

It’s a powerful coming-of-age story of a young man told in the story-within-a-story structure. Baymond is a young fighter pilot sentenced to be executed in five days. While awaiting his death, he shares his life story with a fellow prisoner. The novel has brave heroes and heroines, exciting adventures, a tender love story, and space battles. But as one reviewer said, “It’s also a compelling vision of the enlightened who can transcend the confines of time and space, even death.”

 


What is your writing process?

 

I write the first draft without getting any feedback that would interfere with my vision of the novel. Depending on the complexity of the plot I may use storyboards, character sketches and detailed outlines. Then I work with a critique group and go through each chapter until it shines. Next, several beta readers read the entire novel and give feedback. Last, I hire an editor and go through it again.

 

What other books have you written?

 

I’ve published four books in the Star Rider series, a science fiction, space opera set in a futuristic world during an interplanetary war. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is the first in the series. Call of the Wind is about the next generation.


I’ve also written two historical novels. Red Willow’s Quest about a Native American woman studying to become a medicine woman. Annoure and the Dragon Ships about a young woman kidnapped off the coast of England by the Vikings.

  

What are you currently working on?

 

I’m in the final edits of Call of the Eagle, which continues the story of Baymond and Fawn as the interplanetary war escalates.

 


Your book is so unique in that it is full of spiritual references to "Soul" and "Inner Light" and so many more wonderful themes involving a greater being and His teachings. Are these references fictional? Or were you inspired by another part of your life to include these in the stories? 

 

The original idea for the Star Rider series came from a dream about a female undercover operative, Toemeka, who works for the Coalition of Free Nations. She’s sent on a mission to help an occupied country regain their freedom during an interplanetary war against world conqueror, Samrat Condor. What makes the story unique is that Toemeka is a spiritually awakened person. She is able to communicate with her friends telepathically, leave her physical body and travel into higher levels of existence, and remember some of her past lives. 

 

The novels were influenced by my own spiritual beliefs. I’m a member of ECKANKAR, the Path of Spiritual Freedom and believe that we are Soul, a part of God. I believe that when we die we, as Soul, leave this body and go into the higher worlds, what some religions refer to as the heavenly worlds. We don’t stay there according to the teachings of ECKANKAR, but return to earth many times for Soul’s education. Eventually we awaken spiritually and live in the higher worlds of God permanently.

 

In the series, Toemeka follows the Secret Teachings of Light and Sound. The Light and Sound are essential aspects of the ECKANKAR teachings. It’s the voice of God. In the novels Toemeka sings HU, an ancient love song to God, to attune herself to the presence of God. She follows a living master who is the leader of the Secret Teachings. This is also drawn from ECKANKAR that has a living spiritual leader, Sri Harold Klemp, who keeps the teachings pure. 

 

Toemeka’s spiritual training is an important element in the story because Samrat Condor,  is a powerful black magician who portrays himself as a god. Toemeka uses her spiritual training to see a higher truth and fight his spread of evil psychic powers. The series is the struggle between good and evil, the light and the dark forces.

 

The Call of the Wind is about Toemeka’s son, Baymond, who follows in his mother’s footsteps and joins the Coalition as a fighter pilot. He is also a student of the Secret Teachings. Toemeka is a minor character, but still plays an important role in this novel.

 

Your books are full of luscious natural settings and descriptions. They are most artistic. Do you enjoy creating on any other level? Are you fond of the outdoors? 

 

Before I became a writer I was a visual artist. My mother encouraged my art abilities because learning to read was hard for me and she wanted me to excel in something. I started college as an art major, but switched to getting a teaching degree, specializing in helping children learn to read. I studied pottery, painting, drawing, etching and engraving, and photography. I continued painting and doing photography after college. 

 

The visual arts teach us to look at the world differently. When I gaze at the fresh snow outside my window, I don’t see white snow with gray shadows. I see the sun reflecting golden light on the snow and the light blue shadows infused with violet. When I’m writing, I drew on my background as a painter and photographer to create vivid descriptions that can transport the reader so they can see the scene and feel like they are there.

 

I also love nature and have enjoyed backpacking in the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterroot Mountains. I’ve also gone canoeing in the wilderness Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. My own experiences of enjoying the beauty of the woods and mountains, cooking over a fire, dealing with bugs and encounters with wild animals—like bears—has also helped me to write more vivid descriptions and write more authentically. 

 

For example, once I was walking along on a narrow wilderness trail in the Rocky Mountains when I came face to face with a large moose coming straight toward me. There was a moment where we both looked at each other in surprise. Then he slipped into the woods before I could move. I was fortunate as moose can be ornery—my father was once chased by one. I drew on that experience as I wrote Call of the Wind. My characters sing and wear bells on their backpacks so they don’t startled wild animals.

 

Did you enjoy reading science fiction as a youth? What was your favorite genre?

 

When I was a child my parents read me fantasy books by George MacDonald such as Back of the North Wind and Princess and the Goblin. They also read me classics like Heidi by Johanna Spyri, which takes place in the mountains of Switzerland. In sixth grade I discovered the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Gone with the Wind. I also liked Mary Stewart’s mysteries Nine Coaches Waiting and later her Arthurian Saga. Another favorite was The Once and Future Kingby T. H. White. These novels opened the doors to the enjoyment of a good story with wonderful characters that take place in the interesting worlds.

 

My interest in science fiction came later. In the fifties and sixties science fiction was just gaining popularity with nuclear energy and space exploration. Ideas of space, dystopia, robots, computers, and alternate futures became of interest after World War II. The genre was just getting going. I didn’t really get into science fiction until Star Wars came out and sci-fi space operas novels became popular.


***

Thank you so much for your time, Heidi!


Friday, January 21, 2022

For Writers: Updating Your Backlist - Add Some Pizazz!


 




So, how do you know when you’ve written enough books? Is it when your muse holds up her hands and says, “Enough already!” Or is it when living through a pandemic makes you so overwhelmed that you—the one who wrote twenty-nine books with endless story lines in sixteen years—can no longer summon another plot? (I mean, how many awful things can happen to Gus LeGarde?) Or is it when you finally realize that all twenty-nine books have old links, incomplete book lists, and your defunct email address?

 

For me, it’s been a combination of the above. I’m not saying I’m “done,” writing. I needed a hiatus and I’m actually starting to get the writing bug again. But one day as I was working on another author’s book to help her polish, format, and prepare it for publishing, I realized that she was using color cover images for her backlist, her author picture, etc. I was motivated! Why do I stilI have boring text links to my books? And no pictures of my ugly mug? Where’s the glamor? Where’s the color? 

 

I took a look through my horribly neglected backlist of books and decided to go for it. 

 

Updating “front and back matter” in your backlist

 

What is front and back matter? Here are some examples. 

 

Front matter: copyright page, dedication, forward, request for reviews, free book link (to get signups on your newsletter), etc. 

 

Back matter: Links and chapter excerpts to the next book in the series, afterword, review request, newsletter signup, author biography, contacts, websites, etc.

 

So – after far too many years of neglect ­– I’m in the process of updating book lists, contact information, links, and adding lovely color photos to my eBook and print books.

 

Easy, right? 

 

Well, so far, I’ve only done two of the twenty-nine books in the past week. I’ve reached some stumbling blocks (because SO much changes on Amazon in a year or two!), researched the heck out of each issue, and applied my new knowledge. But, I’m on a roll now, and I think I’ve got the process down. 

 

I gathered random some tidbits of info to share with you which might prove helpful if you decide, like me, that it’s time to get your books up to date! 

 

EBooks

 

·      Although required several years ago, mobi and epub files are no longer needed to load eBooks up to Amazon KDP. But you can still use mobi and epub files to give to reviewers to read on their Kindles, tablets, etc. for reviews. I use the free download of Calibre to convert an html file to mobi and epub. It also includes the book cover, which many of the other free conversion sites don’t do. (Although it’s slightly dated now, I have instructions on how to use Calibre in my Write Like the Wind eBook, volume 3.)

 

·      Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) now accepts Microsoft Word documents (doc or docx) and still accepts Kindle Create files (kpf). A few years back I converted all my original mobi files (the old way to upload to KDP) into Kindle Create files, a monumental task at best! The Kindle Create automatic TOC (table of contents) was foolproof and it seemed to work best for me. But in past years, Amazon KDP started accepting Word documents for manuscript uploads. 

 

·      I tried to upload Word documents using two different eBooks with multiple color images, links to other books, author picture, etc., but the spacing was all goofed up in the KDP Preview screen, in spite of the fact that it looked fine in the Word doc. There may be some trick I’m missing, but for now I’m sticking to Kindle Create when I load up a book with color images. 

 

·      Kindle Create does has its own quirks and I could write a five-page article about what to watch out for. However, the best advice is proof every single page using the preview feature before you generate that file to upload. Then proof it on KDP Previewer as well. Page by agonizing page. It’s the only way! 

 

·      For eBook cover art, continue to use a properly sized and formatted jpeg image.

 

 

Paperback Books

 

·      If you’re just updating an old file, you should have a suitably formatted version to work with. This includes page size, margin setups, page numbers, headers, footers, etc. (again, if you want to, you can refer to Write Like the Wind, volume 3 for instructions that still work)

 

·      Loading the paperback Word KDP books using a Word docx file works fine. I’m not sure if this is because I don’t have any color images or live links in the print version. Don’t forget to remove all links and just spell them out. Either way, a print book will be b&w for all images unless you choose a pricey, color print book. 

 

·      Continue to save your jpg print wrap cover art as a PDF for loading onto KDP. This is a continuous image of front cover, spine, and back cover that your skilled cover designer can create for you. (my beloved designer is Kellie Dennis at bookcoverbydesign.uk.co)

 

·      Remove automated TOC for print book, unless it is a non-fiction book. Then manually type in the TOC. 

 

·      PAGE COUNT: When you are updating your front and back matter, you may add or delete pages compared to your original book. Remember that the cover art is optimized for the page count to within just a few pages to allow the spine to fit on the wrap based on paper thickness and number of pages. You must keep the page count close to the original book if you are changing anything, or you will need a new resized print wrap cover. 

 

Miscellaneous

 

·      If you “gift” an eBook to a potential reviewer, it is counted as a verified review. Use the “Buy for Others” link. 

 

Sample of Front Matter with color images/links.

 

Here’s an example of one of the updated front/back matter pages that I’m adding. The beauty of this is that for now, I can use most of my new pages for all twenty-nine books and just customize some parts like the dedication, afterword, etc. 

 

Free eBook


Devil’s Lake

Bittersweet Hollow, book 1


Two years ago, Portia Lamont disappeared from a small town in Vermont, devastating her parents and sister, who spent every waking hour searching for her. When she suddenly shows up on their horse farm in a stolen truck with a little mutt on her lap, they want to know what happened. Was she taken? Or did she run away?


2015 Finalist Readers’ Favorites Awards

2015 Semi-finalist in Kindle Book Review Awards

 

 

What else should you update?

 

While you’re at it, you should update your Amazon retail book details page and take a fresh look at your sales categories. If you’ve neglected it, like me, you may not have all your titles listed below the book description. (Edit this through your KDP bookshelf, edit book details page) This would be a great time to page through your old and new book reviews, grab some choice blurbs from several of them, and paste them below your book description. Here’s what I did for Upstaged, book 2 in the LeGarde Mysteries series.

 

Sample of Updated Book Details 

 

Here is the book description followed by review blurbs, and finally by the complete list of books. It’s long, but it’s all in one place for easy reference.

 

When Gus LeGarde agrees to play piano for the high school drama club’s production of “Spirit Me Away,” a sixties-style musical he wrote in college, he doesn’t expect to face a series of menacing pranks played on his fiancée Camille and the drama club. Who’s sabotaging the show? And what do they have against Camille? Is it sex-crazed Armand, the Latino teen infatuated with her?

Something happened last year that Camille won’t talk about, and it has to do with Armand. Gus wants to know what happened, but she’s not talking. Could it be Superintendent Marshall, whose past holds horrific secrets related to one of the worst crimes of the 20th century? And why did someone break into Camille’s home to steal her intimate undergarments and her beloved mini-dachshund, Boris?

Gus must unravel the mystery before the backstage saboteur stakes his final, deadly claim.

"There is so much pure goodness in Mr. Lazar's books, from the innocent purity of grandchildren and pets, the beauty of nature, the bounty of a glorious garden, to love that is enduring and eternal; all the while weaving strands of mystery throughout the pages with suspense and surprises around every corner. I find myself craving more...only one left unread in the series. I will try to savor it slowly but to no avail. I devour these books like melting chocolate." Janice D. Adams

"Mr. Lazar's magnificent tapestry is a work of art without holes, missing threads or shades or stitches that do not fit." D.C. from WA USA

"Upstaged is a mystery that is well told, with subtle clues, red herrings and lots of surprises. Mystery fans will appreciate the challenge and all readers will want to become part of LeGarde’s extended family. The characters are unique, diverse, quirky, friendly, funny and memorable." Janice L. Smith

"If you equally divide your time between audiobooks and reading, I would suggest the audiobook. Not because of any misspelled words or bad formatting. No, his writing is clean and well formatted. The production quality of the audiobook is excellent. It is made even more excellent by the songs that were composed and recorded specifically for the audiobook. I was delighted to later discover it was Mr. Lazar's daughter who played and sang the songs. Amazing voice and talent." Clay Boutwell

"High school dialog and atmosphere feel spot on; a blinding eagerness to get the part; magical joy of dance; rising excitement as the date of the show approaches. But behind the scenes there are evil deeds afoot and no-one knows if the attacker is aiming for the people, the school, or both. Will the show go on, or will it be upstaged by danger and deceit?" Sheila Deeth

Books by award-winning author, Aaron Lazar:

LEGARDE MYSTERIES

1. DOUBLE FORTÉ
2. UPSTAGED
3. MAZURKA
4. FIRESONG
5. TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON
6. DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU
7. THE LIAR’S GALLERY
8. SPIRIT ME AWAY
9. UNDER THE ICE
10. LADY BLUES
11. VOODOO SUMMER
12. MURDER ON THE BREWSTER FLATS
13. THE RETURN  
THE LEGARDE MYSTERIES BOXED SET
YOUNG GUS BOXED SET  

GREEN MARBLE MYSTERIES

1. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BILLY MOORE (formerly Healey’s Cave)
2. TERROR COMES KNOCKING
3. FOR KEEPS

GREEN MARBLE MYSTERIES BOXED SET


TALL PINES MYSTERIES

1. FOR THE BIRDS
2. ESSENTIALLY YOURS
3. SANCTUARY
4. BETRAYAL

TALL PINES MYSTERIES BOXED SET

PAINES CREEK BEACH, love stories

1. THE SEACREST
2. THE SEACROFT
3. THE SEADOG

PAINES CREEK BEACH LOVE STORIES BOXED SET

BITTERSWEET HOLLOW, romantic suspense

1. DEVIL’S LAKE
2. DEVIL’S CREEK
3. DEVIL’S SPRING
BITTERSWEET HOLLOW BOXED SET
4. THE ASYLUM

WRITING GUIDES
1. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 1
2. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 2
3. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 3

 

What else could you update?

 

I’m going to update my Author Central page in the near future, and then, someday, get into that massive website that certainly needs an overhaul. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check through your mailing list subscribers and eliminate those who never open your newsletters. 

 

Well, that’s it for now. Sometimes when I gather new information I get the uncontrollable urge to share it with fellow writers. Today was one of those days!

 

Let me know if you have questions or would like to learn about other aspects of this process. 

 

Aaron Paul Lazar

Writing Coach

www.lazarbooks.com

 

 


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Lost Shots

 



How long will it take before we can burn images stored in our brain onto a computer? Do you think it will ever come to pass? I hope so, because even though I used to dabble in art in college, I never inherited the landscape gene. I could do portraits, from live models or pictures, but I didn’t have the knack to capture a glowing sunset or wavy grasses, or a frothy seascape. Perhaps, with the proper training, I could make a decent stab at it, but for now the only way I can immortalize scenes of nature is through the lens or with my pen. Figuratively speaking, that is, since I haven’t written books with a pen and paper in many years.

Lately, I’ve been lamenting potentially award-winning photos that I’ve missed. Lost shots. Those showstoppers, the gorgeous scenes I couldn’t acquire because of unsafe driving conditions or a timetable that didn’t allow lollygagging. I still see them, clear as cold lake water, simmering and shimmering in my mind’s eye.

The first lost shot occurred one fall, many years ago. We’d been scurrying around all morning, getting ready to deliver chairs to our customers. One of my side jobs, besides engineering, writing, and photography, is chair caning. My wife does the hand caning, and I do the rush, splint, flat reed, and pressed cane. Every Saturday morning, we load up the van with chairs and head for Honeoye Falls and East Bloomfield, where we deliver them to the shops that hire us. My wife and daughter were with me that morning, since we were going to squeeze in a little breakfast at George’s, our favorite small town diner. We were hungry. We were late. And I forgot my camera. Of course, this was before iPhones with their handy dandy cameras.

It happened only five minutes from the house, and I’ll never stop kicking myself for not turning around to go back. The night had been cold, and the morning dawned sunny. Frost crackled under our shoes as we tromped across the lawn, and there was a freshness to the air, heightened by the icy morning. We traveled north on Lakeville-Groveland Road, and when we passed Booher Hill, I glanced eastward. This is one of my favorite stretches of land, where multiple layers of trees, fields, and hills delineate the ridges that cradle Conesus Lake. When the sun rises over the eastern shore, it kisses the lake valley with rose, orange, lavender, and hot yellow.

This morning, however, the sun had risen hours earlier. But what greeted my eager eyes was not the sun, but a cloud.

I’m talking about a fully-fleshed, cotton ball cloud. It sat directly on top of the lake, lying like a thick eiderdown on the water. This cloud was not filmy, like mist or fog. It wasn’t transparent. It was rock solid puffy white, and it rose at least 1000 feet over the lake, stretching north-south along fourteen miles of the narrow trench carved many years ago by a glaciers. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and fear I’ll never see it again.

The memory is sharp, but I really wish I could show it to you.

The next two scenes that haunt me happened in winter. The frustrating part was that I had the camera with me both times, but just couldn’t stop because it wasn’t safe to pull over on the snowy roads.

The first was a scene I pass every day on the way to work. Normally, I admire the textures and contrasts of this spot with an almost casual, see-it-every-day insouciance. I do take pleasure in the old barns, dilapidated farmhouse, antique cars in the open sided shelter, and the young Thoroughbred who paces in a small paddock. And each time I pass the old milk shed, I admire the faded white paint and the attractive timeworn look it has from years of exposure to sun and wind. My fingers itch for the camera here most mornings, but it’s private property, 6:30 in the morning, and its positioned near a country intersection, which makes it a bit awkward to stop and snap pictures of this venerable old building. 


This particular morning, however, snow blasted sideways across the road in such ferocity and beauty, it quickened my heartbeat. It was a fierce burst of white, constant and rippling, blinding whoever crossed its path. The contrast electrified me. Deep turquoise metal-sided barn, cement block barn nearby, white post and board fence swaying in the storm…they were simultaneously shadowed and revealed by the spraying snow.


But I didn’t stop. I worried about arriving late to work, and the sides of the road looked very slippery. So… another lost shot.

Later that week, they closed the whole county for whiteouts. I had to get home, I was determined to get home, and I sure as heck didn’t want to spend the night in my office. So, I spent an hour and a half dodging blinding whiteouts, and finally made my perilous way down Groveland Road, almost home. Another half mile, and I’d be safe in the driveway. 

And then I saw them.

Snow devils. Cyclones of white. Billowing and flowing over the hills to the west, up the sides of the valley, rolling across the fields like massive sheet-white tornadoes.

My jaw dropped. My insides thrilled. And I gripped the steering wheel tighter to stay in the snowy lane. I didn’t get the shot. Once again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not really complaining. I’ve captured dozens of deeply satisfying photos  and have been blessed with pastoral scenes of breath-taking beauty year-round. I’ve snapped hundreds and hundreds of photos. But those lost shots… they keep haunting me. Which, I guess, is why I’ve written about them today. When visions haunt me, they spill out of my fingertips.

There is one consolation. The images still reside in my brain. And someday, maybe soon, I’ll download them and be able to show you. ;o)

***

Books by multi-award winning author, Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (print, eBook, audio book)
UPSTAGED (print, eBook, audio book)  
MAZURKA (print, eBook, audio book)
FIRESONG (print, eBook, audio book)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (print, eBook, audio book)
THE LIARS’ GALLERY (print, eBook, audio book)
UNDER THE ICE (print, eBook)
MURDER ON THE BREWSTER FLATS
THE RETURN

HEALEY'S CAVE (print, eBook, audio book)
FOR KEEPS (print, eBook, audio book)

FOR THE BIRDS (print, eBook, audio book)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (print, eBook, audio book)
SANCTUARY (print, eBook, audio book)

LOVE STORIES
THE SEACREST (print, eBook, and audio book)
THE SEACROFT 
THE SEADOG

ROMANTIC THRILLERS
DEVIL’S LAKE (print, eBook, and audio book)
DEVIL’S CREEK
DEVIL'S SPRING
THE ASYLUM

WRITING ADVICE: 

WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3  (audio books)

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, thrillers, love stories, and writing guides, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com.