Book Review – How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans

Let me just start off by saying it this way. My son doesn’t typically ask to keep library books. But the other night, after reading How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by writer David Larochelle and artist Mark Fearing, two times mind you, he quite legitimately asked if we could keep it.

Now, I don’t care who you are, it begs a question. What is there to this children’s book that would cause him to say such an unexpected thing? My wife and I have read thousands of books to him and, while he may not want to return a book to the library right away, he rarely asks to keep them.

Let’s start with the premise. How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans pretty much sums it up. All of a sudden, during the abnormally normal dinner that included a side of green beans (do other parents actually feed their kids vegetables!?), Martha ends up finding herself the unlikely hero of a green bean gang shakeup. The green beans gang are not too happy about all those adults telling people to eat green beans and end up abducting Martha’s parents.

Martha’s parents must have been the only parents in the town who were actually trying to serve their kid green beans (which makes sense because I’m not sure I know more than one set of parents who actually do this), which must be the reason no other adults were taken hostage. Or, and more likely, the green bean gang did away with those other folk in a very uncivilized manner…cause they’re tough like that.

As you can imagine, the story takes a turn when Martha decides it’s time to once and for all…EAT GREEN BEANS! And she does. Quite a few of them. Beards, cowboy hats, and even their pointy boots. Yuck?

And now, why would my son ask to keep this book? For one thing, he hates vegetables. Not sure if he’s ever tried a green bean. So he likely found Martha quite easy to relate to in her disdain for them, as I bet most kids would. The illustrations were fun and expressive (which kind of made me want to puke up my recent side of green beans,) but carried the story very well.

At one point, a whole gang of green beans was shown front and center (thanks artist Mark!) so we took the liberty of naming all the green beans (sorry author David if they already had names). The names were terrible, of course, but it caused my son to cackle his way to a painfully post-poned bedtime.

One of the most subtle parts of the book (the very end) may have been the best. Because my son immediately said, and I quote, “Next time, the leafy green salad attacks!”

Pick up a copy at your local library or wherever books are sold. You’ll enjoy reading it (as long as a kid who hates vegetables is present).

Interview with Illustrator Jo Painter

Jo is a freelance Concept Artist, Illustrator and Animator trying to break her way into the game industry! She currently works for a variety of authors and companies around the world but when she’s not working and painting at her desk, you can usually find her with her head stuck in a book or out for a walk in the countryside. The best way to keep up to date with her work is through Instagram – @po_jainter or her website, at www.jopainter.co.uk

1. You’ve mentioned that your love of illustration dates back to using MS Paint. Now, most people I know who have used MS Paint to draw anything serious are immediately filled with frustration at the lack of refined tools available. You, somehow, were affected differently. Why is that? Why were you drawn in, rather than put off, by MS Paint? Has this ability to endure the more arduous processes of illustration stuck with you?

It all started from my love of Anime and 2D animation. I was fascinated with the idea of being able to color characters on the computer and after stumbling across multiple digital artists online, I was hooked! I am also the sort of person who makes do with whatever they have on hand and so at the time, all I had to work with was MS Paint and my computer mouse. I would spend hours at my desk trying to get a straight line to look slightly less wobbly and my colors to look slightly less muddy. I would then print these out to keep and show to my parents and friends. I always remember this burning desire to be good at painting and it’s something that has never left me all these years later. If it wasn’t for that passion and determination I wouldn’t have put up with MS Paint for so long! I was aware of Photoshop at the time but it was something that would have to wait until I could afford my own tablet and the software.

If it wasn’t for those harder days and hours of painstaking work I don’t think I would have the respect that I have for digital artists now. I respect the process and the work that goes into it and I think that makes me much more humbled as a professional!

2. While many illustrators stop at the 2-Dimensional level, your passion extends into 3-Dimensional animation. Could you explain the process in which you take a project from idea to the fully rendered animation product?

I took 3D animation at University instead of 2D animation because there is much more versatility within the 3D world and I felt that learning something new to add to my skill set would benefit my career more as an artist in the long run. My hunch here turned out to be right as learning skills such as texturing, modeling, lighting and rendering within 3D software has directly influenced and improved my painting skills. I am now much more aware of how light affects different materials, for example, so when I’m painting that subconscious knowledge comes in really handy!

I also adore animation. I remember watching the behind the scenes for the Lord of the Rings for the first time and they were showing how they designed the characters and animated Gollum and I remember being stunned that people actually did that as a career. It was love at first sight and I haven’t looked back since! As an active artist in the industry, it has been really advantageous to have more than one skill – I’ve had CEO’s of companies in interviews tell me how useful it is for me to be able to animate as well as design and draw concepts because it means I am more useful to them across more than one department. I always recommend to young and aspiring artists to create a varied skill set for themselves as it will really help them climb the ladder in a competitive and high achieving industry.

The process from concept to a rendered piece is long and arduous but incredibly rewarding to see it realized and moving on the screen. It depends which industry you are in (film, game, etc.) as some ideas can take years from the first concept to the final product. My experience is within the advertising and book industry the turnaround for these products is much faster! There were times where we only had a month to pitch an idea to the client, get approval and work on the product so that they could get it out and aired on TV in time. It’s demanding of your time and patience, but it has taught me some valuable lessons with time management and client etiquette – remember, the client is always right!

3. Technology evolves at an exponential rate. Tools and techniques available to artists now simply were not available in the days of MS Paint. What software do you find most beneficial to your career as an illustrator? What technology do you look forward to in the future?

It’s pretty alarming to see how fast technology is evolving. I have even seen VR used for drawing 2D within a 3D space which just feels way too advanced for me! I personally use Photoshop for all of my work – it is an amazing piece of software that is regularly updated which makes for a versatile and creative space that benefits my time and skill sets. I am also set in my ways, so I don’t think I will venture too far from Photoshop in the years to come. In terms of tools, I would love to upgrade to a Cintiq from Wacom! They are expensive, but totally worth the money in my opinion.

When I was younger, I thought that getting a tablet would automatically improve my art and was totally disheartened when it didn’t, so I often tell young artists that it isn’t the software or the tablet that will make your artwork improve, but the time and patience you put in as an artist to practice your craft. Your tools should help you work, not create it for you.

4. On your website, which contains a great FAQ section (everyone go read it!), you talk about the need for artists to be versatile. You likely have your own concepts for other people’s work. How do you channel your own ideas when the client has something else in mind?

The client is always right. I pretty much live by this rule! It is so important to remember that even though as the artist you are bringing creativity to the job and bringing an idea to life, you should always be getting approval from the client and if you have any suggestions to add, do whatever they have asked of you first and then add a few extra ideas on the side for them to take a look at and see if it sparks their imagination. Not only have you given them more work than they asked for, it also shows that you are invested and interested in their project.

Often, clients come to me with a very specific idea in mind. For example, when I work with an author on a book cover, they will have a list of things they would like to include and the first thing I do is create three to four initial sketches and concepts to send over to see if there is one that they like and then I will do another three of four variations of that one sketch. This way, I have input on what I am creating but also leaving the decisions up to the client.

Being versatile has also meant that I have worked on a variety of projects rather than narrowing myself down to a very specific style of art. I have worked on children’s books with a very cartoony style of art, I have animated 3D characters with a Disney style personality, and I have painted vast landscapes and detailed characters for book covers. Not only do I get to create something different each month, it also opens me up as a freelancer for more work!

5. How would you describe the perfect client/artist relationship? What are some aspects that have gone well for you in the past? What are some things that hindered project success?

I don’t really think that there is a perfect relationship! Every client is different and likes to work in a different way, so even though I try and stick to a regular routine when it comes to my process, that often changes with each client. It’s important to be OK with this and roll with the punches; sometimes you will send off something that you think is great and all the client will do is come back with a list of changes. It can be disheartening when you are first starting out as things like education and school have taught us to expect praise when we work hard and this isn’t always the case in industry. It can be a shock at first, but once you learn to swallow your pride and take on the criticism, it will vastly improve your work!

Being regularly in contact with my clients is something that has always gone well for me – I will send them regular updates of where I am on their project and the expected deadline if there isn’t one set already. It creates a level of trust between the client and the artist which means they are more likely going to come back to you again in the future. Something else I always find works well is staying professional when emailing. I have a signature at the bottom of my email with where else to find me and I always use the proper sign off (Kind Regards, Yours Faithfully etc.) as well as not using shorthand or emojis like you would in a text message. These things help to create a professional atmosphere, even if it is for a personal commission for someone.

Some things that have hindered a project’s success is not getting a prompt response from the client – I have waited up to two weeks to hear back from a client before and by that time I had already started another project and so then my work load is suddenly doubled, and I am then having to juggle my time. Sometimes this means a project can get rushed and I perhaps don’t feel as comfortable with the work I have produced and so won’t include it on my website. This is of course no one’s fault, usually it is because the client is busy and doesn’t have the time put aside to go through any work I have sent over.

Another thing would be not outlining my terms and conditions properly in my invoices. I always quote a specific amount of time and set a deadline, putting aside a day for changes as well. That way, you won’t have a constant back and forth for months on end making endless changes that you should technically be charging for. If any clients want to make changes out of the time frame we initially set, then I tend to charge a little extra to make up for lost time. You must be careful as a freelancer because it is very easy to end up working for nothing!

I am also very strict with my time management. I have a diary that I use daily to keep track of deadlines, when projects are starting, and what I need to get done that day. It sounds slightly over obsessive but since I started as a freelancer a year ago I haven’t once missed a deadline or got off track with work! Sometimes, I am juggling three or more projects at once due to overlapping deadlines, so it comes in really handy to have something to jot everything down in.

6. Many software packages like Photoshop have gone to the cloud, literally. Stand alone tools are more and more becoming monthly subscriptions. What do you think about that? Are these modern requirements helping or hurting our capabilities?

If 15 years ago, there was the option to have a monthly subscription to Photoshop instead of using MS Paint, I would have probably been able to afford it – eleven year old me would have loved it! Unfortunately, a lot of large softwares, including the 3D ones that I use for animation, are extremely expensive and involve forking out a large sum of money in one go to purchase it. With a monthly subscription, you are paying a fraction of the price on a monthly basis (I pay £7.99 a month for Photoshop) and therefore am able to produce high quality work on a budget. I think that this opens up a lot more opportunities for young and aspiring artists to not be put off trying out digital art and design and instead have a go and see what they enjoy. I was put off for years because Photoshop was so expensive and it felt almost out of my reach, but to now be able to pay for it minimally without it impacting my income, I feel at ease knowing that I will always be able to have access to it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are painting software’s out there that are free and work just as well! I am just used to what I use and Photoshop is what is predominantly used in industry, so I always recommend it.

7. What’s your favorite part of a project? What’s your least favorite?

Hmm. Good question. I would have to say my favorite part is seeing a character come to life on the page. It sounds rather fantastical, but when you read a book and the characters are so ingrained into your head, being able to put pen to paper (or pen to tablet!) and bring them to life is incredibly satisfying. I also love the painting stage of an illustration. I find it incredibly relaxing and rewarding once finished.

My least favorite would probably be the stages in between sketching the character out and starting painting. I spend some time establishing the colors I’m going to use and lighting setup I want to achieve, and this can sometimes put me off finishing the painting if I can’t get it right. It also makes the painting seem intimidating! But you just have to dive in head first and go for it which is usually how I get past this wall.

In terms of animating, I would have to say that I love the final stages of animating a character where you start smoothing out the sharpness of their movements and start adding all the smaller details such as secondary motion; this is where things like hair, hands and clothing move after the body has finished moving. For example, if a ballerina spins, her dress will be the last thing to settle. This really brings the character to life and makes it feel more real which makes all of the hard work beforehand worthwhile!

My least favorite part of animating would have to be the planning stages of it. If I am animating a character, I will always film reference for it. So, if the character is jumping around, I will film myself jumping around and get that into Photoshop to draw all over and make notes of where my weight is falling and which way my hips are rotating – the COG (center of gravity), which is the hips, is the most important thing when animating a character, so I always make sure I’m aware of what’s happening here before I start. Unfortunately, this takes time and usually I am just itching to get started, but if I don’t put this effort in first, I struggle down the line when I get to the smoothing stages of the animation and something doesn’t look quite right.

8. Artists often have role models or art styles they admire from other people. Who are some of your role models or what are some examples of completed projects you are impressed by?

Oh wow, I don’t even know where to start!

I think let’s go from the beginning. Growing up, I was a huge fan of anime and manga ( and still am!) When I was young, I watched the likes of Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, etc. and was reading Naruto and Fairy Tail and then spent my days trying to copy these characters and draw them as best I could. It’s these initial days that inspired me and are still my inspiration today – I still stand by the opinion that Naruto has some of the best character development out of any show/book/film.

As I grew up, I started to delve more into fantasy books and films and in particular, the Lord of the Rings and the rest of Tolkien’s works. I still draw inspiration from this now and I find his work to be some of the most interesting and detailed. His ability to create a fantasy world that feels like genuine British mythology is astounding!

Nowadays, its shows like Avatar, Avatar: The Legend of Korra and Game of Thrones and books from authors such as Sarah J Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare and pretty much any young adult fantasy book I can get my hands on! I also still go back and watch Naruto or dive into new manga’s such as Death Note. I also love ‘The Art of…’ books from Disney films and games where the creators release all of the original concepts and artwork into book form. I collect these and there are still so many out there to add to my list! I usually grab them from a bookstore or off Amazon.

In terms of artists that have inspired me, that changes as I grow as an artist. At the moment, the ones I can list off would be Anna Steinbaeur, LD Austin, Ryan Lang, Rudy Siswanto, Charlie Bowater and pretty much anyone who works for Riot Games and paints the characters for League of Legends!

I think when it comes to projects that I am impressed by, I would have to say that the work that comes out of Studio Ghibli is the most innovative and unique from the past few years. With each film they release I find myself inspired in a different way. I have huge amounts of respect for the artists and animators that work on these films and the time and detail that goes into them – 2D, hand drawn animation is some of the hardest work you can do and requires endless amounts of patience!

9. No doubt you’ve been tracking the development of virtual reality systems. Do you think this will be a large industry for illustrators and 3D animators? Do you have any plans to carve out a niche for yourself in that space?

VR intimidates me, I won’t lie! I think that I see it being used more in the game industry like it is now as I don’t think the market is there for it to be used by animators or artists. I don’t think that it will benefit us much, but I have seen it being used for the making of film which is amazing. Especially with the combination of motion capture it makes for incredibly detailed pre-production – as far as I’m aware, Peter Jackson used this process for the filming of The Hobbit and was able to use VR to layout the CG elements of the film and track the camera through it.

10. What’s next for you? What can our readers expect to see you develop or accomplish in the next 1-2 years besides more great illustrations?

My plan is the work on my portfolio and carry on world building. At the moment, I have a few characters that need fleshing out and I want to add some more designs to my portfolio and then I plan on trying to step into the game industry as a concept artist! It’s a long process and I’ve had some success the past year with interviews and art tests so I’m getting close but there’s still a lot of hard work to go! For now, I’m happy freelancing and taking my time with everything – industry is tough and competitive, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Interview with Author Thane Keller

It’s a joy and a pleasure to be able to interview my big brother, Thane Keller. Thane is a science fiction author and U.S. Army veteran who explores the depth of human nature under dire circumstances. After over a decade of service, he has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was personally engaged in ground combat. Although busy at home as a husband and father to four, he has consistently made time to express his passion for writing.

You can find Thane at www.thanekeller.com and can purchase his books on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, or at any local bookstore.

  1. Many aspiring authors are town between the traditional and self-publishing routes. At the time of this interview, you currently have three science fiction novels and a collection of short stories and flash fiction self-published. What inspired you to choose that path? Do you have plans to become a hybrid author; one who seeks traditional and self-publishing avenues?

First off, thanks for hosting me, Rhys. Your own writing, love of literature, and beautiful family are an inspiration to the rest of us. Authors can go a variety of different paths when it comes to publishing and in my opinion, each has its benefits and drawbacks. While I was offered a publishing contract early on for my first novel, Trials, I ultimately decided to self-publish for two reasons. First, Amazon sells fifty percent of books worldwide and gives indie-authors a 70% royalty. This evens the playing field quite a bit. Second, there is a cost and time factor that goes into traditional publishing that I cannot yet commit to at this point in my career – promoting a book while defending Forward Operating Base Lightning, for example, is pretty hard to do.

I would love to be a hybrid author and maybe one day that will happen, but in the meantime, I’m more interested in a telling a story that challenges my reader and is widely distributed.

  1. I’ve written before on my site about what an accomplishment it is to write a single book, let alone multiple full-length novels. You’re an active serviceman with a growing family. How many years, and across how many continents, has your writing has taken you?

My first novel, Trials, was a two-year writing endeavor. I actually started the book after climbing off a helicopter at midnight in Afghanistan. Many people probably don’t realize that when you’re pulling security in the snow at fourteen-thousand feet, the discussion often turns to aliens, religion, and science. By the time I had completed Trials, I had written the book in Afghanistan, New York, Virginia, and finally Germany.  In the Army, we like to say “If you don’t like your circumstances, change your perspective.” Fitting in writing throughout all of my adventures has been tough, but hopefully, readers will feel rewarded as they dive into the worlds I’ve created.

  1. Much of your writing gives the reader a sense that you know what you’re talking about, especially battle scenes and images of war. I’m reminded of a few scenes where characters struggle with their former experiences. How has your service influenced your writing style?

I think my service has made a significant impact on my writing style. In Trials, the main character’s dreams are lifted from my own experiences in war. He is a tormented soldier that struggles to come to grips with his current situation while keeping the past in perspective. This was the hardest part about Trials but it became a form of counseling and confession as well. In Fractal Space and Rogue Fleet, I take a different approach, instead choosing to highlight how an organized force will fight against a capable enemy. Most importantly, however, are how these action scenes should make you feel. If the sentence fragments and choppy thoughts of the characters get your heart racing, don’t worry. Mine races too.

  1. There is much debate between talent and hard work. It seems hard work typically wins the day, not to say you aren’t talented as well! Is there a level of grit necessary to finish a book that many aspiring authors simply aren’t resolving to deal with?

There is absolutely a level of grit. Every day we make choices to watch TV, hang out on the front porch, search Facebook endlessly, or get to work. The ones that get to work accomplish great things. The ones that don’t… don’t.

  1. The publishing industry has changed so much in recent years, yet still maintained a level of historic similarity in that publishing is a very subjective business depending on the book purchaser or editor of the day. Do you think the industry will continue to transform, and if so, in what ways?

I hope it transforms. In my opinion, publishing houses need to change or will face extinction. There is a false economy between publishers, agents, editors, and advertisers that take the money from an aspiring author and spend little time providing feedback or validation. Meanwhile, websites like Grammarly catch way more editing errors than an $800 dollar “professional” edit. Businesses like Apple and Amazon sell far more books than publishers do direct. Advertising is cheap and available. I think publishers will find themselves in trouble if they don’t change their model and adapt. In the information age, there isn’t much forgiveness.

  1. Every author has their style, areas where they will go and boundaries they won’t cross. Do you have any lines drawn in the sand that readers can say, “I know this author will have this or definitely won’t have this” in your books?

I want my children, my pastor, my parents, and my friends to read my work and not wonder “Where did this side of Thane come from?” Sex sells, but you won’t find it in my books. My hope is that my writing brings out the worst in my characters while forcing my reader to wonder who they are truly rooting for.

  1. I’m very excited to have been brought on to write the prequel to your science fiction novel, Trials. I understand you’re actively working on the sequel. Would you give our readers a high-level synopsis of the world of Trials that you’ve built? Keep the details, of course, but what can readers expect if they pick up any book in the Trials series?

Trials is a futuristic dystopian world where nationalism, war, and paranoia have all but ruined society. Old alliances don’t exist and corporations, not the government, are the ones trying to bring change, but they are unchecked. The main character, Jonah Shepherd, has been exiled from the love of his life to a Martian penal colony where he will serve a life sentence for treason. As Jonah’s world descends into chaos, he is forced to rely on his ingenuity and military training to escape the red planet and reunite with the love of his life, Evie. Standing in Jonah’s way is a megalomaniac named Malek, the shadowy mining company Unicore, and one hundred and forty million miles of empty space.

  1. You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about your other series, The Conquests of Brokk. Tell us what drives you to build this world and who exactly is Brokk?

I love this series for a few reasons. First, it is a space opera written by an actual soldier. War in space is violent and unforgiving; so is Brokk’s world. Second, Brokk is the bad guy. You’ll be rooting for him and against him throughout the whole series, but as you do, Brokk will change and hopefully, your concept of humanity will change with him. Third, this is a world that can go forever. For you lovers of Trials – I have bad news: Trials can only end one way and those books are accelerating towards that end. In The Conquests of Brokk and the larger galactic world, my imagination is without end. I’m truly loving it and I hope you pick up a copy to read. Oh, and Rhys, I hope you’ll consider throwing your weight behind a few of the characters too!

  1. I’ll keep that in mind. Writing together has been an incredible experience. Now, you’re a prolific writer and I know part of the answer to the question I’m about to ask but I’ll ask it anyways for our wonderful readers. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next 1-2 years besides more great books? What will your focus be on?

I really want to finish the world of Trials. I’ve taken a break for medical reasons and my move back to the United States, but you can expect a sequel in the next year. After that, plan on seeing some high-intensity conflict from the heroes of the galaxy.

If anyone is in Kansas City, look for me at your local Barnes and Noble. I’ll be doing a book signing soon and would love to chat!

On Making Time

If you ask anyone why they aren’t progressing further on their goals, time is often the answer. “I just don’t have the time.” I’ve said it. You’ve said it. Time is unfortunately one of the clearest, most finite resources available. Interestingly enough, we all have the same amount.

There are times when this excuse is reasonable and times when, even when offered a generous amount of merit, is completely off base. The famed Olympian, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes aim at the excuse when he told a group to just sleep faster.

Our bodies and minds are incredibly adaptive. We can form habits. Break habits. Live on more. Live on less. We can adjust wonderfully to a wide variety of circumstances. I used to be a late night person. I would go to the gym at 9:00pm. I did that for a couple years. Then, I switched to early morning. I would exercise at 5:00am. I did that for a couple years. Then, after getting married and having kids, I found the best time for me to spend time on myself (goals, hobbies, etc.) was while my family slept. I started getting up at 4:00am, then 3:30am, then next thing you know I’m getting up at 3:00am. Every now and then I’ll be up at 2:00am!

You may be thinking I must go to sleep while the sun is still up. But you’d be wrong. My body adapts as needed and yours can too. Sleep is great and I’m a big promoter of sleep and taking naps whenever and however you can get it. Unfortunately though, I’ve found we often use sleep as an excuse to not get stuff done. If you haven’t really been working that hard, you may have slipped into a pattern of excess sleep. What you feel is a necessity is really just a formed habit. Best thing in the world though, is our ability to form new habits!

Habit forming works best when you have a passionate goal. No one likes crawling out of bed for something they are so-so about. However, if you begin spending time on your passions, you’ll find crawling out of bed turns into jumping out of bed. I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I look forward to it. Why? Because it’s my time. I get to do everything I wanted to do for myself that I wasn’t able to do all day. I long for my alarm to go off – although once it’s a habit, you’ll wake up before your alarm!

Lately, I’ve found myself taking vehicles to the shop more frequently than every before. At least it feels that way. I used to sit around waiting for the car to get serviced, sipping on some coffee, watching the TV, etc. The last few times, I’ve brought my laptop, found a corner to hole up in, still got the coffee, and spent a few hours writing. It’s been an incredible use of time that up until recently I wasted horribly. Now, I look forward to car appointments because I know it’ll be my time to get some writing done with little to no distraction. I love it!

You see, we have so much time. Social media, although it has its place when building a platform, is often used to waste time. We need to continually ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now contributing towards my future success, my satisfaction in life, my mission, my goal, anything?” We need to be real about it. Time is all around us, and each person has the same amount.

What you’ll find in people who are considerably successful in any area of their life, they make time. They find time. They look for time. They plan time. They annihilate time wasting. They get rid of distractions. They get rid of the slow, dripping effect of losing time. It’s been said that if you want to know what a person will become 5 years down the road, 10 years or even 20 years, simply look at their current daily schedule. What do they spend time doing? What do you spend time doing?

If you logged every minute of the day, how much of it is spent achieving your dreams and goals? Is a third or more of it sleeping? Good luck achieving a great deal of success. If you’re making time work, if you’re living with a sense of true grit, you will achieve a great deal of success when compared to your life now. If you want to be a successful author, how much time are you devoting to writing? If you want to become a better business owner, spouse, parent, etc., how much time are you spending mastering the craft?

Our abilities are directly related to the time spent honing them. You have time. Lots of it. You simply need to trade your time doing one thing to doing another. Find it. It’ll be well worth it down the road.

Book Review – The Terrible PLOP

Children’s picture book, The Terrible PLOP, is written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

To be fair, my first reaction to seeing the title and cover made me hesitate. The Terrible PLOP. I first assumed it was a made up creature, invented and used specifically for rhyme potential. I also felt the cover was so-so and thus I began reading, unimpressed and ready to get it over with.

I could not have been more pleased when the inside of the book was quite a bit different than the feeling I experienced from the cover. You know what they say about judging books! Ursula Dubosarsky masterfully used short rhyme verse to propel a very unique story. What begins as a classic bunny picnic turns into a child friendly fright induced panic. The Terrible PLOP, which I won’t spoil for you, sends the animals into a frenzy as they try to escape. One by one, new animals are swept up in the stampede until they come across the big brown bear.

This story keeps building climax and when the big brown bear refuses to go along with the fray, a lot of excitement and suspense is created for the reader. A good book makes readers ask questions that the book then answers.

The emotional clarity that Andrew Joyner created also keep up the exciting pace along with the plot. The bear, in all his pride, finds himself also at the mercy of The Terrible PLOP. This story, besides it’s simple, enjoyable plot delivery, ends perfectly. The creature most afraid becomes the only one to know the secret; that The Terrible PLOP is not so terrible after all.

Many parallels can be found in relating this story to life lessons for children. One of the clearest is to be careful of going along with the crowd. I recommend you check out this book from your local library or purchase it as a forever book.

Book Review – Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Mac Barnett’s children’s picture book, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, found its way into our home this past week and laid upon my son’s floor along with many, many others. The routine unfolded as it typically does, with him picking out which book(s) to read before bed. When you read as many books as my wife and I do, it’s a true pleasure coming across one as delightful as this.

It’s really no wonder why it won a litany of awards and honors. Although the premise is perfectly simple; in that two young boys decide to dig a hole to find something spectacular, the delivery is outstanding. As each scene develops, the boys nearly arrive at spectacular things, only to give up on their current course at the last possible moment. The reader, instead, gets to enjoy the hidden gems throughout the book and is reminded to persevere in their own hole digging adventures.

As a children’s book author, I’ve pondered what made Sam and Dave Dig a Hole such a wonderful read and I came to the following conclusions.

  1. The message applies to everyone. Children love to dig and children love to find.
  2. The plan was simple. It didn’t take pages to develop the plot. Within a single page, readers understood what the book would be about.
  3. The delivery built suspense in the reader. Before the reader thinks the book will be boring, the suspense comes in finding something spectacular. The reader immediately wonders what they might find.
  4. The illustration propelled the story. Great artists can tell a story without words. Add a great artist to a great author, and you’ve got two messages waylaying the reader. The author tells us what the boys are doing. The illustrator tells us what the boys are missing.
  5. A little humor is mixed in. The two boys, Sam and Dave, are accompanied by their friendly dog who, much like the reader, knows what the boys are missing.
  6. The repeated plot develops rather than stagnates. On each subsequent page, the boys keep digging and keep missing. Whereas this could become monotonous, the hidden gems become more and more spectacular. This wets the reader’s appetite in wondering what spectacular thing might come next.
  7. The ending is open, deep, and leaves readers thinking about the book. I could offer a number of assumptions what the ending of the book means, but that would spoil all your fun. It’s simple yet incredibly complex.

Not only do I encourage you to check this book out from your local library or purchase it as a forever book, I encourage you to create a book this good. Whether your an author or illustrator, take time to make sure your children’s book will deliver a wonderful experience. And if you’re Mac Barnett…TELL US WHAT THE ENDING MEANS, PLEASE!

Just Share Your Story

It’s been said every sentence is a persuasive argument that succeeds or fails in convincing the reader to read the next. Agree or disagree?

Frankly, I don’t agree (completely) because the reader is complex, having a multi-dimensional purpose for reading. One aspect may be truly that each good sentence does cause the reader to continue on. But at the same time, the reader, once personally invested through time, money, promise, or any other act of will may continue reading not for that purposes alone. I listen to audio books during my commute. I have literally finished books only to be able to say I finished them, not because they provided some revolutionary insight or emotional experience. I simply wanted to finish what I started.

I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. She often ended a chapter right in the middle of incredible action and suspense, only to take us to view another part of her world and see what a different character was doing. I often thought about skipping ahead just to get back to the scene at hand. But what did I do? I read on, abiding by the author’s desire to take me somewhere else and trusting that in time, I would return to where I had been so captivated. Was it persuasion that propelled me through the subsequent chapter as I longed for a different scene? No, although none can content her sentences were not more than persuasive. I simply read on because the book, in its entirety, was masterfully crafted. Her story was full and the world she built multi-dimensional (not only in the time-space variety but in eliciting emotional response). I was committed to read every word, persuasive or not, through to the end.

An author, especially those aspiring to improve their craft, can find themselves working to exhaustion in order to craft one persuasive sentence after another. In the end, that tactic simply doesn’t win the race long term. It’s quite visible in the art of world building. In order to strengthen plot, background is often given to include people groups, cities, planets, past experiences and the like. If we put too much stock in convincing argument, we’ll find no room for the story welling up inside.

What’s the answer, then, as we pour out word after word, sentence after sentence? Simply this. Share the story. Share it all. Build the sentences and paragraphs, filling page upon page with your story. Will it be good? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Will each sentence make the reader say “Yes, I will read the next”? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Is the grammar just right or have all the spell checks been corrected? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story.

And why, you may ask, is it most important to simply share the story and leave so many good, important things behind? Frankly this…writing a book is a long, arduous endeavor. At every turn, distraction, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, and author depression are waiting for you. If you allow yourself to be caught up in anything other than a resolved grit-filled focus to share your story, it may never be shared. Thousands upon thousands of books fill libraries, schools and stores. Millions more fill personal notepads, computer files, and thoughts.

Share your story. Once complete, once there is no more story to share, take out that bitter knife, that dear friend of a weapon and hack away at your words, sentences, paragraphs and pages. Leave no thought untouched, carve your work like a butcher, revealing the choicest words and most succulent sentences.

Then, not only do you have a story, you have a book. Let persuasion come in the right season, when you can focus on the desire and expectation of the reader. For now, focus on sharing your story, telling it your way by your words and your abilities.

Interview with Author R.J. Batla

R.J. Batla was one of the first authors I connected with when I embarked on building my own author platform. Always an encouragement, he has truly become a confidant and friend along my publishing journey. R.J. has been fascinated by fantasy novels and the worlds that authors create since he was little. R.J. admits the process of world building has been an arduous process, but proclaims it has been well worth it. He is a fantasy author, Christian, husband, and father who enjoys the outdoors and spends as much time as he can with his family. You can learn more about R.J. at his website and connect with him on Twitter, and Facebook.

1. You have two self-published books out and you’re working on your third. No doubt, you’ve grown as a writer since you began your first book draft. How would you describe your personal development as an author from then to now?

Absolutely, I’ve grown a tremendous amount since the first book draft – which I don’t even remember what it was actually. I would describe it as well worth the effort. Just like most things in life, you get out what you put in. Once I got serious about writing, I dove in headlong, reading books on the craft of writing, story structure, outlining, publishing, etc. It has been a long journey, but I’ve learned so much, and there is still so much more to learn.

2. Being able to finish one book, let alone two, is an accomplishment of itself. What hinders your progress as an author and how do you protect yourself against it?

The need for sleep! Time, actually, is the hardest thing. I have a full time job, and between that and family I don’t have as much time to write as I would like. I don’t set daily goals as far as word count, but I do try to sit down and write at least once a day. My philosophy is work hard, but stay flexible, which is essential for me. The first draft seems to come easier for me, so editing takes way more time.

3. Since you write in the science fiction and fantasy realms, how does what you see, hear, and read in the world influence your writing? Is there any main source for your inspiration?

Everything – movies, comic books, cartoons, books by other writers. For the Senturians of Terraunum series, it is a mashup of epic fantasy, superheros, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. But as far as authors, I love Jim Butcher, especially the Dresden Files, as well as Terry Brooks, with the Shannara books, and the Harry Potter books. One of the great things about being a fantasy writer is inspiration can literally come from anywhere, since you’re the creature of your world. Need orange plants to be the norm? Poof – it is!

4. It’s often heard that people don’t attempt to become an author because of negative self-doubt. What would you tell the aspiring author who thinks they’re not good enough to publish a book?

I would say “You can do it!” Becoming a writer, good or otherwise, is like anything in life – it takes practice. Every time you write something, you are growing. You have more experience today than you did yesterday. And in today’s world, help is literally at your fingertips. There are a TON of resources available, in book form, on websites, and on Facebook groups. There are lots of people more than willing to help. If you’re willing to put in a little work, you can improve your skill level (no matter what level that is). The best thing you can do is find some author mentors who will help you through the process with constructive criticism, which is delivered correctly and in a way where you learn and grow.

5. Speaking of aspiring writers, what were the circumstances of you beginning to write and how has your childhood played a role what you write now?

I’ve always loved reading, so in college I decided I wanted to write a book. It got picked up and put down several times until finally a couple years ago I decided it was something I really wanted to do, so I set out learning the craft of writing and publishing, so I could see my dream in reality! As a kid I loved cartoons, superheros, fantasy books, books in general, old westerns, sports, and the outdoors. So put all of that together, mash it up, and it comes out as… well me! So yes, my childhood definitely directed me to my genre and my style of writing.

6. Authors sometimes sneak things into their books, such as details or events that relate to something in their personal life. Is there anything you’ve sneaked into your books?

I have! There are random ‘semi’ quotes from movies, songs or books, that if you’ve seen them you might catch them. I believe the kids these days are calling them ‘Easter Eggs’? There are also a couple of scenes inspired from movies or books. From my personal life, I think it’s my style of writing/thinking, especially when writing Jayton Baird, the main character in Fire Eyes Awakened.

7. Writing is a continual education craft. What techniques do you use to improve your writing from one book to the next?

You’re right – if you’re not learning you’re going backwards! It’s not quite that bad, but there are always ways to improve. I’ve subscribed to several authors email lists, read blogs, books, and listen to podcasts. I get tips and tricks from all of these. For any beginners, or really anyone, I’d recommend Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn. She has great information and keeps up with what’s going on in the world of writing.

8. Writers have a desire and often a need to express themselves. If you could say anything at all to the entire world at once, what would it be?

Holy cow, what a question! I guess it would be to calm down, enjoy the finer things in life (like your family and friends), and let’s try to get along and understand each other.

9. Let’s close by looking towards the future. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years?

Hopefully, lots more books! The goal is to put out a new book at least every six months. Before 2017 closes down, I’ll be putting out “Tempus,” the next novel in the Origins of Terraunum series which outlines some of the characters from Fire Eyes Awakened. In 2018 I’ll have the second book of The Senturians of Terraunum series, another in Origins, and if I can, book three in The Senturians. In the meantime, my email list subscribers will be getting short stories well! So, really, lots of content!

Overcoming Author-Illustrator Depression

Depression is a very real, very damaging, very painful experience that can be short term or long term and have long lasting consequences. This perspective of author depression in no way is intended to come across flippantly as if to compare on the same level as chronic or acute depression. An author, however, can learn a great deal about how to process the feelings and thoughts encountered during the road to publication by examining depressive symptoms.

Life as an aspiring author or budding illustrator often begins with a spark of passion. Passion is coupled with excitement and soon enough the seed of starting something new blossoms into a beautiful flower of hope. As the flower grows in beauty and complexity it brings forth a very nasty thorn. This thorn is expectation.

The thorn of expectation multiplies into many, many thorns, some large and others small. One thorn may be the idea that your writing or illustrations will, by themselves, land you an agent on the first query. Another thorn may be your ability to write or illustrate a certain volume of work by a given deadline. Another, your social platform growth. Another, ample time to devote to your craft. And still more in the likes of success, fame, fortune, mass market appeal, style, ideas, understanding, etc. The thorns are many and, if not frequently maintained, can choke the beautiful flower that has blossomed.

Your work, your writing or your illustrations, are wonderful in their own right. Likely, they are unique and original. They are a creative expression of your own mind and heart. No doubt, without first being brought to life through you, they would never live through anyone else. Your works are your children, in a sense, that depend on you to be grown to maturity. You would never expect a toddler to be the financial backbone of a family. Yet, the thorn of financial expectation can bring you and me to a place of reliance that, if unmet, brings about a painful demise.

You see, with every thorn of expectation that covers your writing or illustrating, there is a nasty little consequence that can result. If you expect your toddler-age writing to captivate an agent, you can experience frustration when it’s rejected or worse, ignored. If you expect your first draft to appeal to a wide variety of people online, you may experience pain when it’s instead trampled and trolled. Our expectations, or lack of accurately viewing our craft, is an enabling force for author depression.

You may be wondering, how do I know if I have author depression? Well, read these questions very carefully and decide if the statements describe you.

  1. I don’t enjoy writing/illustrating as much as I used to.
  2. I really don’t feel like writing/illustrating any more.
  3. There is no point submitting my work for consideration/representation.
  4. No one important appreciates my work.
  5. I don’t have any more ideas to write about or illustrate.
  6. I don’t fit in with the writing/illustrating community.
  7. I feel like I’ll never be a successful writer/illustrator.
  8. The system is rigged. Someone like me can never make it as an author/illustrator.
  9. Those authors/illustrators being published are not as good as me.
  10. The book publishing business just isn’t fair. It’s only about who you know.
  11. My writing/illustrating is no good.
  12. I am no good.
  13. Maybe so-and-so is right. I should find a different hobby.
  14. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right.
  15. I don’t care how far I’ve come. It’s not good enough now and it never will be.
  16. Traditional publishing isn’t for me because no one likes me or my work.
  17. Self-publishing isn’t for me because it’s too complicated.

Did any of those negative thoughts sound familiar? Most likely, they did. Lots of writers and illustrators experience negative thoughts. These thorns that choke our dreams and goals are not relegated to the book industry. Every person on the planet who desires to become something more than who they are currently will experience negativity, self-doubt, de-motivation, and pain.

Although the thorns of life do sprout, they don’t need to become powerful. They can be resisted and overcome. It’s been said that as a man thinks, so he is. Our mental capacity is more powerful than we give it credit. This is most readily seen if we resolve to accomplish something. The act of resolving, or committing to make a resolution, means we are preparing in advance to triumph over adversity. It’s a mindset. As an aspiring author or illustrator, one of your mindsets must be to resolve that you will push through rejection. Rejection will come and it is outside your control. But, it doesn’t need to be a stepping stone towards author depression.

Any brief research will guide you to countless examples of great, wonderful authors and illustrators who worked so hard yet were faced with rejection after rejection after rejection. In October of 1912, Tarzan of the Apes was rejected by Rand McNally & Co. after being described as something that wouldn’t fit into the publishing company’s current plans. Two years later, Tarzan became a cultural sensation that went on to sell over 50 million copies and a multitude of adaptations.

Apart from mental preparedness, an author or illustrator must be emotionally, spiritually, and physically ready to deal with the inevitable onslaught of difficulties that lie ahead. Prepare yourself to wait in silence, longer than you deem reasonable. Prepare to be hurt by the words used to describe your work. Pray in advance to remain focused on your goal, that Christ would strengthen you and bring His plan to fruition through you. Resolve that you will continue in your craft, regardless of despair in a sense of lack of progress. Realize that you have grown and matured in your craft. Remind yourself that although there is nothing new under the sun, there is something unique. That something is you. Your stories, your ideas, your art is unique to you and never done before the way you do it. Expect others to not see things your way, to not understand your point of view, to not appreciate your hard work. Expect it, and plan to help them see the beauty that unfolds through you.

In humility, we must accept and admit that there are better people among us, better ones who have gone before us. They have worked hard, sometimes for a lifetime, and faced rejection and despair. The best have wanted to give up. The best, kept going. The best submitted their manuscript again. The best refined their art. The best honed their craft. Be among the best. Don’t give up. Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Don’t let your mind and heart take you that place. Instead, set fire to your passion. Set fire to your dreams. Set fire to your goals.

Resolve to take the road less traveled. Resolve to try again where others give up. Resolve to forge ahead when it’s hard, when it’s dark, when it’s cold and lonely. Resolve to stand out from the crowd by your…resolve. And then, as you release yourself from the thorns, enjoy, truly enjoy the flower of your passion that blossoms before your eyes.

It’s beautiful, even if no one else sees it. It’s beautiful. Nurture it. Water it. Feed it. And when it’s grown, you can snip off flowers here and there to give away. Some will appreciate them. Some won’t. But you’ll have a flower that continues to bloom and in time, like so many before you, your passion, honed through resolve, will find its place where satisfaction and joy reside.

The Book Business of Writing

Every step in the book publishing process is an aspect of business. Let’s take the author’s role for a moment. Authors provide both a product and a service. The product being obvious, a written book, and the service a bit more subtle, the reader’s reaction.

The product of a book can be easily measured by volume of sales or acquisition of rights. If an author is simply desiring to move product, then the requirement is simple. More units of books need to reach more willing purchasers or the book itself needs to appeal to a wide variety of rights acquisition strategists. The reaction a reader experiences, as a service from the author, is a bit more complex.

The best books, the classics, from picture books to easy readers, MG to YA, high fantasy to non-fiction memoir, provide a service to the reader. These wonderful books birth an emotional, mental, spiritual, and often times physical response. Need an example? Crying. Laughing. Staying awake all night to finish Harry Potter as fast as humanly possible. Camping in front of stores to be first in line to purchase a sequel. Books that sway opinion on politics, religion, child rearing, marital growth, health, fitness, and the like. These effects are much more than a transfer of product. These are services provided by an author. The best services often are supported by others, an illustrator for children’s books, an agent for pushing the story beyond the reach of a traditional author, a publisher who has the pockets to get the story to the consumer, marketers, editors, planners, lawyers, etc.

Writing books is far more than baking a pie and hoping someone will purchase it and consume it. Writing books is a complex business. It’s an infinite argument through the written word that continually aims to provide not just a product but a service to every reader. Readers want this service, nearly always more than they want the product. Readers want to feel something, anything. Readers want to be lifted emotionally, carried physically, challenged mentally, and enlightened spiritually. A book is so much more than a product.

Some authors stop at product, however. They aim to create, market, and distribute lots and lots of product. And often times, they find some level of success through enough hard work and advertisement. Unfortunately, the outcomes are typically the same. They aren’t really remembered. Sure, a handful of greenbacks found their way over to them, but not enough to make a life altering difference. On the flip side, the authors who’s passion for books manifested itself into a service to readers have found tremendous success not only financially but through deep satisfaction in their craft.

I encourage and challenge you to focus your best efforts on the service of a book. Let everything you have, everything you are, be poured into the effect it will have on a reader. Let it fill a family’s home with laughter. Let it bring forth a rush of tears from the single reader. Let it spur someone on to make life changing decisions. Let your book make someone sit back, close the cover, nod their head and say to themselves, “Wow. That was a good book.”